Press "Enter" to skip to content

Patricia Larsen, Mirriam Grace-Macintyre, Tricia Wellman | October 18, 2022

Event Summary by Zoe Spicer

On October 18, American Grand Strategy and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies co-hosted a speaker event on contemporary issues in the intelligence community (IC). Dr. Susan Colbourn moderated a discussion with three speakers in different roles in the IC: Patricia Larsen, Mirriam-Grace Macintyre, and Tricia Wellman.

The event began with each speaker discussing how they got into the intelligence community (IC). Macintyre spoke about a counterterrorism internship that sparked her interest, Larsen’s parents worked in the National Security Agency, and Wellman went to law school and worked in the Department of Justice. After 9/11 alerted her to of the importance of the IC, Wellman joined the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Then, each speaker spoke about what they do in their work. Macintyre works on the National Security Council and often writes memos, and she was previously a Deputy National Intelligence Manager. Larsen spoke less about her role and more about what it looks like to be a student at National Intelligence University and what the National Counterintelligence Security Center does, including looking at how intelligence can be used to protect the U.S.’s technological edge or key supply chains like Taiwan’s semiconductors. Wellman explained that her most interesting work includes litigation on the Freedom of Information Act, criminal cases, and unmasking names in classified files. Wellman also mentioned that she previously worked as the Executive Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Next, the speakers discussed the biggest challenges facing the IC and how that has changed throughout their careers. Macintyre argued that a key issue is modernizing military technology and what investments to make. Larsen posed a broader question: What is the continued relevance of the IC? With the rise of online open-source information and cybersecurity tools, the IC must reassess its strengths and find its unique value proposition. Wellman added that recruitment is a challenge for the IC, which is losing talent to the private sector because the private sector pays more, is more flexible about working at home post-pandemic, and lacks regulations such as those about marijuana use.

Finally, each speaker discussed the skills and lessons they thought would be useful for students looking to join the IC. Macintyre said that the most important skills for someone in the IC are writing, collaboration, and briefing (meaning pulling out the most important issues among many). Larsen said that knowing how to present information in “modern” formats such as infographics and entrepreneurship (meaning willingness to take risks and initiative) are key skills. She also mentioned that those looking to join the IC could investigate shortage fields such as auditing and budget management to break in. Additionally, Larsen mentioned, and Macintyre seconded, that reputation and network matters given that the IC is such a small community. Wellman shared that a mentor gave her advice that she has carried with her: be yourself because you will be more successful than trying to be something you are not.

After the initial discussion, audience members posed questions such as: How has the NSC changed over time? What are emerging issues in the IC? and What are the strengths of the IC? Some key points mentioned during this discussion included the difference in the way the NSC operated under Trump, the importance of ethics in decision-making, and that the IC is always trying to learn from its mistakes such as its involvement in the lead-up to and cover-up of the Kent State massacre of Vietnam War protestors and its incorrect conclusion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which was a key motivation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.