The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes estimates that annual illicit proceeds total more than $2 trillion globally. Proceeds of crime generated in the United States were estimated to total approximately $300 billion in 2010 or about 2% of the overall U.S. economy. As history would remind us and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis creates extreme vulnerability to fraud and financial crime across our global financial systems.
The ExCo vs. The Status Quo brings together like-minded individuals and brands to illuminate the innovative actions companies are taking to make a bigger impact. This diverse community of industry leaders are building the conversation around what’s working, what’s not, and how to make things better – together – through a shared commitment towards a common goal.
Exiger’s Chief Growth Officer, Anna Osborn, was joined by Ellen McCarthy, who is the former assistant secretary of state for Intelligence and Research, and current advisory board member for both Exiger and Babel Street. Ellen’s career has taken her through myriad leadership roles across the national security and intelligence community. In reading her bio, which we highly recommend doing if you are at all interested in a powerhouse professional and personal story, it’s clear that Ellen has a knack for bringing her measured approach to problem solving to incredibly intense and high-stakes environments.
Beyond Ellen’s strength of character, strong communication skills and poise, she is passionate about promoting supply chain transparency and bringing attention to the fact that systemic vulnerabilities (cyber, supply, internal or external threat factors) have changed dramatically in the last five years. The faster our public and private sector players come to terms with that, and adopt risk management solutions to address that reality, the safer we will all be.
Why did you want to get involved with this campaign? What does making the world a safer place to do business mean to you?
Ellen McCarthy, Advisory Board Member, Exiger: I read about the campaign and I love the goal, which is to fight against financial crime and corruption. These are things that can’t be fought by one company, or one bank, or one government, or one organization.
To broaden that subject, I’m very passionate about the national security business and the intelligence business. We’re in a day right now where the problems and the threats we’re facing cannot be done by just the intelligence community or Department of Defense. We’ve been talking public-private for a long time as it relates to national security. But I think now, more than ever, when you look at data – big data issues, how we work with data, the threat landscape – more than ever, it takes the government organizations that span everything from supply chain risk management to cyber. Everything is working together much more broadly than ever before.
I completely support Exiger providing this platform and inviting folks who are as passionate about the issue of supply chain risk management to talk about transparency, what we’re seeing, potential solutions and what’s coming on the threat landscape.
“… I think now, more than ever, when you look at data – big data issues, how we work with data, the threat landscape – more than ever, it takes the government organizations that span everything from supply chain risk management to cyber. Everything is working together much more broadly than ever before.”Ellen McCarthy, Exiger Advisory Board Member
I think the second part of your question is about doing business safely. The strength of our country has always been our incredible transparency. This transparency is what has made us so hugely innovative. We just saw Jeff Bezos go to space. I don’t know how you define space. I suppose him and Richard Branson are defining what space is over the last week. I think it shows that innovative spirit is just part of who we are. The problem is that the world has become so much more interconnected now, and the economy is much more global. It’s a little more difficult now in terms of understanding what’s going on around the world. That’s where, again, I think this campaign is just so incredibly important.
When I was over at State Department, I used to talk with our folks all the time about how, in some ways, we’re victims of our own success. Our foreign policy was to expand these principles as principles of transparency. We have these liberal economic practices and regulations, and work with other countries with the expectation that they would completely replicate how we’ve been doing business. This transparent atmosphere has yielded great innovation. We’ve got so many countries now that have taken a page from our playbook but they’ve not taken the second page.
“We’ve got so many countries now that have taken a page from our playbook but they’ve not taken the second page.”
While all ships are floating right now in terms of economies faring better and we’re working globally, they didn’t follow the playbook the way that we wrote it exactly. And so you have different rules, cultures, and ways of doing business.
As I relate this to supply chain risk management, I look at this from a perspective of living in a world where economic policy really does equal national security policy. When I started in the ’80s, that wasn’t the way it was. We were worried about Soviet Union. In fact, we had just a handful of economists in the Intelligence Community (IC) at that time.
