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Security is Not Guaranteed

Christopher Harris, CTG Alumni, Current security professional in North America

I did not know it yet, but my journey toward intelligence and national security began when I was just nine years old. As a third grader, I was focused on video games and the school playground just like all my friends. Unfortunately, I was blissfully unaware of the full extent of the battle my father was waging in his own body. He was fighting stage four melanoma, a skin cancer which still only has a survival rate of about 15 to 20 percent. He fought really bravely but passed in January of 2008. This loss informed my worldview, especially when it came to health, safety, and security. I saw human life as extremely fragile, and longevity as not guaranteed. I felt like I had a duty to protect those around me, but there was no way to productively channel this desire. I could walk my sister to school and double check the locks at night, but I still felt like I was missing something.

Fast forward to my time in college. I had just started my political science degree with a minor in history, and during my second year I was made aware of a congressional internship program run by former Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA Leon Panetta. I applied for the program, and luckily became a member of the 2019 class of interns. The program began in the Secretary’s hometown in beautiful Monterey Bay, California, where he lectures the interns about various public policy and national security topics. I had the pleasure of learning from a number of speakers from across the U.S. intelligence and defense communities, and I started to connect that desire to protect others with this new career path that seemed to be presenting itself to me. One moment I’ll never forget was seeing a dusty brick sitting in a display case, displayed prominently in the center of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy. When we inquired about it, the former Secretary told us that it was a brick cut out of Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad bedroom wall by Seal Team Six. It was really that moment that solidified it for me, and I knew I found my career.

After that training period was over, the interns were assigned to various congressional offices on Capitol Hill based on their interest areas. Given my interest in security, I was assigned to a Member of Congress who works on Appropriations, specifically defense spending. Intern work mostly focuses on office tasks, but I was fortunate enough to meet the secretaries for each military service branch alongside other public and private sector defense leaders. Furthermore, my cohort and I had the pleasure of attending private lectures from a variety of leaders in Washington, D.C. including Members of Congress and Undersecretaries of Defense. Even more impactful was the city itself. If you have never visited the District of Columbia, I would highly recommend it. American history and progress lives in those storied marble columns and impressive domes, with fabulous views and architecture everywhere you look. The internship was truly an awe-inspiring experience, and one that reinforced my desire to enter the world of intelligence and national security.

Looking back on my time on Capitol Hill, I can’t help but think of the January 6 insurrection that occurred just this year. Back when I was an intern, we attended a very informal training on how to give tours of the Capitol Complex, with a route including the basement, the Old Supreme Court, the Old Senate Chambers, Statuary Hall, and the Rotunda. During this training, the tour guides told us what to do if the Capitol were to be attacked during a tour. Believe it or not, they mentioned that we could use flag poles to beat back any intruders. We all laughed, and at the time it just seemed to be a light-hearted joke. But looking back on it I am acutely aware that we all were taking our safety and security for granted. For me, January 6 was a very personal reminder of my own family’s loss, and that we must remain vigilant and work tirelessly to protect our homeland.

It was right after the Panetta Congressional Internship that I began at The Counterterrorism Grou (CTG). All of the skills I used as an intern - especially analysis and time management - were critical when it came time to search for a job. I began seriously searching for my first real job in the industry at the beginning of my fourth year of college, applying to a number of internships, fellowships, and entry level intelligence-related positions. After dozens and dozens of applications, I had only received a few interviews, most of which were for jobs I was not passionate about. I was disheartened to say the least. But as graduation came and went in May of 2021, I received a job offer for a position I had applied to almost one year prior. I was overjoyed.

If anyone reading this is unsure about a career in intelligence, I would recommend you think about your “why.” Why does this line of work interest you? For me, it was about my father’s passing and a deep love for the U.S. We all may have different reasons, but it’s important that you have something telling you to keep going. Find something that’s motivating you to produce that analysis, find that criminal, or protect your country. If you are daunted by the world of intelligence, just remember one thing - everything else can be learned as long as you have a reason to be there.


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