On his radio show National Security This Week, thriller author and former US military intel officer Jon Olson asked me why I’d specialized in Western Hemisphere issues as an intelligence officer.
Related: National Security this Week broadcast
Build things and Fix things
As I told one senior manager during a career development talk, I like to build things and I like to fix things. That was sort of the theme of my career, especially in the last half.
The Western Hemisphere appealed. I grew up Italian and Catholic and easily embraced local traditions of family, church, and holidays in Mexico and Central America.
So the Western Hemisphere gave me the opportunity to combine problem solving with a cultural fit.
Related: Inside my CIA Career: The Point of it All
Related: More about Carmen
The precise moment of awareness
I can tell you the exact minute my fate was sealed.
I was sitting at my desk in the office eating lunch and surfing around online. Came across a video posted by the Blog del Narco website.(I tried to link but my anti-virus software advised against it.)
For those who aren’t familiar, this uncensored site posts graphic content of narco activities in Mexico, much of which is created by the cartels and gangs themselves. It’s a “look what we’re up against” kind of site that has ebbed and flowed over the years. As you can imagine, staff is continually targeted by cartels.
So this particular video shows a clearing in the woods. There’s a dead man in the foreground, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. The video is kind of grainy, but he’s definitely dead.
There’s another guy, fully dressed, and he’s got an axe and he’s trying to chop off the dead guy’s arm at the bicep.
But either the axe is dull or the dead guy has bones like concrete because our woodsman is chopping and chopping and getting nowhere.
Meanwhile, off camera, male voices are hooting and hollering at the guy with the axe, yelling advice, questioning his strength and technique.
My bite of sandwich literally fell out of my mouth. It was such a visceral lesson in what was happening in Mexico.
You know, I remember that video in black and white. But I am not sure that it wasn’t in color.
The moment lasted
The Agency is a fairly flexible organization that wants well-rounded officers. If you have transferable skills, an understanding of how the intelligence community works, and how the different intelligence mission areas support each other, you can move across the organization.
Related: Inside my CIA Career: Variety and the Spice of Life
It’s not common. Most folks, stay in a single mission area for their entire career. I was very lucky to have been able to work across all 3 major mission area: analysis, operations, and S&T, largely because I had transferable skills that could be applied to a variety of positions that focused on or were in the Western Hemisphere.
Remember, I wanted to fix things . . .
Featured image by Jason Abdilla via Unsplash
I’m honestly of 2 minds when it comes to writing a spy thriller, torn between “how cliche” and “bolster your bona fides.” Now you’ve got me thinking . . .
I’m imagining a new heroine of a new series. It’s all there…with the addition of some impossible drama and complicated intrigue. Add action and you’re there!