Class Notes - March 22, 2000

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From the Archives

This photograph, which we found in an old box of paw odds and ends, was sent to the magazine in 1973 from, we think, Frank Deford '61, judging from the scrawled signature on the letter accompanying the photo. In the letter, he says, "I came across this when I was doing the book on Miss America. I don't know what the boat is, or why it is called Princeton-or who is Capt. George B. Gale. The picture has some historical significance as the young lady was one of the original 8 Miss America contestants in the year of 1921, first of the pageant. The picture was taken somewhere off Atlantic City that September. The girl is almost surely Thelma Matthews, Miss Pittsburgh."

Anti-terrorist organizer
Pamela Berkowsky '85 ensures the Pentagon's preparedness for terrorist attacks

At Princeton, Pamela B. Berkowsky '85 spent her spare time designing costumes for Theatre Intime and producing three plays for the now-defunct Princeton American Repertory Co. One play she produced was about Andy Warhol and his followers; another was, in her words, "a feminist-lesbian interpretation of Gulliver's Travels," while a third was "a really bawdy" Neapolitan farce set in the 17th century. Not exactly the typical résumé for a high-ranking Pentagon official. But then again, the twists and turns of Berkowsky's career have surprised even herself.

A New Jersey native and daughter of a theatrical producer, Berkowsky studied diplomacy at the Woodrow Wilson School, at Tufts University's Fletcher School, and (on a Fulbright year) at Geneva's Graduate Institute of International Studies. For a while, Berkowsky was able to combine her twin passions by studying the role of artistic and cultural exchanges in Cold War diplomacy.

Berkowsky joined the Pentagon during the waning days of the Reagan Administration and stayed for much of the next 12 years. (While waiting for her security clearance, she tackled the not-unpleasant task of writing a travel guide to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.) Initially, Berkowsky was a nonpartisan career official who held down a succession of jobs in such areas as weapons acquisition, insurgency and counterinsurgency, Pentagon management, and international treaty negotiation.

Following a stint working on Vice President Gore's reinventing-government staff, Berkowsky two years ago returned to the Pentagon as assistant chief of staff to Defense Secretary William Cohen. Then, last year, Berkowsky added a second job to her portfolio-one with a higher public profile. With military officials facing growing concerns that terrorists could use weapons of mass destruction to wreak havoc in major American cities, Cohen chose Berkowsky to help organize the Pentagon's effort to increase domestic preparedness for terrorist attacks by nuclear, chemical, or biological means. "There were so many parts of the Pentagon that needed to contribute to the effort, but there was no one to make sure everyone got together," Berkowsky says. "So they asked me to audit the process."

The appointment hadn't come totally out of the blue; in the mid-1990s, Berkowsky handled biological weapons issues for then-Undersecretary of the Navy Richard Danzig. "That was before almost anyone was thinking about the issue," she says. Among other things, Berkowsky invited Richard Preston *83 to discuss bioterrorism with senior Pentagon officials not long after Preston's nonfiction biological thriller The Hot Zone was published in 1994.

"Our adversaries are not going to attack our conventional forces, because we've demonstrated our superiority," Berkowsky says. "They will have to go to our Achilles heel, which is the vulnerability of our population centers at home. Should this keep the man in the street up at night? Probably not. But should it be something the Secretary of Defense has to worry about? Yes. It would be a major threat to the peace and prosperity of the nation."

Berkowsky now spends a substantial amount of time briefing journalists about the dangers of chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks by terrorist groups. When talking to reporters, she says, she emphasizes the fine line between keeping Americans wary and making them paranoid. "It's a very delicate balance," she says. "I caution reporters to educate, but not to overhype." Indeed, the issue is especially sensitive because the involvement of uniformed federal troops in postdisaster work could inflame civil libertarians and confirm suspicions among both the antigovernment right and the antimilitary left.

Despite such concerns, Berkowsky defends a military role in terrorist-attack preparedness. "The greater threat to civil liberties is the status quo, which leaves the President with only one option-declaring martial law. This is not an ordinary law-enforcement issue, but a question of who's going to feed and house 50,000 people for three weeks if there's a major catastrophic event."

-Louis Jacobson '92


Louis Jacobson has written about weapons of mass destruction for National Journal, Government Executive, and The Economist.

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