Throughout this trip, I’ve had high expectations for our fourth and final day of visits.
We were lucky enough to be able to talk with Jason Wright, the former attorney for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11. I think a lot of us came into this meeting alarmed by the fact that someone would take on this job in the first place. I definitely had questions. For instance, how did Wright balance doing his professional duty with keeping his conscience clear as he defended this man and other Guantanamo Bay detainees?
I came out of this discussion with new thoughts about international law, particularly how it pertains to Guantanamo Bay. Understanding the conditions of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is key; many are in indefinite detention and aren’t given the right to a trial, which is illegal under the Geneva Convention. Wright detailed the corruptive measures taken during his time as defense counsel; attorney-client privilege was broken when letters between his client and his counsel were read and when they found a hearing device in the room during their conversations. Wright holds firm in his belief that everyone deserves a fair trial, although he did say that, of course, it is hard at times to defend someone for whom you have distaste. Wright’s conversation opened my eyes, and I very much enjoyed the discussion.
From there we went to the CIA, where we were greeted by David Moore and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom work at the NSA. Of the agencies we’ve visited, the CIA was by far my favorite. First off, it has a beautiful campus, and I felt like I was in an episode of Homeland on our drive in. We toured the CIA’s museum and met with the vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council and the national intelligence officer in counterintelligence, which was a treat. At HR, they took us through the different job opportunities in the CIA. I came out of that meeting with a much better understanding of the CIA. It’s not just sexy case officers running agents out in the field!
We then met with a lead analyst in the CIA’s weapons intelligence and counter proliferation arms control center. He took us through the process of developing a briefing – from the initial brainstorm to the final analytical product. He taught us the importance of BLUF – bottom line up front – which emphasizes cutting out the fluff in an intelligence memo and providing only the important details in clear and concise writing. He is perhaps one of the most brilliant people I have ever come in contact with.
We were lucky to have some of our hosts join us for a group dinner. Some good Italian food was the cherry on top to a wonderful trip. I am sad that we are packing up to head back to Lexington, but I know that our conversations in the remaining week of class will provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on our incredible trip in D.C.
Following the Money
We headed out early on our third day to the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is located on the Potomac River. There we met with civilian and military analysts who spoke with us about their role in the intelligence community and about the hiring process for prospective employees.
I hadn’t learned much about the DIA before this visit and found the concept of strategic military intelligence fascinating. The DIA is a defense all-source intelligence agency that deploys agents worldwide to provide mission support and warning analysis. Knowledge of a foreign language is not required of prospective recruits but it did seem as if a second language would be an asset at the DIA.
The analysts we met with were hesitant to answer any questions that even teetered on the line of sharing classified information. I think they were prepared to give a standard talk about how to get a job in the intelligence community but were less prepared to address a group of students who are enrolled in a class about intelligence. Because of everything we’ve learned, we’re naturally very interested in the inner workings of the DIA. Even without being able to get into too much detail, their presentation was very helpful.
From the DIA, we went to the FBI, where we toured their intelligence exhibit, which includes a moving display about 9/11. It was the most engrossing and informative exhibit I have seen so far on this trip, partly because the FBI was so involved in post-9/11 intelligence collection and law enforcement.
I found our discussion with Department of Justice lawyers Mark Bradley and Jeff Breinholt later that evening to be my absolute favorite part of the trip so far. Mr. Breinholt led a discussion on terrorism financing and took us through real-life examples to illustrate how the DOJ deals with the growing threat of non-state terrorism. They have an incredibly difficult job that requires them to walk a fine line; they’ve got to push back on terrorist threats while at the same time safeguarding U.S. citizens and sustaining our rights in a post-9/11 world. To do their jobs, they examine and analyze money-laundering patterns, as most international terrorism organizations are being funded in the U.S. The life of a DOJ lawyer seems exhausting, but I came out of the meeting with a newfound interest in the law and the analysis of the non-violent aspects of terrorism: funding.
We will continue the conversation about international law and human rights tomorrow when we meet with Jason Wright, a Washington and Lee law professor and former defense attorney for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11. We are all highly anticipating this conversation and the chance to visit the CIA.
Military Intelligence and James Bond
We began day two of our D.C. trip with a meeting at our hotel. Col. Daniel Pinnell and Col. Mark Haseman are officers in the U.S. Army and gave us an overview of how military intelligence systems work. Then they ran through an interesting simulation that helped us see how military operations are conducted. The intelligence community is increasingly moving away from utilizing human intelligence (HUMINT) sources in favor of signal intelligence, and they warned about the possible consequences of this trend. It could become easier for the military to overreach and it’s possible that analysts will lose touch with the reality of what’s happening at the street level.
