National Security Crisis Law Simulation 6.0 Welcomes Canadian Law Students, Lawyers

March 21, 2017 —

Georgetown Law's National Security Crisis Law simulation — the equivalent of a final exam for students in Professor Laura Donohue and Alan Cohn's National Security Crisis Law Class — went international in Spring 2017. For the first time, Canadian national security lawyers and students from the University of Ottawa and Osgoode Hall Law Schools joined this fast-paced and purposefully chaotic Georgetown tradition, held at the Law Center March 3 and 4.  

While the real Canadian Prime Minister and National Security Advisor couldn't be there, Mylène Bouzigon and Jennifer Poirer from the Canadian Department of Justice stepped into those roles admirably. The Canadian students, meanwhile, did an excellent job portraying Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, Minister of Health, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others. The Georgetown Law students, along with a team from Penn Law, played U.S. state and federal officials. 

Together, the students dealt with legal and factual issues ranging from pandemic disease and natural disaster to cyber attacks on the critical infrastructure.  A “Control Team” of more than 40 alumni who work in the national security field were central to the simulation's success.

“Before, the simulation was U.S.-centric. Now we have the border issues. We have events north and south with repercussions for each country.  And we have joint operations,” Donohue explained. “This has also given us a rich opportunity to compare how different countries interpret international law, and how those differences play out in terms of negotiations and policy decisions.”

The addition of the Canadians also allows for refugee issues, noted Distinguished Visitor from Practice Mary DeRosa, who played the role of the U.S. President. In real life, DeRosa served as the deputy assistant and deputy counsel to the president, and as National Security Council legal adviser, in the Obama Administration. “There's no way of completely mimicking a crisis atmosphere, but this does a really good job…,” DeRosa said. “Students are getting some experience about what it's like to work in a crisis, and that's unbelievably valuable.”

Georgetown University's real president, John J. “Jack” DeGioia, even took part. “[Professor Donohue] invited me to come and play the role of the [U.S.] Vice President again, and I'm honored to have the opportunity to be here to experience this extraordinary learning environment that she's built…” DeGioia said during the simulation. “The complete immersion into the logic, and into the law of national security is so palpable and so immediate… A neuroscientist tracking what's going on in the minds of everyone…would not know the difference between a real situation and the simulation.” 

Feeling the heat

By midmorning Saturday in the mock exercise, Seattle's drinking water has been contaminated. Control Team members Tom McSorley (L'12) and Christopher Morgan-Riess (L'13) have gone on camera as reporters for the “Video News Network,” or VNN, to interview the student playing the mayor of Seattle. Other students, in their roles as officials, watch the news unfold on TV screens set up around Hotung. 

“It's…overwhelming for the students, trying to keep focused on discrete objectives,” said Andrew Christy (L'12). One goal for the Control Team, he said, is to test the Georgetown Law students on state and federal emergency management. “For the state players, who they can direct…and their ability to liaise with the federal government. They often just want to do it themselves.”

Captain Alix Holtsclaw (L'13), now an assistant staff judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force, is observing the interplay between the U.S. law students and the Canadians. “Seeing what each side is getting and how they do or do not share the information and work together, it's interesting…,” she said. “Every year, there are surprises and creativity.”

McSorley and Morgan-Riess now have the Canadian Foreign Minister in front of the cameras, telling her of injuries at the consulate in Seattle. “We, as media, were asked to break a bit of news to the Canadians, because the Control Team was a little concerned about their lack of concern for these consulate members…” Morgan-Riess said. “We turn up the heat a little bit if we see inaction on something that we would we expect action on.”

Now working on national security issues as an attorney for the federal government, Morgan-Reiss played the U.S. Attorney General as a student and has worked on every simulation since. “I am thankful that I am no longer a student having to participate in the grist mill that is the sim,” he says. “I am happy to be on the Control Team side these days.” 

Future decisionmakers

Georgetown Law has hundreds of alumni working in national security decision making positions. Some — like John Benton (L'10), Pete Pascucci (L'15), Andrew Christy (L'12), Sarah Mortazavi (L'13) and Alan Schuller (LL.M.'13) — spend countless hours during the year helping to write the storylines. They then return the week of the sim, along with dozens of other alums, to play roles, respond in real-time to student decision-making and to help the next generation to learn.

Why do so many keep coming back — taking a week off from work, flying in from other parts of the country — to help with a simulated learning exercise?

To Lieutenant Colonel Alan L. Schuller (LL.M.'13), a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Marine Corps, the Georgetown Law National Security Crisis Law simulation is “the best way that we have in law schools right now to train national security decisionmakers.” 

“There will be people at this law school, [students] in this class, who are going to go into actual situations like this," he says. "They are going to need to have learned lessons in an environment like this, where it's okay to make a mistake and people don't actually die.”

How is the simulation different from real life? “This would be a very bad day at the office in national security decision making,” Schuller says as he observes a mock evacuation unfold at the end of the day. “But you'd be challenged to find any academic institution that puts together something that is as realistic as this, on this kind of scale.” 

The high-tech simulation already makes use of e-mail and video, in a closed system. But this time around, we have to wonder, will we also see the impact of live Tweets? 

“There have been lots of hashtags trending, in response to a student statement in an interview when she learned about something for the first time on camera,” said Mortazavi. “People are keeping the sim fresh.”