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U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul Speaks with Graduate Students on National Security

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, spoke with UT Austin students on March 30.

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U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, spoke with UT Austin students on March 30 during a graduate course called “Global Challenges: History and Policy,” taught by Jeremi Suri, professor of history and public affairs.


U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul speaks with UT Austin students during a graduate course called “Global Challenges: History and Policy.”

For many in the course, it was the first time to come face-to-face with a policy-maker—an opportunity that broadened their understanding of the political field and ideological communication.

McCaul addressed national security issues covered in his new book “Failures of Imagination: The Deadliest Threats to Our Homeland—and How to Thwart Them,” which the students read in advance of his visit.

“It was helpful to hear him talk about the issues in a human way,” said Katie Lundstrom, a first-year graduate student.

According to the book’s description, it depicts realistic scenarios that could inflict damage on the nation such as cyber-warriors who can cripple the Eastern seaboard, radicalized Americans in league with Islamic jihadists and invisible biological warfare. During the conversation, McCaul emphasized the need to tell a counter-narrative to the modern picture of national security painted by U.S. leaders and popular culture.

“At the end of the day, we have to win the war of ideas,” McCaul said, asserting that extremist propaganda can still prevail over the American narrative. 

Suri facilitated the visit by McCaul and noted to the students afterwards that policy-makers can be more flexible when you talk to them in a setting such as the small class. Suri used the experience as a teaching lesson not only on security issues, but on the challenges faced by policy-makers trying to be consistent in their beliefs while effectively working in the political system.

In feedback, students indicated they would have liked even more time than the hour allocated to ask questions which included, “What practically could we do to win the ideological war?” and “What specifically could we do to prevent radicalization?” and “Does your book encourage anti-Muslim thought?”

Likewise, McCaul seemed to want more time with his engaged audience. He stayed a few minutes longer than planned to answer extra questions and posed his own to the group of millennials: “How do you see the current election?” The ensuing responses capped off the visit well—a valuable exchange for both parties essential to the holistic education of graduate students that are becoming future policy-makers, historians, teachers and more. 

McCaul continued his visit to UT Austin’s campus by speaking at the “Intelligence in American Society” conference hosted by UT Austin’s Clements Center, Strauss Center and Intelligence Studies Project.