Counterterrorism analyst launches career via IWP

March 5, 2012  |  STUDENTS & ALUMNI

"David"It was in the Souk of Damascus, in front of the oldest ice cream shop in the world.  Pictures of Sheik Nasrallah and other Hezbollah propaganda were everywhere.  Future IWP student "David" (Name changed for security purposes) was enjoying the ice cream and asking Hezbollah supporters about their views on Bashar al-Assad, and whether they had been in Lebanon during the 2006 war.  He used a pseudonym then, too.

David has always been this inquisitive.  "I've been fascinated by international relations, espionage, and covert warfare, since roughly the age of six," he says.  This may spring from David's family history: although he grew up in the backwoods of Idaho, his family has been in the United States since arriving in New Amsterdam [now New York] in the 1620s.  "I grew up hearing about my family's history in the U.S., as professors, admirals, and statesmen, and that experience colored how I understood myself and my place in the world." One of his great uncles was named Roman Gorski, and served in the OSS in World War II. Roman's mother, a Saxon baroness, was killed by the Nazis; his father, a Russian industrialist, was killed by the Soviets.  Roman came to the U.S. as a political exile, became an economics professor at Columbia University, and joined the OSS as soon as the opportunity arose.  "It sounds bizarre, but I grew up hearing about my uncle's exploits, including a machete scar he carried across his forehead from one of the assassination attempts on the life of Charles de Gaulle, for which he received the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur in France.  I feel robbed to have never met him."

These stories captured David's imagination from a very young age, and by the time he got to college at a small liberal arts university near Boise, Idaho, he was eager to learn more.  He double-majored in philosophy and political science, and minored in economics and cultural psychology. 

From there, he studied abroad in the Middle East, living in downtown Cairo and traveling in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine.  "When I was studying in the Middle East, I was confronted by many different brands of radicalism," David remembers, "and I was able to see firsthand how much these religious and political ideologies made life worse for everybody." 

When he returned from this trip, David began to focus on the Near East and South Asia, and how people in these communities became radicalized to the extent that they were ready to kill for their beliefs.  He wrote many of his undergraduate papers on these topics, including a comparison of religious politics in Turkey and Israel.  His thesis was on comparative political radicalism, explaining how various peoples share a common psychological framework to understand their history and guide their beliefs and actions. 

After graduating, though, David had a difficult time finding work, because he was not connected with professionals in his field.  While working with Burmese refugees for a semester, David found out about IWP.  He recalls, "I applied to several other graduate institutions, but IWP stood out because of its emphasis on practice.  I wanted to get out there and do something.  Once I arrived, I was duly impressed with everything about the Institute."

He was accepted with a scholarship and began at IWP in fall 2011.  He observes, "I really love the level of detail and personal experience the professors can share.  Everybody here in some way or another has contributed to the national interest, and has done in their own career what I eventually hope to do in mine."

In addition to his studies at IWP, David is working as a counterterrorism analyst at the University of Maryland-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which is also affiliated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

"I recently finished a literature review of different tactics used against terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.  It was circulated in the Pentagon, and I got to brief several generals," says David.  The review discussed the full spectrum of influence, from targeted killing to softer techniques like psychological operations/military information support operations. 

In another recent project, David wrote a case study on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in Helmand province, Afghanistan, which is the source of 70% of the world's heroin.  This project is meant to evaluate the U.S.'s responses to the conflicting goals of counter-narcotics and counterterrorism, and the best methods by which to break populations away from a reliance on the Taliban. 

Because about 80-90% of the region's economy is based on poppy growth, David suggests that it is not a good idea for the U.S. to destroy these crops.  Previously, the U.S. had destroyed the poppies, and the population looked to the Taliban in order to secure their livelihood.  Now, the U.S. is focusing on building infrastructure to make it possible for the local population to transport other crops, and on providing security.  David's report will be circulated among several Pentagon staff and subcontractors. 

David says, "IWP Career Services was tremendously helpful in revising my resume and helping me with connections to get this job... I was interviewing at START within six weeks of beginning classes at IWP."

David eventually wants to work for the intelligence community.  He comments, "In the last decade, I have seen my generation go through a lot of challenges.  We grew up seeing 9/11 unfold in Home Room, have lost friends in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saw our own plans in life stymied by the financial crisis.  I want to commit my career to stopping these types of disasters from happening, whether it's 9/11 or another war... My ultimate career goal is to be in a position to help prevent Iran from getting a nuclear device, or to prevent or dissuade the Pakistani intelligence services from continuing their support for the Taliban and its ilk against the West and the people of Afghanistan.  These crises may already come to pass by the time I have gotten there, but similar challenges are bound to arise in the future, and it is important that someone rise to confront them."

IWP has been helping him achieve these goals.  "So far, I'm very impressed with the Institute.  IWP has given me what I wouldn't have at other schools - a level of philosophical and intellectual discipline with an eye to practicality.  With the level of camaraderie among students, faculty, and staff, this has been a great place to begin and expand my career."