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Diversity of Thought in Intelligence - Actionable Takeaways

Posted By AIRIP President, Monday, August 3, 2020

Thank you to board member Elena Carrington for creating this blog:

On July 28, the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals (AIRIP) hosted a thought-provoking discussion on the importance of diversity in an organization, including both diversity of a workforce and diversity of thought. We welcomed former CIA analyst and author Carmen Medina and former FBI analyst and professor Jorhena Thomas to the webinar, moderated by AIRIP board member and head of geopolitical intelligence at RANE, DeNeige (Denny) Watson.

We invite AIRIP members to listen to the recording and view the below attached document, but if you’re pressed for time, here are some of the salient takeaways!

On Outside Perspectives

  • Carmen pointed out that even if you present yourself as conforming to the traditional norms of an organization, the fact that you’re a minority (in gender, race, etc) means that you won’t be perceived that way. You may not think of yourself as a rebel but you will be viewed as one – and you need to be aware of that.
  • Carmen also noted that assumptions of an organization can be hard-wired, especially true of national security being wedded to a Western European, myopic perspective. If you’re someone whose frame of reference is another geographic region and you want those perspectives included, you’re fighting an uphill battle. This isn’t to dissuade anyone from advocating for a different viewpoint, but rather something to be cognizant of.

On Communication

  • When faced with a colleague who shares a derogatory stereotype or uncomfortable statement, Jorhena advises simply asking questions, like “why do you think that?” or “why did you say that?” or “where are you coming from?” Someone self-aware may take that moment to truly think about his or her biases, although Jorhena did note that this tactic might not work among non-self-aware coworkers.
  • Carmen cautioned that she has made statements that she didn’t think were controversial, but were perceived to be – characteristic of a minority in a majority environment. Be aware that what you’re saying might come across as abrupt or antagonistic, simply because the group or person you’re addressing hasn’t heard a unique perspective before.

On Hiring

  • One way to increase diversity in our field is to reconsider the level of qualifications that hiring managers establish for our roles. Denny shared a survey she participated in during her time at the CIA which explored success from employees with a bachelor’s degree vice those with a master’s. Her team found no statistical difference in performance reviews or career growth between the two degrees.
  • Carmen noted that college students hailing from lower socioeconomic levels may be juggling side jobs and/or struggling with the psychological pressure of being the first in their family or peer group to attend college. This can affect performance and take a toll on grades. Therefore, hiring managers may want to truly consider the skillset of a candidate who doesn’t necessarily have the highest GPA but can still bring tremendous value to a team.
  • Denny also nodded to the importance of diversity of thought, sharing an example of a CIA analyst with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre and a master’s degree in applied math!
  • Carmen stressed that the ideal intelligence analyst is a member of a great intelligence team. “No individual has all the skills or perspectives necessary. We need to think about building a team that has the talent to analyze the problem that we have to tackle.”
  • Bonus suggestion! Create an ideal team description before creating an individual job description.
  • Jorhena pointed out that diversity strategies may require tailored approaches based on management’s resistance to change. She illustrated her point using a traffic metaphor:  fast cars with momentum can overtake pedestrians who have the same right to the road. Sometimes pedestrians just need some leeway to get on that road.
  • For a hiring manager reluctant to embracing diversity, Jorhena advises figuring out what argument would resonate. For example, if he/she is a data-driven person, point to the studies that show diversity is good for the bottom line. If leadership is more risk averse, offer to take on an untraditional candidate in a probationary status.

On Courage

  • Denny stressed that managers should be willing to take a risk on someone who “doesn’t fit the mold” or doesn’t resemble the current team makeup.
  • Carmen said managers trying to promote diversity might find themselves choosing between making a decision that’s right for career growth versus a courageous decision. She admitted the courageous decision isn’t always the right one. But we need to do it more often.

Final Thoughts

  • Carmen: “I don’t think we can make progress on diversity and inclusion unless we have trust. Trust does not mean absolute confidence that a person can do a great job. Trust is when you allow a person to do the work even though you’re not sure they will succeed. Trust is a muscle; you have to exercise it.”
  • Jorhena: “I would point to self-awareness in ourselves. You don’t have to be a hiring manager to help in this realm. All of us, no matter our role, can help by being self- aware: understanding why we say what we do, what we call our colleagues on, etc. Words lead to actions.”