Ellen, you’ve worked in and around the intelligence community for your entire career, as far as I can tell. How have you seen the changes in the volume and complexity of data impact national security?
EM: I love this question because it takes me back to when I started in the mid-’80s at the Office of Naval Intelligence. I was a Soviet submarine analyst and I followed Russian Northern fleet submarine activities. It was very fun, Hunt for Red October kind of stuff. The way we tracked submarines was literally with colored pencils and these long scrolls of paper we called the Dead Sea Scrolls. We’d have this little piece of imagery intelligence, or we’d have these little pieces of signals intelligence. We’d color in the boxes and with that, we would get a sense of what we know. Then, if you didn’t have information, that meant you would task systems to help fill in the blanks or you would look out in the open source to see if we got any information that would help you fill in the blanks. That’s how we assessed Soviet submarine operations.
If you were really good and you’d done it for a really long time, you’d get a sense of what the practices and patterns were. That’s how we did analysis. For the most part, in those days, when it came especially to national security, the only data really came from national technical means. Open source would supplement what we were using. We were primarily using classified sources, and this wasn’t just dealing with Soviet submarines. It really has played that way through the global war on terrorism, where we tend to rely on classified sources and we fill in with open source.
Of course, the challenge now with the digital age is that there’s been this explosion in data. People are drowning in data. Some good data, a lot of it not so good data. The same thing applies to our analysts. In the intelligence community we have analysts that are also drowning in classified and unclassified data. My fear is that it’s not always the right data, or isn’t data focused at the problem that needs to be addressed.
For example, national technical means are very expensive. But if you really want to get a sense of what’s going on with climate change, you have a lot of commercial sources that will give you that data or understanding. So it’s a little bit of a mess right now. I don’t think the IC is blind to this.
Certainly, the Director of National Intelligence for the last 10 years, in all of their strategies, has been talking about how we can better use open sources to help us do our job, whether it supports the supply chain or focuses on Soviet submarines. There’s been lots of instructions, directives and laws on it. I’ll tell you, I’m very skeptical, and this is not like me. Usually, I’m a huge optimist to think that the IC is going to be able to modernize its technology, human capital, and culture to take on these challenges that we have at the rate that we really need it. Again, getting back to Exiger – this is where we rely on you more than ever to help us figure out these problems.
“In the intelligence community we have analysts that are also drowning in classified and unclassified data. My fear is that it’s not always the right data, or isn’t data focused at the problem that needs to be addressed.”
You mentioned, a moment ago, this idea of globalization, and reinforced it with some of this past answer. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the globalization of manufacturing, consumption of goods around the world literally explode. What impact has that had on supply chain transparency and security?
EM: I think the good news is that there’s no question that globalization has created a big sea change in the way business is conducted around the world. This is where the private sector’s just so much more agile than the government in terms of adapting to change. It’s provided companies with this incredible opportunity to reach markets and suppliers that they may not have been able to reach before.
“I think the good news is that there’s no question that globalization has created a big sea change in the way business is conducted around the world. This is where the private sector’s just so much more agile than the government in terms of adapting to change.”
To be fair, when I was doing Soviet submarine analysis, supply chain wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. In fact, I think the only time I ever really thought about supply chain before my last job at State was when I was in high school reading the book, The Jungle. It really was at State Department that it became so clear to me how critical this mission was. Part of my job as the Assistant Secretary was to make sure that the State Department’s supply chain was actually adhering to all the rules and regulations. It was not an easy task.
I was just reading that Gartner did a report that said 89% of companies have experienced some sort of supplier risk event in the last five years, and most of those companies have done almost nothing to mature their supply chain plan. I say, while they’re doing better, there still clearly is some work to do. That makes it even more sad to look at where the government is right now.
Another interesting side to the transparency issue is the concept of not only data analytics and tools able to give a company more visibility into their supply chain. Now customers, the American public, and governments have a lot more visibility into supply chain issues because of transparency, social media, and open data.
I think the private sector is doing better than the government, but not as good as it should. I do think this gets back to the question about transparency and how critical it is. It also gets to the tools, planning, and the things you need to do to operate effectively.
