Zachary Sheren (’02) began his studies at IWP when he was transitioning from serving with the U.S. Navy to serving in the Intelligence Community. After a stint at the Office of Naval Intelligence, Zach’s IWP education helped him obtain a position with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, where he currently serves as Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Strategic Operations.
Zachary Sheren (’02) has been serving the United States for his whole career – and this commitment began in college when he attended the University of Michigan on a Naval ROTC scholarship. After majoring in political science, Zach was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer.
He went on to serve for seven years of active duty, and his last assignment was in the Washington, D.C. area as an officer recruiter. One of the individuals whom Zach was helping to join the Navy had previously attended some classes at IWP and introduced Zach to the school.
Studying at IWP and beginning work in the Intelligence Community
This was a welcome development for Zach, who was ready to transition out of the Navy and serve our country in a different way. He knew that he wanted to stay involved in national security, and he decided to pursue a career in an intelligence-related field.
IWP would offer him a chance to bolster his knowledge in this new field. Zach said, “What drew me to IWP was the ability to take classes from practitioners who had served in a variety of national security and intelligence roles. They could speak from the practitioner and academic perspectives.”
While pursuing his M.A. in Statecraft and National Security Affairs at IWP, Zach was mentored by Prof. Ken deGraffenreid, former senior director of intelligence programs at the National Security Council, who had served in the Navy and made a similar transition into the Intelligence Community as a civilian. Zach remembered, “He helped me navigate that process and make decisions.”
Meanwhile, after completing the security clearance process, Zach began working as an intelligence analyst with the Office of Naval Intelligence. He attended 6:30 PM evening classes at IWP while working full time: “It was very useful to me to have some academic training in intelligence at IWP as I was getting the more hands-on practical knowledge at ONI during the day. It helped my progression and helped me understand the wider picture as I was being taught the tactical aspects during the day.”
Zach’s position with ONI began in early August of 2001. After two weeks on the job, he got married and took leave. When he returned, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 happened.
Transitioning to counterintelligence work
This tragedy eventually led Zach to look to join a cohort of new hires at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. He was looking to transition from being an intelligence analyst to a more active role.
At IWP, Zach had been exposed to the field of counterintelligence (CI) and the agencies that conduct CI through two classes with retired FBI agent David Major.
In addition to learning about CI as a potential career path at IWP, Zach’s IWP classes helped him to get started in this field. He said, “Being able to say that I had some formal academic training in counterintelligence helped me to progress into the CI subset of NCIS. It was also helpful to have that larger perspective of why CI is conducted as you are learning how it is conducted on the job on a day-to-day basis.”
Protecting our nation from foreign intelligence threats
Thus, Zach went from being an analyst, a job focused on the analysis of facts that are presented to you – to a position as a Special Agent, a job series that can be found across federal law enforcement agencies. Agencies with a counterintelligence mission use Special Agents to conduct CI missions. These missions can involve overlap with law enforcement in CI investigations, in which the Special Agent investigates suspected espionage or compromises of defense information. Other CI missions conducted by Special Agents include functional services and operations.
Zach enjoyed this work: “My days, weeks, and years were more varied from case to case, mission set to mission set, and location to location. I have served NCIS in five field offices and at headquarters.”
In his work with NCIS, Zach worked across a variety of counterintelligence missions, including conducting espionage investigations, working with foreign partners, and supervising CI operations to protect the Department of the Navy from foreign intelligence threats. Zach said, “I found it to be very rewarding and impactful. I feel like I have been continuing to serve the nation in a meaningful way. IWP pushed me in this direction and opened the doors for me.”
Zach feels that the biggest impacts that he has made in his career are through his mentorship. As he has become a leader at NCIS, he has used his experience to mentor others who are coming up the ranks “to have a passion for the career field and take on leadership roles in the agency.”
While his time at NCIS is coming to the end in the near future, Zach is beginning to think about his next steps to serve in a field that he loves in a different capacity.