Above: Jarrod McDowell (third from right) with other members of the Class of 2017
Please note: The statements made in this article do not reflect the official positions of NGA, DoD, or the U.S. Government.
Jarrod McDowell (’17), an analytic editor at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), still has recordings of lectures from courses he took at IWP. According to Jarrod, his education on history, international affairs, and the intelligence-policy relationship has helped prepare him for his career: “IWP teaches you about what you’re going into as opposed to having to learn everything on the job and still not really understand the intelligence cycle.”
Below, he discusses his experience with IWP.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.
In college, I really wanted to go to graduate school for international relations. After graduating in 2014, I worked a bunch of different jobs and got married. I wanted to diversify myself before going back to school. I researched and found IWP on the internet and applied.
It worked out after I got in because my dad was stationed up here at the time and my sister already lived in the D.C. area. My wife is from Athens, Georgia, so she took a leap of faith in moving to a new area. But it was worth it!
Why did you know IWP would be the right fit for you?
When I researched IWP, there was a huge focus on history within the course selection. This is really what I wanted, since I got my undergraduate degree in History from Emmanuel College. Emmanuel is a small school, so I was looking for a small graduate school where I could get to know the faculty. IWP really checked all the boxes.
Is there an anecdote or moment that you feel encapsulates your IWP experience?
In my Contemporary Politics and Diplomacy course, Prof. Chodakiewicz gave a narrative of the Spanish Civil War that you could not find in any published book anywhere. He drew it all on the board and talked about how there was a “mini-World War II.” I was wondering how he pulled together all the parts of the narrative so clearly. That was a pretty defining moment. IWP certainly has a faculty with such vast experience.
Please tell us about your current professional work.
I’m an analytic editor at NGA in the Analytic Production Design Center. I joined NGA as an editor intern. There actually was another IWPer in my office when I started! Now, my office does normal copyediting, just as you would do at a newspaper. But we’re specifically looking at the substance of strategic intelligence.
Our process begins when an analyst sits down and reports about what he or she is seeing, depending on what branch he or she is in. That reporting comprises the first and second phases of the process. The third phase involves the creation of estimated strategic finished intelligence. That’s where my office falls. We have to make sure it meets the Office of the Director of National Intelligence tradecraft standards. These reports go to both senior policymakers and military consumers who need them.
I’m the editor, so I edit everything that comes through. NGA also has graphic designers, 3D specialists – multimedia folks. NGA has the capability to create custom graphics and custom interactive multimedia. We even have a team that creates 3D models. For example, NGA was key to the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011. The scale model of his Abbottabad complex compound was created by NGA at the time. That team is in our office. The editors work with graphic designers and multimedia folks to help build the reports that the analysts are writing.
I review things like sourcing and logic, distinguishing between claims and judgments. When you do intelligence writing, you have to be very specific and attribute and cite everything. These standards go back to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which I studied at IWP. We have to apply all of those standards against all of the reporting that comes through to make sure that it’s accessible to the people that need it immediately.
So that’s my day-to-day job. We also work on process improvement and ensuring that the dissemination of this reporting is sound.
I have been at the agency for four years now, but it seems like 15 with the level of work that’s going on. I’ve gained so much from my time here.
What are your plans for the future?
I definitely plan on staying with NGA – I really do love it. Overall, we have a really good culture here. I want to go into analysis, doing the day-to-day work and building intelligence from the ground up. It can be challenging, but in a good way. NGA gives you the opportunity to take ownership of what you’re doing early on.
How have your studies at IWP impacted your profession?
At a practical level, IWP teaches skills that are immediately useful. Most important is knowing the intelligence cycle. Once you are in the weeds at work, it can be hard to learn the bigger picture of the intelligence cycle – who needs the intelligence and when, and how you fit in.
For example, at IWP, we learned about the history of the intelligence/policy relationship. Studying history is crucial in terms of knowing where you are as a cog in the machine. It can be a grind day-to-day just like any job, but my IWP education was helpful in being able to have that perspective of where you are within the cycle and knowing how it all comes together. When you are an external hire to any government agency, you have a lot of learning to do. The learning curve is steep, so being caught up on that already by 75% or so is very valuable. IWP prepares you for this and really sets you up for success.
Any advice for current IWP students?
If you are a student, that’s an asset. That goes for any agency. At NGA, you have to remain enrolled as a student in order to finish the internship program, then be eligible for an offer of full employment. So, this is why I tell students at IWP to cast a wide net and cast it early if they want to join the IC [Intelligence Community] in any capacity. The community as a whole is looking to bring in most of the future workforce as interns, and this includes NGA. At NGA, you must complete any internship while enrolled to be offered full-time employment at the end. This is probably true for other agencies to some extent.
How did you get involved with interning with the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) during your time at IWP?
I did this remote, unpaid internship during my first year at IWP. It was a really cool experience. I only found out about TRAC because of IWP and Director of Career Services Derrick Dortch.
Veryan Khan built and runs the program, and she is a powerhouse. I got to learn a lot about open-source research. At the time, the Islamic State was the gorilla in the room when it came to Islamic political violence and terrorism in general. What we knew about them versus what the world knew about them, just based on open-source research, was mind-boggling and really an existential experience. I was working to corroborate disparate sources of open-source information and getting into those Telegram channels and Twitter lists. But at the time, these posts were not banned as fast as they are today, so it was a really wild experience.
Has studying at IWP changed your thoughts about international affairs?
It absolutely has. I had a hunch about IWP, I went with my gut, and I’m glad that I did. IWP’s vision on international affairs and history is just so different from other programs. I really valued that, and it was just really revealing.
For example, after taking macroeconomics in college, I took Dr. Bradley’s course Economics for Foreign Policy Makers. She presented the material in a whole new way – in a really fresh way. Her class was very empowering. It was so accessible. Dr. Bradley can do Nobel-level economics any day of the month, but the way that she presents the information, the readings that she chooses, and the conversation that we had, make this information accessible. Economics and economic freedom are important, and understanding this subject helps you really understand what you’re helping to protect.
IWP really delivers by making information accessible, but also allowing you to think critically about who you are and where you are in the world. It’s just a really different approach, and that’s why I like to help the school, including mentoring the students.
I try to give back because IWP really did change my life – I would not be here without it – and that is something I’m very grateful for.