… the private sector is doing better than the government, but not as good as it should. I do think this gets back to the question about transparency and how critical it is. It also gets to the tools, planning, and the things you need to do to operate effectively.
How have you seen innovation drive better solutions to manage the risks associated with this really fast-evolving ecosystem? Whether on the subject of supply chain risk management or otherwise, what role has innovation played in your experience?
EM: I think that there’s no question that there’s been this explosion of data, tools, capabilities, and advanced analytics, which have helped with the continuous integration of supply chain risk management into the business models of companies in the private sector. I’m seeing more and more where this is actually incorporated, even from my own experience working in the private sector. I’m happy to see that risk and transparency is something that now is very much a part of the private sector business model.
But I’ll tell you, in the government, we are really just catching up, and not only in terms of what each of our agencies are doing in terms of protecting their own supply chain. In that regard, I was reading a GAO report which investigated the supply chain risk management policies of the CFO Act agencies, which requires agencies to manage their supply chain. GAO did an assessment in late 2020 and found that 23 agencies were not complying. None of these agencies have fully implemented the practices outlined by GAO, and 14 had not even begun implementing any of these requirements. This really puts these agencies at an incredible risk.
This scares the heck out of me because the State Department and Department of Homeland Security were included in this list. I witnessed things happen that were because we weren’t better stewards of our supply chain and the fact that we’re losing intellectual property. In the case of State Department, people can be using it from a cyber perspective and stealing what we know, or even messing with what we do know. And that just frightens me.
I also think we need to put a focus on supply chain from the issue of national security and its importance to the U.S. economy. For so long, supply chain has been thought of from the context of the Department of Defense. Now the DOD is worried about it because they’re worried about the companies that develop technologies that are used in defense of our country. But I don’t know why all of our agencies, especially within the intelligence community, haven’t been worried about this. Not only is it systems and capabilities, but it’s also information, IP, and personal information.
I feel like that’s a perfect segue into our next question, which is you’ve been such a big advocate for the work Exiger is doing to make the world a safer place to do business. Can you talk a little bit about how Exiger’s technology and people are supporting that transformation that we’re seeing related to supply chain transparency and maybe urgency as well?
EM: I hope I’m giving you the sense that this is a very urgent matter. I’ve shared with some of the folks at Exiger in my capacity as an Advisory Board Member that at State Department we were even trying to figure out who was going to take the lead on supply chain risk management. It was something that my folks did in the intelligence side of State Department, but we’re just a small element within this broader state. We were working with the chief information officer, chief technology officer, the person who runs acquisitions, and even on the policy side at the secretary level to say, “Look, we need to form some sort of a committee. We need to take this on.”
The CTO agreed that this was probably something that he should do at the time, but he was worried about a million other things. Just like supply chain history in our history over the last 20 years, when it comes to spending a dollar, we’re going to always put the mission first and we’ll worry about the security and the cleanup later. That’s still very much a part of our culture. I spent two years trying to get folks to come together and to take this on as a serious issue. Exiger was actually a place that I looked to while I was at State Department.
It was the people that first drew me to Exiger. I knew Carrie Wibben when she was an OSD, both at USDI and DCSA, and I followed her from afar. I consider her a role model in terms of her passion and ability to bring together people and technology to solve problems in a way that a lot of folks in government just can’t. When I saw that Carrie left DCSA to come to Exiger, I knew that there must have been something special about this company.
Another person to call out is Adam Lurie, whom I’ve known for 10 years. I used to be the President of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) when we were this fledgling non-profit that was trying to provide a platform for companies, like Exiger, and the government to come together and have discussions, much like you’re doing with this campaign. Adam was incredibly engaged. He wasn’t at Exiger at the time, but I followed Adam closely. What struck me about him was that he was always successful wherever he went in terms of bringing capabilities to hard problems in government. A lot of people talk it, but Adam’s really done it. I always liked him. He is such a nice guy, asks great questions and is always very engaging.
