“IWP was a lifesaver for me. I was at the Naval War College, and I needed to stay in D.C. and get my electives out of the way. At the time, I did not realize the impact IWP would have on my career – I am forever appreciative of my time at the school.”
Former IWP student Jake Abel’s career in foreign affairs and intelligence has brought him to nearly 30 countries. He has traveled to Libya during the reign of the late Muammar Gaddafi, met with the Dalai Lama, and landed on the USS Harry S. Truman to thank U.S. troops during the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Jake’s studies in international affairs and national security – including classes that he took at IWP as electives for his U.S. Naval War College Master’s degree – contributed to his decision to pursue a career in intelligence. He has worked on Capitol Hill and with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he currently supports U.S. Government customers through his work as a pursuit customer success manager at Janes.
Capitol Hill work on foreign affairs and intelligence
Two weeks after graduating from Aurora University in Illinois, Jake Abel moved to Washington, D.C. to begin a job with the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
He ended up working there for five years and began to focus on foreign policy and defense. Jake coordinated the Speaker’s schedule of meetings with foreign dignitaries, as well as briefed the Speaker and congressional members before traveling to meet with their foreign counterparts.
During that time, Jake remembers, “I was able to be a fly on the wall for historical events – like the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent intelligence reorganization.”
With a quickly developing interest in intelligence, Jake watched as then Florida Congressman Porter Goss, who had served as the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), was appointed Director of Central Intelligence in 2004, taking several of his staff members with him to the Agency.
When the Speaker asked Jake about his career goals, Jake said that he was interested in intelligence. He ended up filling one of these vacancies at HPSCI, where he became a Professional Staff Member. He served there for two years during which time he conducted oversight for counterterrorism, intelligence, and covert intelligence programs, as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. He also authored the Committee’s open-source report on the threat of Al-Qaeda, titled: “al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat.”
Studying at IWP
“When I figured out that I loved foreign policy and intelligence, the idea of going back for an M.A. was attractive,” said Jake.
At the time, Jake had colleagues on the Hill who were enrolled in the Naval War College’s distance program. Jake signed up for this program, which he was able to do while continuing his rigorous schedule of work on the Hill.
As a part of this program, Jake needed to take some electives from an outside institution. He said, “D.C. has a lot of unique and well-known institutions. The one I was attracted to and fit my needs the best was IWP. It had a flexible schedule, small class sizes, and direct access to the professors. I was impressed with the caliber of teachers they had on staff, as well as the diverse curriculum. The classes offered were exactly what I was looking for.”
The thing that stood out the most for Jake about his IWP experience was the emphasis on thorough research: “I had really good skills to begin with, but the focus on rigorous research – corroborating your sources, twice if necessary – was really what I got out of IWP. We were encouraged to see all perspectives and to explore how somebody from a different region or culture would assess the same issue. When you are able to see a problem from all angles, it makes you a stronger analyst. You are able to provide a more well-rounded narrative.”
We were encouraged to see all perspectives and to explore how somebody from a different region or culture would assess the same issue.
One of the classes that Jake took at IWP was a directed study with Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz. “He challenged every position I had,” said Jake. “We had lively conversations. He was trying to get me out of my comfort zone. Where I had one particular view, he encouraged me to consider and understand the other viewpoints. To this day, I remember when Dr. Chodakiewicz labeled me as a neoconservative – it is important because it helps me to understand my biases as I engage on important issues.”
To anyone considering IWP for graduate school, Jake says: “If you are looking to be challenged, if you are looking for interesting classes being taught by incredible professors, where you can have direct contact and engage in interesting discussions, IWP is the place to do it.”
Work with the Defense Intelligence Agency
After two years working on intelligence issues for HPSCI and being on the receiving end of intelligence reports, Jake became interested in developing intelligence products himself. Instead of being a customer, he was excited about the opportunity to help inform senior decision-makers in the U.S. Intelligence and Defense communities.
He began work at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where he became a subject matter expert and intelligence analyst. His intelligence products were shared with defense leadership, executive leadership, and Capitol Hill. During this time, he would brief senior government officials on global terrorist threats.
