SpyCast 6.21.22
Ep 544 | 6.21.22

SPY CHIEFS: “From Navy Analyst to State Dept. Intelligence Chief” – Ellen McCarthy’s Journey (Part 2 of 2)

Show Notes


Ellen McCarthy (Twitter; LinkedIn) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss her career and time as head of the State Department’s intelligence agency. INR is one of the 18 U.S. intelligence agencies.

What You’ll Learn


  • Her start as a Soviet submarine analyst in the Office of Naval Intelligence 
  • Bringing the U.S. Coast Guard intel. program into the Intelligence Community (IC) 
  • Working for DoD and Geospatial-Intelligence
  • Why she admires the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) 


  • Government/for-profit/non-profit life
  • Managing complexity and change 

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

Imagine seeing a pyramid from different angles and different heights instead of from one vantage point? You get a better sense of what it truly looks like, its dimensions, colors, idiosyncrasies, and the shadows it casts, right?

Ellen McCarthy has seen more of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) pyramid than most: she started as a junior analyst for the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence and ended up as the head of the State Dept.’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Along the way, she was with the U.S. Coast Guard, in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Quite the journey, I am sure you will agree…


INR has been called the “biggest little intelligence shop in town” and its morning intelligence summary, “Better than Wheaties.” The NYT called it the “least wrong” intelligence agency on Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and it has been credited for a more accurate assessment of Ukraine’s ability to withstand Russia than its peers. “They get paid attention to because they’re good and they tend to be contrarian,” notes a former chair of the National Intelligence Council. How do they manage this? Well, big question, but the deep, deep expertise of their staff – who are on average on their regional or functional area for over a decade – as well as an “intolerance for mediocrity” would be good places to start.

Quote of the Week

"The Geographer of the United States sits in INR. I don't think a lot of people know that. So, when there's a boundary dispute or you've got countries trying to build islands, it's INR that's actually working what the legal boundaries are. The other thing that INR does that a lot of folks don't know about is polling. Polling in the intelligence community is conducted at INR…And I will tell you that the polling capability at INR is the best I've ever seen." – Ellen McCarthy 



Beginner Resources


  • “Intelligence Informs Policymaking at DoS: INR,” T. King in T. Juneau, ed. Strategic Analysis in Support of Policymaking, R&L (2017), pp. 95-110.
  • Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence Analysis & National Security, T. Fingar, SUP (2011)
  • INR, Intelligence & Research at State, U.S. DoS (1973)



Primary Sources

*Wildcard Resource*