That’s what I think the secret is to the people at Exiger. Developing the platform and technology is not the hard part. It’s about developing capabilities that are actually going to be used and going to be incorporated into this larger enterprise architecture within government. It’s understanding people’s issues. It’s understanding how they work and what the workflow is, and making it not something new that they have to use. It’s about making it just natural, much like Apple has done with cellphones, and that is Exiger.
“That’s what I think the secret is to the people at Exiger. Developing the platform and technology is not the hard part. It’s about developing capabilities that are actually going to be used and going to be incorporated into this larger enterprise architecture within government.”
Another person I’m going to call out is Katie Brewer. I met her at an INSA event. She is the daughter of a woman I worked with at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. I’ve got to tell you, if she’s here, it’s got to be a great place.
I know you probably want me to talk about the technology more, but frankly, I think people are way more important in all of this. Anna, I felt the same way when I met you. I mentioned this to some other folks at Exiger, but you’re so passionate about this. It’s very infectious, and I want to be a part of that. I think many of my colleagues in government feel the exact same way. Me and a couple of my colleagues at State came to you; you didn’t come to us.
From your perspective, when it comes to our national security, what is at stake on whether it’s a research report, due diligence, or our DDIQ solution, or supply chain risk management solution that is producing content to support and drive outcomes for our national security purposes?
EM: Well, I’m going to take a little bit of the element of the last question and this question and put it together because I’m going to get back to the people. When Carrie left DCSA, there were a lot of us who were just shocked because I frankly think we need leaders like that in government right now. Those who are hungry and actually understand what can happen if we don’t up our game if we’re not hungry. I put Carrie very much in that boat. Leaving government, I thought, left this huge hole.
It’s hard in a big bureaucracy to be a real innovator. Large bureaucracies are meant to sort of make the donuts. We do things the way we’ve always done them. It’s hard to be innovative in large bureaucracies where you’ve got people who are very comfortable doing things the way they’ve done them and you’re saying, “Wait a minute. If we don’t think about this, we’re in deep kimchi.” That can be very difficult. I think when Carrie left, that sent a huge warning sign to me, but it also just really elaborated how important, how the private sector is way more mission-focused imperative than it ever was before.
“I frankly think we need leaders like that in government right now. Those who are hungry and actually understand what can happen if we don’t up our game if we’re not hungry. … It’s hard in a big bureaucracy to be a real innovator.”
I implied that I’m worried about the ability of the intelligence community to better incorporate new solutions and new people to work with. I’m very skeptical. That’s where the Exigers of the world are going to come in and play such an incredibly important role. We need companies like Exiger to be innovative, hungry and articulate the value proposition of why this is so important. It takes the leaders like you to make that plea.
When I started, it used to be that your contracting workforce were supportive. I look now and the private sector’s taking on a way bigger leadership role in terms of helping us as a country ensure that we are operating in a safe environment, even if it is taking government a little bit longer to get there. You ask the question, “What could happen?” We’ve already seen the things that could happen. Things as mundane as no toilet paper can happen and on the other hand, there’s SolarWinds having their systems taken down, and the pipeline issue.
“I look now and the private sector’s taking on a way bigger leadership role in terms of helping us as a country ensure that we are operating in a safe environment, even if it is taking government a little bit longer to get there.”
You asked, what can happen if we don’t take this seriously. The answer is: companies fail. Our economy doesn’t operate as strongly as it should. It becomes a huge national security issue in terms of what our foreign policy is and who we are as a country. It frightens me to think what could happen if something doesn’t work. It’s much bigger than our technology not working for a minute so we don’t have toilet paper for a couple of weeks. It is a mission imperative.
For the longest time, people would try and get work in the government because they loved the mission. I’ve loved my last 30 years in the intelligence community because it’s about supporting something that’s bigger than you. We can’t use that as a call sign now for why people should join the government.
Diversity, equity and inclusion has been a professional and personal priority for you for a long time. In what ways have you seen diverse perspective benefit our national security interest?
