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Alex Firestone (’23): Combining history, intelligence, and contracting work

A graduate of IWP’s Certificate in Intelligence program, Alex Firestone (’23) is looking forward to beginning a new job as a declassification analyst for a federal contractor. In this role, his love of history and knowledge of intelligence analysis will be put to use as he delves into hard copy historical archives to provide information in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

In a recent interview, he discussed his experience at IWP and how he knew the program was the best fit for his goals.

Alexander Firestone at IWP
Alex at IWP

An interest in government work

After earning both his B.A. in History from the University of California at Santa Barbara and M.A. in History from American University, Alex pursued his interest in history during an internship with a historical repository for the State Department.

“It was fascinating,” he said. “I got to talk to various former State Department officials, read transcripts from people who were members of the National Security Council, and more.” He remembers finding information regarding a possible plan created by the United States and Dutch governments outlining actions they should take should there be a Communist revolution in Suriname.

He later worked as a media analyst, where he was exposed to the open-source intelligence world.

A school focused on career placement

Alex knew that he wanted to work in the government or a contracting field, but, although he already had a job offer in this field, he felt he needed some baseline practical knowledge about this type of work before diving in. He decided to spend a year pursuing a graduate certificate to gain a deeper level of knowledge to prepare him for his career.

He said, “A certificate from IWP would be my entryway into the federal government or the world of contracting… IWP is one of the only schools in the country truly geared towards getting people into federal and contracting employment or working in the world of security, intelligence, and tradecraft.”

Alex was initially drawn to IWP for its robust career services program and the engaging coursework provided by the school, but said, “What I wasn’t expecting was how hands-on IWP was with its students in making sure they eventually do get employment in an area that they’re interested in. That I would not have been able to do without IWP.”

Alex appreciated the efforts of IWP Career Services Director Derrick Dortch, and said, “So many other universities will hand you a pile of paperwork, tell you to join LinkedIn, and push you out the door. But IWP doesn’t do that, and that was really special – and surprising.”

A career-focused education

Studying at IWP gave Alex a baseline of knowledge that he can fall back on throughout his career.

IWP has also helped Alex develop his knowledge of international affairs and equipped him to better understand and communicate his positions on matters of national security. He says, “It is important to be concerned about security, but you want it to be used in the right way. You should always try diplomacy first but be ready to use covert action or military action if it is necessary.”

Importantly, Alex learned about the details of the intelligence cycle during his IWP classes – knowledge he has been able to use in interviews with hiring managers and that he will bring with him to his next position.

As a declassification analyst, Alex will be at the end of the intelligence cycle – “The intelligence has already been used!”

One of Alex’s main takeaways from his time at IWP was the affirmation of his skill set in research. As a student, Alex frequently utilized IWP’s library and the various archival resources available in Washington D.C., as he did during his State Department internship.

“I enjoy working in archives, whether in a library or an archival area,” said Alex. “I like working with my hands and pulling out historical documents.” He is looking forward to his new job, which will involve working with physical archives as opposed to digital archives.

And thanks to IWP, his work will be even more meaningful: instead of seeing himself as a small cog in the machine, Alex has a deep understanding of how his work influences the rest of the government structures.

Alex says IWP has truly given him direction and confidence as he enters his new role: “Without that perspective, I would be less confident going into a new job and the career that I want.”

Finding community at IWP

Alex also enjoyed the sense of community at IWP. He shared that it feels like everyone knows each other, and everyone is friendly. “At a time when the country is so politically divided, at IWP, people can differ in their views and still have a coherent and friendly conversation with one another. I don’t think there are many other places in the country where you can do that.”

One of his favorite experiences at IWP was his involvement in the Alexander Hamilton Society. “I found the AHS meetings incredibly collaborative to the point that I missed them when I graduated, though I am still friends with a lot of the people today.”

He also enjoyed the experience of professors co-teaching classes together. During a class with both Professor John Sano and Dr. David Thomas, Alex enjoyed watching them work together to provide an overview of the process of American intelligence. “Thomas and Sano always had a fascinating story,” Alex remembered. “They had produced or analyzed the intelligence themselves. Sometimes their stories were funny, and sometimes I wondered if their stories were even real!”

Advice for new IWP students

When asked what he would share with new IWP students, Alex encourages them to come to class with an open mind and be ready to absorb the practical tradecraft knowledge that the professors can share.

Alex says that while all graduate schools will have very knowledgeable professors, many of them have never made history themselves. This can be contrasted with IWP, where nearly all professors come with practitioner knowledge.

He encourages students to take the experience seriously, saying “Show up on time and treat classes like a job – and always be ready to learn.”

New student group photo, September 2021
Alex with other new students at IWP, September 2021