LinkedIn tracking pixel

Carson Checketts: IWP Alumnus and Professional in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense

Carson Checketts addressing an audience in the Pentagon Auditorium
Carson addressing an audience in the Pentagon Auditorium

In this interview, we speak with Carson Checketts, who took classes at IWP while serving with the U.S. Navy and has earned five national-level awards since beginning working for the government. Most recently, he has served in a variety of positions within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security (OUSD I&S), including Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff, Acting Division Chief for Mission Assurance & Strategic Partnerships, and Senior Strategist. He now serves as the OSD/OUSD(I&S) Privacy, Civil Liberties, Transparency & Records Management Officer.

**Please note that the views expressed here are Carson’s personal views and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.**

Please tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Utah on a dairy farm, taking care of calves. When I was in the 6th grade, we moved to Idaho to grow the family business.

How did you become interested in national security/intelligence?

The first memory I have of becoming interested in national security is back in the second grade. My teacher, Ms. Barrus, had a son who was in the Army and had deployed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. She was a phenomenal teacher, and she took time every day to give us an update. When President George H.W. Bush, gave Iraq a midnight deadline to leave Kuwait, or the coalition would liberate the nation, I convinced my parents to let me stay up late and watch TV until the deadline and the beginning of the attack.

That was the first time I recall having become aware of there being other nations in the world that intended our nation harm. I was interested in national security and global affairs, from that point forward and the passion has never left.

What inspired you to serve with the U.S. Navy Reserve?

After 9/11, I felt, as I believe most Americans did, attacked. Although my grandfather had served in the Army during the Korean War, and my father in the Reserves during the Vietnam war, no one else in my family had direct military experience. I was committed to joining the military and serving. I first tried Air Force ROTC for a semester, and finding that to be too slow-paced, I spoke to the Army and Marine Corps ROTC programs. I joined the Marine Corps “bull-dog” prep course for Officer Candidate School and absolutely loved ROTC.

Later, I commissioned in the U.S. Navy Reserves in 2006, following a Pentagon internship in the Navy’s Office of the Judge Advocate General, Administrative Law Division. I have always wanted to serve in uniform and deploy overseas, and having studied both political science and philosophy in undergraduate studies, I felt I could contribute the most by becoming a “warrior/scholar,” so to speak – though I did not have those words for it yet.

Did this lead to your work with Naval Intelligence? Please tell us about your work there.

There is a common cartoon that shows how we as people make plans, believing it will follow a linear trajectory: you set a goal for your career, and then work toward it, assuming that if you take the right steps, you can get there.

In my situation, nobody in my family had ever talked about National Security careers. Neither of my parents went to college, despite running a very successful business. I have always been grateful for them encouraging us to pursue as much education as possible. I ended up working with the Navy on National Security Issues through a recruitment program. Post 9/11, many federal agencies were looking to fill key slots, and I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected.

IWP Pentagon Tour, November 7, 2023 (1)
Carson with fellow IWP alumni and students during a tour of the Pentagon in November 2023.

Please tell us a little about your work as a Senior Strategist to the Chief of Staff of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense – Intelligence & Security (OUSD I&S).

This was an interesting position, that was during my third year of my Joint Duty Assignment at OUSD(I&S). I was able to work on the National Defense Strategy and advise the OUSD(I&S) Chief of Staff on issues of importance.

Can you tell us about your current work as the new Privacy, Civil Liberties, Transparency & Records Management Officer with OUSD (I&S)? What are your primary goals in this position?

I am still learning all of my responsibilities in this new position. And I will say that I am grateful for having completed law school, given my current responsibilities. With respect to Privacy, Civil Liberties and Transparency, I think this goes to the core of how important it is that the American people maintain trust with the institutions created to protect them. This responsibility is one of ensuring that we as an intelligence organization are in full compliance with the law, and that we maintain that crucial trust with policy-makers and the public.

Records management is an absolutely crucial function of government. The public trust put into federal agencies to be good stewards of information is important in our democratic republic. Ensuring records are properly maintained and provided to the National Archives, as appropriate, is something every agency in the Federal government does.

Why did you choose to study at IWP after earning your JD?

I chose the Institute of World Politics, after reading an article (and later the book) by Professor Waller, on “fighting the war of ideas like a real war.” The school’s ethos, being based in the foundational values of our nation, also attracted me to the school.

When I began working for the Navy, they mentioned during the interview that they should be able to pay for me to finish my master’s degree at IWP. However, once I on-boarded, they indicated that if I wanted a master’s degree, it would be less expensive for the Navy to sponsor me for the Naval War College. So, I enrolled and earned my Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies there, in 2017.

I learned more from the Institute of World Politics on statecraft, strategy, and intelligence, than I did during the entirety of my time earning my master’s from the Naval War College. Yet, as a life-long-learner, I remain grateful for both educational experiences.

Please tell us about your IWP experience. Did you have a favorite class, or did you learn anything particularly interesting?

My favorite course was undoubtedly “Information Operations and Information Warfare,” a course taught by Dr. John Yurechko. I had no previous exposure to this tool of statecraft, and it just broadened my understanding of how the defense and national security apparatus worked during the Cold War—in large part as a public diplomacy and information war between Communist States and open societies.

Did your IWP classes impact your professional work?

I took an IWP course on China’s Grand Strategy, and before joining the government, had agreed to become an editor of a small digital magazine published out of the National Defense University and the Association of Old Crows. One month we were short one article. So, the late Dan Kuehl, the editor of the journal, asked if I could possibly draft something. I drafted an article assessing the public article titled “China’s Unrestricted Warfare,” and it was later published in the Information Operations Journal.

What do you feel is the way that you have made the biggest impact so far in your career?

This may surprise you, but I think the biggest impact anyone can have in their career is the small acts of kindness that you do for your colleagues, to brighten their days. Yes, everyone in the national security community does important things: yet, what I remember as my favorite memories, is asking a friend to lunch, when I thought they needed someone to lend them an ear: offering to grab a co-worker a coffee, and doing the small things that show dignity and respect toward my colleagues.

What advice would you offer to our recent graduates who are beginning their intelligence/national security careers?

My advice is not original, it is in fact, borrowed from SOCOM. They have what they call “Special Operations Forces,” or “SOF Truths.” The first SOF truth is “Humans are more important than hardware.” What they mean by that is open to interpretation: I have always seen SOCOM and its component elements, act in such a way that they understand that at their roots, organizations (even as large as SOCOM) are reliant on the caliber and integrity of their personnel and Senior Leaders. So, when it comes to choosing between new kinetic capabilities or investing more in choosing people who share decent values, they choose to invest in their people.

Do you have any specific advice for some of our recent graduates who are starting out at the Office of Naval Intelligence?

Here, while it may depend on the person, I would recommend two things: First, I would choose a geographic area to focus your analytic efforts on. And second, I would work to find a mentor.

Carson Checketts at an IWP event
Carson at an IWP event

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) or Military-themed visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.