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Tags:  AIRIP  Diversity and Inclusion  Diversity of Thought  Hiring  Intelligence Outreach  Professional Development  Risk Intelligence 

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What does a Risk Intelligence Analyst do in a non-profit organization?

Posted By Rachel Bode, Monday, October 10, 2016

This is a guest post by AIRIP member Shana Tarbell. Ms. Tarbell is the Deputy Director for Risk and Threat Analysis within the Global Security Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has 18 years of experience in the federal government crafting and overseeing intelligence analysis on a range of issues and countries, and has been in the non-profit sector for a year and a half.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world with roughly 1500 employees and an endowment of over $40 billion. Guided by the belief that all lives have equal value, the Foundation works in developing countries to improve health and give people a chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, we seek to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. To accomplish these goals, we fund about $4 billion in grants and innovative partnerships per year, often taking financial risks that governments and the private sector will not or cannot take. The Foundation’s headquarters are in Seattle, and it has offices in Washington, DC, London, Beijing, Abuja, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, and New Delhi and Patna, India.

I came to the Foundation last summer after 18 years producing and overseeing intelligence analysis on a range of issues in the federal government, and now serve as the Deputy Director for Risk and Threat Analysis within the Global Security Team. I was drawn to the non-profit sector by the prospect of being able to bring my analytic skills and management experience to bear on a different, but equally compelling mission. There are many similarities between the analytic work in the government and the non-profit sector, to include a need to develop a solid understanding of the needs of your audience, to craft clear intelligence questions, to ensure that analytic judgments are well supported and to write in a clear and concise manner. The team I lead has a brought set of responsibilities and a diverse customer set, ranging from working-level colleagues in the Foundation’s support units to the senior leadership of the programs that are directly engaged in carrying out the Foundation’s mission around the world. 

Our analytic work covers six areas:

Risk to Overseas Travelers and Offices. Foundation personnel travel to and in some cases live in far-flung regions of the world, where they gather information to best target resources, oversee grants, and consult with partners. Often the locations with the greatest need are in countries facing the greatest security challenges. Our job is to produce assessments of the risks to Foundation travelers and local operations, which can trigger additional security protocols, or potentially lead to a decision by Foundation leaders that the risks outweigh the benefits of travel to a particular destination. Our analysts scour open-source information, consult with Foundation personnel in our regional offices, and compare notes with counterparts in other organizations and with other experts.

Political and Security Challenges. In addition to assessment immediate threats to Foundation personnel traveling to or living in an area, our analysts work to identify relevant political and security developments and emerging threats in a country or region that may have an impact on Foundation staff, operations, or grantees working there. For example, we recently produced a piece highlighting the implications for Foundation operations of the leadership split in Boko Haram. Our flagship product is an annual assessment of the anticipated security challenges over the next year in each of the countries in which the Foundation is operating or considering operating. Its publication is timed to support the program offices’ annual strategy development process.

Persons of Interest. Our team assesses the risk from individuals who have demonstrated a potentially threatening interest in or attitude toward the Foundation and its staff. We track and review their correspondence and communication with the Foundation, looking for indicators that the latest research in this field tells us might show signs of escalation toward an imminent violent act. When a potential threat is identified, we work closely with our partners in the Security Team and our legal department, and with local and Federal law enforcement to take appropriate steps to mitigate any threat. We produce a monthly summary of the most important cases to enhance the situational awareness of the Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer and the General Counsel, as well as other members of the legal and Security Team.

Opposing Voices. The Foundation’s humanitarian efforts have earned it widespread respect and support, but some groups oppose various aspects of its work or investments. Most often these views are expressed peacefully, but it is our team’s job to look for signs that a group or members of it might be planning to commit violence or to physically disrupt Foundation offices or operations. When such signs emerge, we alert Foundation leaders and we work with our guard force, other security elements, and law enforcement to ensure that appropriate security measures are put in place.  