During his IWP classes, Jake remembers examining the history of a given region and how it influences today’s world. He remembers studying the history of Algeria and France and how it is related to turmoil in North Africa today.
At DIA, Jake also applied historical information to today’s issues. He said, “I can’t tell you how many times during my four years with DIA that I was able to reference back to a specific piece of intelligence traffic from the past and explain why it is relevant to today.” For example, in 2010, an individual whom Jake remembered from a 2002 intelligence report resurfaced. Jake was able to use his historical knowledge of this individual to inform his assessment. “That is the importance of understanding the past,” he said.
Jake was able to leverage his subject matter expertise and sound tradecraft to help U.S. foreign policy. In fact, he was informed by his manager that his assessments were used by senior U.S. officials to make informative votes at the United Nations. “It is nice to know your hard work is helping to shape U.S. foreign policy. We may not be able to talk in details, but it makes the job rewarding.”
It is nice to know your hard work is helping to shape U.S. foreign policy.
Looking back, Jake is most proud of his commitment to producing timely and unbiased intelligence analysis, allowing the intelligence, not politics, to tell the story. He is also proud of his role in helping to mentor young analysts – emphasizing the importance of conducting thorough research, trusting our analytical tradecraft, and having the courage to tell senior decision-makers what we don’t know.
Transitioning to the private sector
In 2011, Jake had a growing family, and they moved from Washington D.C. to the Philadelphia suburbs where he planned to enjoy his time as a stay-at-home dad. This lasted for four months – “the hardest four months of my life!” remembered Jake.
Soon, Janes, a defense and security company specializing in open source data, contacted Jake to support a project for the U.S. Government, and he has remained with the company ever since. Today, Jake works with Janes U.S. Federal Sales team helping defense and security customers better understand how Janes data and evolving capabilities can better serve their requirements. While Jake is no longer an intelligence analyst, he still looks forward to opportunities when his colleagues reach out for his thoughts on geo-political issues.
Does he have anything he is currently working on? “Well, we are currently wrapping up a Special Report on Iran where I am working with two of my colleagues where we discuss the challenges of covering Iran using open sources,” Jake said, adding: “The report looks at the ongoing protests, Iran’s nuclear program, and the succession of the Supreme Leader. I am responsible for the latter issue which has been an interest of mine for years.”
So, who does Jake think will replace Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei? “If I told you, you wouldn’t read the report,” he quipped. “You will need to log onto Janes and read the report. I am really proud of the piece and it will help the reader to understand some of the challenges faced by an open source analyst – having to leverage past experiences, previous reporting, images, official documents – to put the puzzle together.”
Involvement in the local community
In addition to working and helping his wife, Kristie, raise their four growing boys, Jake has taken on a role on the Board of Commissioners for his Township of Radnor, Pennsylvania. Radnor does not have a mayor but is divided into seven wards – Jake represents Ward 6 where he was first elected in 2017 and won re-election in 2022.
“Being from the Midwest, I always believed it was important to give back to my community,” said Jake. “It is humbling that your neighbors trust in you to do what is right for the community, and it is really rewarding to be able to help set the direction for the next generation.”
Jake said his favorite community activity is when he is invited into the local elementary school to talk to students about community service and local government. “I wish I was as engaged as these kids are when I was their age,” Jake reflected. “My hope is that I can set a positive example and influence these students to get involved in their community when they get older. This is how we impact change.”
One of the projects Jake is currently working on is the cleanup of an orphaned cemetery, which is the burial site for two dozen U.S. veterans, dating back to the Civil War era. Jake enjoys these types of projects because it requires community support – volunteers coming together to achieve a common goal. Jake’s long-term goal is to beautify the cemetery, including a landscaped area where neighbors can come to visit, sit quietly to reflect, and honor those who are buried there. “Twenty years from now, I want to drive by this area and know that I played a small role in making the neighborhood a better place to live,” he said.
Continuing to serve
Jake is not quite sure what the future holds, but he knows he wants to continue working in a position where he can support U.S. national security and intelligence work. “I’ve never had a bad day at work because I have always believed in the mission,” he concluded.