Fighting terrorism huge part of career
VIERA — Gene Poteat knew nothing about the CIA when he developed missile guidance in the 1950s on the Space Coast.
But the engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories had a crucial skill needed to keep track of Soviet missile development during the Cold War.
“When they were trying to talk to me about going into the CIA, I didn’t even know what it was,” said Poteat, president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
“It turned out one of the best places to get that (expertise) was here in the area of Cape Canaveral, and I was lucky enough to be one of those people that was interviewed when I worked at the Cape.”
Poteat was the guest speaker Saturday at the AFIO Florida Satellite Chapter meeting at Indian River Colony Club, where he detailed moments in history when espionage played an important role behind the scenes.
One of the objectives of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, which has about 5,000 members nationally, is to create interest in high school and college students for U.S. intelligence careers.
The Florida Satellite Chapter connects and mentors students in Brevard County and wants to expand their outreach.
“We are trying to revitalize the chapter,” said Jack Lee, vice president of the Brevard-based chapter with about 40 members.
“We are in the process of forming a speakers’ bureau of qualified people that will go out and speak to civic organizations, schools and career fairs.”
“We try to identify individual students who may be interested in pursuing intelligence as a career. We hope to be able to help support them in some manner of stipend of scholarship.”
In addition to the former intelligence officers listening to Poteat relate how good spy craft changed the outcome of past military conflicts were students from Florida Tech who are studying aviation security.
Florida Tech has offered the graduate course for a decade, but it must constantly adapt to changes as the war or terrorism evolves.
“Bad guys are getting smarter every day,” said Paris Michaels, Florida Tech professor. “They are savvy and a very sophisticated enemy, so we try to meet that level of sophistication.
“We are talking about students who are going into a field that is on the front line and no one really knows how to do it. The threat keeps changing.”
Poteat believes the war on terrorism is being fought more on an intelligence battlefield than any previous conflict and presents unique challenges.
“This war is a lot more dangerous and difficult than the Cold War ever was because you have an enemy now that doesn’t wear a uniform, they hide among the civilians and they love to die to kill you,” Poteat said.