The presidential address of 1994
ALAIN DE WECK
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
I welcome you all gathered here for the traditional CIA dinner and now listening to the traditional president’s speech. Since this is my last speech as CIA President, you are in for a long one.
First, I would like to thank Dr. Sheffer and Dr. Galli, as well as the whole Bostonian community, who have given themselves much pain to organize this excellent meeting and to bring us to the shores of Nantucket. I also want to give a special greeting to the longest active CIA member present tonight, Dr. Byron Waksman. Although the scientific part of the meeting was very full, there has been some time left to see other aspects of the island and of its rich history. I have been particularly impressed by the whaling museum and by its skeleton of a big fisherman, and who once got a blue whale in my home town in Fribourg, Switzerland, around the turn of this century. You have well heard, I said he "got" a whale, not he "caught" a whale. Indeed, I am not aware that there was ever a whale to be caught in Lake Geneva... No, the story is slightly more complicated. My great grandfather had some inclination for mavericks, especially when they had some peculiar talent, like boxing or wrestling. Maybe both in my taste for fishing and sometimes for mavericks, I have got some genes from him. In any case, My great grandfather had at some time supported and saved the skin of some shady character, who soon disappeared from town, never to be seen again. Some twenty years later, he was called from the train station in Fribourg and was told that there was a big freight car at the station for him. The freight car turned out to be filled with whale bones coming from Chile and which were sent by the long forgotten shady character, who had in time come to better fortune and wanted to return the favor. Although my great grandmother had a big living room, she obstinately refused to take in the whale, so that there was no other solution but to donate the whale to the natural history museum in Fribourg, where generations of school children still continue to admire it.
But let us now turn to something more serious, namely the CIA and what the president should say about it. The dinner speech is actually the only opportunity for the president to introduce new members to what should be their future rights and prerogatives, but also and primarily their duties. It is also the opportunity to castigate old members and officers for their possible failures.
In this task, I have been considerably helped in the past by the fact that another organisation carrying the same acronym "CIA" but of much more dubious repute, has been trotting along us for the past 40 years. Indeed, this double association has led to innumerable jokes and sometimes serious misunderstandings, particularly at the occasion of our first visit to America in New Orleans, when some outraged American citizens wondered how the CIA had the nerve to hold an open meeting at the Sonesta hotel, with agents relishing the bar and frolicking in the swimming pool in the company of women, all this presumably at taxpayers’ expense. This time, you will have noticed that we have been more careful not to use our acronym but our full real name on all the panels.
Nevertheless, there were, particularly in old days, many similarities between both organisations. We have both been founded about at the same time, a few years after World War II. Our goals, namely to chase the hidden truths and to uncover the unknown, were also somewhat similar. Our membership list was most of the time rather mysterious, we had members in many countries but many of them we soon lost track of. Some very prominent people were members but nobody knew about it, sometimes not even themselves. Since we were distributing membership certificates only on lean years, this is not too astonishing. We had the same president for twenty years, this is not too astonishing. We had the same president for twenty years, but he knew nothing about the CIA affairs and operations, which was all for the better. For these first twenty years, the CIA rules and bylaws remained buried in some old register and nobody knew about them. My biggest mistake as young incoming secretary twenty years ago in 1974 has been for the first time to dig out some rules and make them public.
We have sometimes had a mole at our meetings, some mysterious non registered visitor, probably belonging to some unknown industrial organisation, and who had for obvious mission to spy on the reports of our members.
This is why, on the eve of coming for the second time to the United States, I have been following with particular attention what the American press has to say about the CIA. Ladies and gentlemen, it is appalling and I am afraid to say that we have to change our name, because we can no longer afford to be mistaken for the other CIA.
I cannot, for technical reasons, project to you the newspaper headlines which I have been collecting but believe me, this is all true.
Wake-Up call for the CIA (Herold Tribune, September 24, 1994):
"The CIA has been forced to come to grips with the traditional practices and overt bias that have now become the target of criticism... The CIA cannot function as a fraternity, much less a white male one".
Stronger: "The US needs intelligence but does not need the CIA", and finally the last straw:
Womanizing at the CIA (New York Times, September 28, 1994):
According to the so-called Glass Ceiling Report, half of the white female case officers in the operations directorate reported experiencing sexual harrassement".
Ladies and gentlemen, it is true that the CIA likes women, caters to women, appreciates that women and wives always come so numerous at our meetings. We honor them, we love them, but call this "womanizing"...?
No, I think that we have plainly to change acronyms. I propose COL-INT-AL for Collegium Internationale Allergologicum. It sounds appropriate, like the name of some new anti-allergic drug. We shall trademark it, and if some of our corporate members take it up to the market, it will bring welcome royalties to the association.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to finish on a somewhat more serious note. I have had the privilege to serve this association, or rather this club, for over 20 years, first as secretary general, then in the past eight years as vice-president and president and this gives me both the right and the obligation to remind you about what the CIA has been, is and in my eyes should continue to be, even in a rapidly changing world.
First and above all, the CIA has been an elitist, never really democratic club, which has endeavoured to foster a spirit of scientific research of the highest quality in allergology, to bridge basic and clinical science, to consider on equal footings academic and industrial scientists and also to provide a forum where the world leaders in the field can exchange ideas and debate controversial topics in a spirit of fairness and objectivity. The fact that we shall accept as members only people who have already demonstrated their leadership ability and who have to some extent established themselves in the field has certainly contributed to the particular climate of these meetings, where nobody should feel that they has to prove he is somebody and where the bad habits and manners of the daily rat race should be left at the door. For me, the CIA is the meeting at which it was self-understood to see Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo very civiliously co-chair a session, at the height of and despite a very public controversy.
The CIA meeting is also a particular occasion where you should have the incentive to really make new friends, to meet scientists not only as an intellectual partner or potential competitor, but also as a man or a woman with this family ties, his hobbies and life interests. Without this peculiar touch, and each time the flavour of some family reunion, the CIA or better COLINTAL(?) has no longer a real reason for existence. We all attend plenty of scientific and business meetings but there is none like the real CIA meeting.
Despite all the efforts of the organizers, the goal is not always fully reached: the attractiveness of the venue, the time available, the weather, the food, the sturdiness of the boat, the mood of our wives or husbands are all contributing, beyond the science, to make a memorable CIA meeting. But I am very encouraged, passing now the gavel to our next president, Larry Lichtenstein, that we continuously learn from past experiences.
I wish to thank our American friends for their warm hospitality which has largely compensated for a mitigated weather and for a sometimes hectic pace. The amount and quality of scientific information were first class and the family spirit was there.
Now let us turn to 1996 and to Schloß Fuschl, which in contrast to what many people here seemed to believe is in Austria and not in Germany. Our friends Dietrich Kraft and Johannes Ring will provide us with a very attractive setting and an unforgettable meeting. I wish to see you all there.