EM: I love that question. We can talk about diversity and the benefit of being a different nationality, ethnicity, or just a different person. I can give you an example of where just being different leads to a diversity of thought when I was working at the Coast Guard post-9/11. I spent most of my early part of my career working in the Navy, so I was doing a lot of defense operations.
When I decided that I was going to go to the Coast Guard and help them set up this intelligence element, all my friends had said, “Why would you want to go to the Coast Guard? They don’t shoot anything.” The Wall was down and my feedback to them was, “Well, the Coast Guard’s shooting a lot more in terms of drug operations than the Navy is right now.” That’s a ridiculous argument, but 9/11 really highlighted how important the Coast Guard’s role was, not just from a perspective of safety and protecting marine life, but from a counterterrorism and port security perspective.
I was given this job to go to FBI for six months. I ran intel operations. Post-9/11, I’m sitting at the FBI and our job is to track down owners of merchant mariner documents. These are documents that you get to qualify to be a bosun on a merchant ship. It’s a certificate that declares whether they have been trained to do this. It turns out that the State Department was using it as a valid form of identification. They were issuing visas and passports based on merchant mariner documents, which was a huge hole in terms of how people were getting into the country.
Now in those days, law enforcement and intelligence were like oil and water. It goes back to the history of CIA and FBI, way back to Herbert Hoover. Intel and law enforcement have not always been great friends and partners. And I was going into the hornet’s nest, right into the middle of FBI where we were supposed to search for people who were using merchant mariner documents to potentially get in the country to conduct nefarious activities. Intel and law enforcement are so very different. I joke that intel is about breaking laws, and law enforcement’s about protecting laws. Here we were, and I was trying to pass intelligence to these law enforcement folks so they could use it to connect with people, and they wouldn’t even take it. I had some really eye watering, beautiful intelligence that I was trying to get to them, and they wouldn’t take it because it would affect their grand jury. Or just because they thought I was stupid. We won’t even get into the fact that I was a female in this environment.
The reality is that they have two incredibly different cultures focused on the same problem and we had such a hard time getting together. There were people at FBI and one of them was named John Pistole. He would later go on to run a transportation security agency. I could call him up at 7:00 in the morning while he was feeding his kids Cheerio’s, and he would hit his guys over the head and say, “No, you got to work with her.” When we finally did start working together, it was brilliant what we came up with. The operation was largely resolved in about six months when in those days it would have taken three years in terms of working with the data and with the other agencies. It really highlighted to me that using FBI authorities, using FBI tradecraft, intelligence tradecraft, intelligence authorities, if you could bring them together and get over your differences, it was amazing the things that we could do.
“When we finally did start working together, it was brilliant what we came up with. The operation was largely resolved in about six months when in those days it would have taken three years.”
I think the biggest thing is communication and language. Having just been a student of it for the last three years, supply chain is such a complex subject. Similar to cyber, it relates to everything. There’s so much to supply chain. I mentioned this sort of strategic national security imperative to transparency of your supply chain as you’re looking at providers and manufacturing. I apply that to supply chain as well because I think it is something that a lot of organizations don’t really understand. They don’t understand why they need to do this when their job is to fight terrorists or get merchant mariner documents. They don’t really understand that if you have been working with a supplier and he or she is on your network, that’s a problem.
How have you seen diversity drive or influence innovation and the problem solving required to stay one step ahead of the bad guys or gals?
EM: I look back to when the Director of National Intelligence was first stood up. We had Ambassador Negroponte and then Admiral Mike McConnell as the DNI. I remember that in his first 100 days he challenged the IC to recruit and retain a population that looks more like the U.S. population. The intelligence community, much like the technology sector, is heavily male and Caucasian. His perspective was that in order to be the best intelligence community we need to be, we need to look more like the American population and less like the OSS in Wild Bill Donovan’s time in the 1940s. I’m a big Wild Bill Donovan fan.
His reasoning was that it enables you to more effectively understand how everybody thinks. I previously mentioned language and how everybody talks and interacts with one another. From a foreign policy perspective, it really communicates who we are as a country when our representatives look like the rest of the country. It also provides for way richer analysis.