It shocked me when Col. Pinnell told us that, during the course of a four-year deployment in Baghdad, an average of two car bombs a day affected the military’s ongoing operations. Their assessment of our failures and successes in Iraq was very though provoking, and I appreciated learning how communication with local government officials played a key role in our counter-insurgency efforts. Both men were very compelling storytellers, and when they talked about the power of pattern analysis in military intelligence, I think it left a strong impression on us all. Their visit has definitely been one of my favorite discussions during this trip.
Next, we went to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which is located in the State Department. We spoke with Julie Johnson, the director of professional development, and two analysts who work for the terrorism, narcotics and crime branch. In the early 2000s, INR was the only agency that dissented when the rest of the intelligence community agreed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; their assessment was largely ignored as we prepared for the 2003 invasion. INR is an interesting agency because it reports directly to the secretary of state and is the only intelligence agency that co-locates with policy makers to jointly serve foreign relations interests. One of the INR analysts who spoke with us focuses on drug trafficking in Central and South America, and it was interesting to learn more about an issue that is less widely publicized. We also got to hear from a foreign service officer and decided that the job seems like a sweet deal—getting paid to travel and move around every few years doesn’t seem so bad!
We ended the day at the National Spy Museum, a crafty spot that was as entertaining as it was educational. We heard from Peter Earnest, the museum’s founder and a former CIA case officer, who told us about some of his “James Bond moments” in the field.
All of our visits have been very rewarding. As the week goes on, I’m enjoying being able to compare and contrast each agency, all while exploring the extraordinary restaurants and bakeries of northwest D.C.!
Espionage, the Enigma Machine and Edward Snowden
I’m enrolled in Professor Seth Cantey’s Intelligence in Practice spring term course, and one of the things that attracted me to the class was that we got to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit some of the agencies we’re learning about in the course. We had two weeks in the classroom before making the trip, so by the time we arrived in D.C.—the homeland of espionage—we’d already learned a good bit about the roles of the 17 agencies that make up the American intelligence community.
After checking in at a boutique hotel called the Normandy Hotel, we ventured out into the humidity to grab some grub and enjoy some live music around Dupont Circle. Professor Cantey told us to expect early mornings and long days. For four days, we’re attending meetings with intelligence officials, touring museums, and exploring the greater D.C. area.
On our first day, we started off at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a homey cache of buildings that looks nothing like the daunting compound that is the National Security Agency (NSA). At the DHS we met with members of Intelligence and Analysis (IA), visited the National Operations Center, and spoke with analysts who specialize in border security, cyber-intelligence, and counterterrorism — particularly as it relates to English language violent extremism propaganda and female radicalism. Contrary to what I had thought, the DHS is made up of more than just the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Coast Guard. The DHS is a relatively small intelligence agency but with very broad capabilities — 90 percent of its employees are stationed outside of D.C.
We were lucky enough to get to talk to Francis X. Taylor, the Undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security. Both he and his colleagues stressed the fact that what they write goes into the hands of local and state law enforcement officers, and that it’s those men and women who play an important role in stopping attacks at their point of origin. Mr. Taylor also emphasized that, with a more unified approach to intelligence sharing, government agencies can work more efficiently. I very much enjoyed our Q&A with the analysts; they were all relatively young and talked enthusiastically about how their research and writing skills are central to their day-to-day jobs, which involve sifting through pieces of information and deciding on the parts that are most critical, particularly so they supply the best information to policymakers.
We then left for the National Cryptologic Museum, which is located in the suburbs of D.C., next to the heavily monitored NSA (the one place we couldn’t get inside to tour). At the cryptology museum, we learned about the Enigma machine’s role in WWII. One thing I found interesting was that, during WWII, the Allies used Native Americans to transport radio signal in their native Navajo tongue, as the language acted as its own form of encryption.
After the museum we went back in the hotel and met with an NSA traffic analyst, David Moore, who also happens to be a W&L alum. Mr. Moore took us through a simulation of deception analysis, teaching us the aspects of fabrication, manipulation, conditioning, diversion and feedback. This was particularly interesting in relation to the deception surrounding D-Day in WWII. We tried to pose some questions about Edward Snowden, which he graciously dodged! It’s a topic that we will continue to discuss as the week progresses.