Due Diligence. As part of the Foundation’s processes for choosing grantees and making other investments, we look for reputational concerns or violations of US international sanctions and corruption regulations.

New Hires. In collaboration with human resources, we manage the Foundation’s background screening process. We verify that candidates have represented themselves honestly and assess whether an applicant might pose a security, behavioral, or financial risk.

Legal Disclaimer

This material is provided for information purposes only and does not represent professional advice. We make no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the material and do not undertake to keep recipients advised of relevant developments. This material should not be relied upon to validate, endorse, or recommend any particular data, product, service, methodology, or organization, whether named or not. Accordingly, we expect you will consult competent professional advisors, as you deem necessary, when evaluating and utilizing this material. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shall not be held responsible for any claims or losses that may arise from any error or omission herein.

Tags:  Intelligence Outreach  IntelligenceCareers  Risk Intelligence  Risk Intelligence Organization  travel  WhatDoesARiskIntelligenceAnalystDo 

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#TBT :: Board Member and Intelligence Professional Charles Randolph on Things You Need to Tell Your Boss

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 4, 2016

Charles Randolph, Senior Director of Executive Protection, Event Security and Intelligence at Microsoft, and AIRIP Board Member shared the following on his personal blog in September 2015, but it remains relevant, so we're sharing today for a little #TBT.

A huge thank you to Charles for his insights and for his leadership on our board, and to Microsoft for their partnership and membership in AIRIP!

Intelligence Analyst – Five things your boss is thinking but may not tell you: TWO is surprising and FIVE is vital

1 – I’m also a critical thinker, I just may not use the same vocabulary as you: Hey, I may not use the same language, but I’m also analytical (I may just not realize it). By doing operational analysis, I’m developing courses of action (COAs) and making mission assumptions based on the facts in front of me. When on an operation or in an emergency, I’ll be using what I have gathered and developing COAs based on pre-thought scenarios and trends that are manifesting. Just like you, I’m a critical thinker; please, remind me of that from time-to-time.

2 – I need you to help me, help you, to help me: Your request for information (RFI) process may not be the same one that I am familiar with. I also may not fully understand how to ask for what I need or am unsure of what you can do. Therefore, I need you to take the lead in this dance. Show me what you’ve got and suggest we walk through the operations plan (OPLAN) together. When we do that, listen and ask questions. As an operator, I may not care about the form you need filled out, I do need your insight and keen eye towards pattern analysis to see something I don’t. Honestly, I need you to be my partner and educate to develop me.

3 – Sometimes, I need you to slow down: You can get excited, I get it (and I like that about you). But, if I’m excited and you're excited and we are all excited….well, I need you to be the one to slow down and make sure we are paying attention to detail and managing the little things which always come up in the form of Mr. Murphy – and his damnable law. Offer up some advice, ensure you stuff is double-checked before you hit send and be that calming voice. I’ve got a lot going on and sometimes I may just need to see someone being outwardly steadfast.

4 – You don’t have a crystal ball, I know that… let me know what you think anyway: I get it, you’re not 100%. Guess what, neither am I. I don’t need you to be all knowing (although, secretly I wish you were). I just need you to give me the best understanding you have and say the same. If it doesn’t go down the way you describe, I may get cranky…but I don’t blame you (I’m probably blaming myself). No one expects the black swan’s arrival, but I need you to tell me when you think conditions may be right for impending issues.

Finally, and most important…

5 – I trust you: From the mundane to the insane, you’re my go-to! I may always not say it, but you are.  I have a healthy trust in your abilities. This is why I ask you to brief first, set the tone and put a ‘realistic’ filter on what’s happening. The interwebs opened up a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘breaking news' and I can’t always be sure it affects our situation. I know you have my back, you understand my needs, and will tell me what’s important in the din.  Because you’re intelligent, professional, curious and thoughtful… I trust you.

this is dedicated to all my favorite analysts…


Tags:  AIRIP  AIRIP Board  AIRIPMentoring  code of conduct  Information Sharing  Intelligence Outreach  IntelligenceCareers  Networking  Professional Development  Professional Standard  Risk Intelligence  Risk Intelligence Organization 

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