Again, using Wild Bill Donovan as an example, he had about 1,600 analysts. Everybody thinks about the operators who are out there doing stuff. He had 1,600 people who were librarians, artists, architects, lawyers, and doctors. When the OSS was disbanded, he convinced President Truman to keep those 1,600 analysts and to send them to the State Department. He stated that everything they achieved in the OSS was because of those 1,600 people who were smart, but weren’t all trained in one science. He was also an advocate of bringing women in. He worked with quite a few who were super smart and were also doing researching. Heck, we won World War II based on this cadre of people who had diverse skills. They weren’t as diverse in terms of where they were from or their ethnicity, because unfortunately that’s just not where we were as a country. But I suspect if Wild Bill Donovan were alive today, he would have thought more about that.
Taking it to my old organization, the State Department, I really applaud Secretary Blinken for bringing in the Department’s first diversity and inclusion officer, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie. I participated in a panel with her last week, and she’s up there sitting on the seventh floor in the C-Suite with the Secretary. I think that’s because Secretary Blinken understands that the State Department is only going to be effective if it represents all views, and everything that makes the United States who it is. If we want to understand what other countries and their leaders might be thinking, we must have a community that’s representative of people who look, act, and have that as a background. It’s critically important to him. State Department has been talking about this for the last 75 years, but it’s just nice to see that something is being done about it now.
We don’t have as much data on the government side to show what that means, but we certainly have data from the private sector side demonstrating companies that have women in their boardroom or comprise 20% of their senior leadership outperform other companies at the Fortune 500 level. The data shows that having a diverse workforce enables you to be stronger, more successful, more profitable and provide more value. I know that applies to the government side.
“The data shows that having a diverse workforce enables you to be stronger, more successful, more profitable and provide more value.”
When I was at INSA, it was struggling. We had less than one month’s operating expenses in the bank, and an organization that had been around for 22 years that was supporting the intelligence community was going to die. There I was, new out of government and trying to figure out how to do this when I couldn’t even balance my checkbook, much less turn an association around. One thing I did was that I brought in some part-time moms. In fact, one of those part-time moms is now running INSA. She never worked in the intelligence community, but she believed in what the intelligence community was doing. Because she wanted to support her country, she put in more hours as a part-time mom than any of our full-time staff. Because of her, things got turned around. Those examples apply every day in the national security sector and I know they apply at Exiger.
When you look ahead today, what do you see as the biggest and most persistent challenges facing our country today?
EM: If you haven’t read Global Trends 2030, it’s a report released by the National Intelligence Council every seven years. The last one came out a month or two ago. It lays out the intelligence community’s perspective of what the threat landscape will look like over the next 10 or so years. It’s a good one, but it’s also the scariest.
The part that scares me the most is the fragmentation of information and how that’s affecting people’s thoughts, beliefs, and trust – that scares the heck out of me. More than any external threat such as climate change, it’s people in the government that worry me the most. Those who share this passion ensure that we remain vital, profitable, healthy, strong, and educated represent us as a country. I’m worried about our ability to maintain the great American way.
“The part that scares me the most is the fragmentation of information and how that’s affecting people’s thoughts, beliefs, and trust.”
How we define national security and privacy is a huge one. These are some really big things, and we must be very agile. The IC, to be fair, knows the things that it needs to do, but changes that need to happen are not particularly sexy. It’s like how we do acquisition, manage people, or how oversight is conducted.
The way Congress oversees all the departments and agencies is the way they’ve been doing this for 100 years. I’m pro-oversight, but the way we’re doing it is absolutely wrong. To your point, it’s about figuring out how we recruit people like you have in Exiger, people who are hungry, always thinking two steps ahead, and are finding ways to do it better.
Maybe moving to bagels instead of donuts. I look at my own community, and joke that if I were the director of National Intelligence or the director of Central Intelligence, I would tell all those analysts at CIA to flood the halls of the State Department right now. One of my biggest challenges while I was there was that I had foreign services officers and political appointees, who went to other sources if they didn’t like what the intelligence I was giving them and sometimes it would be bad sources. We weren’t as integrated.
I want those brilliant CIA analysts sitting arm-in-arm with people who are developing and implementing policy so they can constantly provide them their insights and integrating them into policy much more effectively than they do right now. Again, this is doing things differently, and we don’t like change. And while we like things the way they always are, that’s not the world we operate in right now.
We have to define national security much more broadly. I, again, take it back to my State Department example. The big things during my two years there was COVID, climate change, Iran and some of the traditional threats. Some of the best data out there to support those threats were actually in the private sector. It wasn’t government data or classified means. It was data that I couldn’t get to because of laws, rules and/or regulations. My point here is, I worry about us. Like what you’re doing here today, Anna, we need to provide these platforms for the private sector to work with government to provide opportunities to self-organize, look at challenges and come up with ways to fix them. It’s critical.
“Some of the best data out there to support those threats were actually in the private sector. It wasn’t government data or classified means. It was data that I couldn’t get to because of laws, rules and/or regulations.”
If there’s one legacy you can leave behind in your career around making the world a safer place to do business, what is it?
EM: Though I was a little negative in my last answer, I’m an optimist. What I’ve loved most and still love about the intelligence community is that there’s virtually nothing we can’t do. If CIA wants to put a tank in your apartment right now, they could do that. We have to provide the intelligence community with the opportunity to be as innovative, excited, and creative as they’ve been for our whole history.
To get ready for today, I reflected on all the jobs I’ve had and what has been asked of me. It’s mostly been either standing things up or fixing them. For example, at Coast Guard, it was getting them into the intelligence community. At INR, it was this tiny little intel organization that was actually the first all source civilian intelligence organization. It was that component of the OSS. They are flipping amazing, and yet their budget had been going down for the last 75 years, while their productivity remained pretty high. The President’s daily brief is the only measure we have for success in the ISE, and INR was providing more articles to the PDB than any other intel organization per capita, and yet they were the smallest. At INR I incorporated a lot of capability, budget, and people in two years because I believe that you can do anything. Whether it’s getting Coast Guard into the intelligence community, or getting INR on more solid footing in terms of tools and capabilities, turning INSA around, or incorporating commercial imagery much more seamlessly at NGA.
I think the most important message I have for those who are working in and around government is to love what you’re doing. Don’t be so worried about where you’re going. At so many intel organizations, you think, “If I do this, and this, and this, then someday I’ll be at SES.” That’s not the way it works. Love what you do. Enjoy and be passionate about what you do. All that other stuff will figure itself out. I can say, in all honestly, I have loved what I have done for the last 30 years, and I hope I get to do it for another 30 years. Because I think when you love what you do, you can do anything. That’s what’s so cool about working in this country. You really can do anything.
I think the most important message I have for those who are working in and around government is to love what you’re doing. Don’t be so worried about where you’re going.
Rapid Fire Round with Ellen
- Favorite Place to Travel: Paris or New York.
- Favorite Food: I love carbs, so I think it has to be pasta.
- Favorite show to binge: I just finished Handmaid’s Tale and I’m watching Ozark. Early in June, I watched Ted Lasso in one sitting. I’m so excited that Ted Lasso‘s coming out again.
- Favorite Book: My favorite book, and it’s going to sound so mundane, but really, the one that changed me was Little Women. I loved Jo and I think I’ve tried to live my life like her. In terms of authors right now, I’m a big fan of history, and I love historical fiction, so any book written by Erika Roebuck. She just wrote a book about Virginia Hall. She’s fantastic. I also think when you’re in a business where you’re constantly reading threat reporting and intelligence, reading something that’s fun is incredibly important. It enables you to think more creatively and be more innovative.
- Favorite Band/Singer: I love all sorts of music. You’ll laugh. AC/DC was my favorite band forever, and ever. Another band I love is The Smithereens. For those of you familiar with ’90s, ’80s-’90s music, The Smithereens were awesome. I love all genres of music. I could watch Justin Timberlake any day.