"The Counterterrorism and Counter WMD Strategist" – with Dexter Ingram.
Andrew Hammond: Hi, and welcome to "SpyCast." I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. "SpyCast's" sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, through engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors to explore the stories and secrets, tradecraft and technology of the secret world. We are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: This week, I sat down with Dexter Ingram, acting director, Office of the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and in his spare time, Spy Museum advisory board member and collector of intelligence artifacts and all manner of gadgets. He's performed a variety of roles while at the U.S. Department of State. He was on a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan. He was a counterterrorism coordinator at Interpol - i.e., the International Criminal Police Organization in Lyon, France - and has a long and deep interest in counterterrorism, counterproliferation and WMD. He was formerly a Naval fleet officer and White House intern with the U.S. Navy and has studied at institutions such as Hampton University and the National Defense college. In part of our ongoing effort to look at consumers of intelligence as well as producers - i.e., who eats the sausages as well as who makes them - we touch on the various parts of his career that intersect with intelligence. Along the way, we discuss what spy artifacts he would save if his house were on fire, how the hunt for spy artifacts gets his blood pumping, working in a multinational environment and his preference for open-source intelligence, or OSINT, while working with international partners.
Andrew Hammond: Can I remind you that if you go to the SpyCast page on the CyberWire website, you can get full transcripts to accompany each episode. You can also get extended show notes that feature further resources, primary sources, videos, documentaries, and all manner of things that can help you dig deeper into any of the topics that grab your interest.
Andrew Hammond: OK. Well, I'm so pleased that we finally got a chance to do this, Dexter. I've really been looking forward to speaking to you. And we always have such amazing conversations off of the mic. So I thought, why not just try to do it on the mic?
Dexter Ingram: Oh, I'm honored to be here. Really, I've been looking forward to this. And we've been trying to schedule it for a while, so I'm happy to be here.
Andrew Hammond: You've done so much different things in your career. Many people, it would be very intimidating. But we're going to go on to how you got into what you're doing now and some of the advice that you would have for other people that want to follow your path. But I thought before we get there, I know that you're a collector of spy artifacts and objects. So my first question is, you go home, your kids and your wife are safe, they're away somewhere else. But the house is on fire and you can...
Dexter Ingram: (Laughter).
Andrew Hammond: ...You have to run and save one thing or a couple of things. What are you going to go for? What are your favorite artifacts, or the ones that...
Dexter Ingram: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: ...Are the highest value, whether that be personal or monetary or whatever?
Dexter Ingram: So that's a really good question because I look at collecting like I look at my career. There are times where I was like, this is the coolest thing ever. And if I do nothing else, if I collect nothing else, I am happy. But then it's on to the next one, right? So the things that I really value that I think are rare are my Danish Beyer cipher, which is - I think there's about six of those in the world. That is something that I would definitely grab. The tiger poo transmitter - that's something else I think I would definitely grab. I just love my escape and evasion compasses and all of the hidden things from World War II.
Andrew Hammond: The SOE and the OSS?
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, the SOE and the OSS items - the comb that has a compass inside of it - I've only seen one of those ever - the chess set that I got from Phil Froom. That is something that I've only seen two of ever. And then I have a Josephine Baker brochure pamphlet or program from World War II. And it's cool because it's for an event in Tunis, and it was sponsored by Charles de Gaulle to raise money for the French resistance.
Andrew Hammond: Oh, wow. Wow.
Dexter Ingram: So it has Josephine Baker on it, Charles de Gaulle on it and the Cross de Lorraine. And it's just this awesome piece.
Andrew Hammond: Wow, that's awesome. And tell us a little bit more about each one of them.
Dexter Ingram: The Danish Beyer cipher is a cipher - it's about 130 years old, actually. There's about six or seven in the world. And it's in Danish. It's something that is just really fascinating to me. I saw one one time at a university, and I just started looking for one. And I found it and I said, this is going to hurt. But I went ahead, and I won it in the auction and...
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Dexter Ingram: ...Then we moved to France. I remember this. We moved to France. I'd packed up a lot of my stuff. And when we moved back, I couldn't find it forever. And it literally was about two years after moving back that my parents were like, hey, we have this in our house. Is this yours? And I was like, yes, please...
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Dexter Ingram: ...Thank you.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: And the tiger poo - I know about the story of that, but tell our listeners a little bit more about that.
Dexter Ingram: So, yeah, during Vietnam we had problems seeing through the canopy of trees. The airplanes and satellites really couldn't get a good visual. So what they did was they took something that looked like tiger poop and made it into a seismometer so that we can tell when the Viet Cong were moving equipment or people and we could target them in that way. Nobody wants to touch poop, so everybody just kind of leaves that stuff alone. So it worked pretty well.
Andrew Hammond: The other question that I had was, how did you get into collecting intelligence- and espionage-related artifacts? Is this from childhood or is this from your career? Is it a little bit of both, or is it something else?
Dexter Ingram: That's a great question. I - so I've always been fascinated by, like, movies. "Top Gun" got me inspired to join the Navy and to fly. And when I was in the Navy, I loved the "James Bond" movies, as well. Started just collecting "James Bond" props and different items over - throughout the years that spoke to me. And then I started traveling more for work. And when I would fly to places like the former Soviet Union countries, I would always be curious about the bazaars and the vintage shops. And I would go in there and I'd see something that piqued my interest, and I'd get it. And I didn't know at the time, but that was the beginning of this larger collection now that consists of hundreds of items.
Andrew Hammond: What is it that you like about it? Is it learning more about the artifacts that you get, or is it the thrill of the hunt, or is it just being able to have, like, an awesome man cave or all of the above?
Dexter Ingram: It's all of the above.
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Dexter Ingram: Yeah. You start out collecting and finding little things that you can afford that speak to you. And then over time, you start really diving into certain areas. I had my camera area where I was like, I need some miniature cameras. I need spy cameras. And I want to get everything I can from every country I can. I don't care if it's Japan or the U.K. or France or the U.S. I want it all. And then, of course, you buy the books and you learn more about it. And then - and I had a period where it was World War II escape and evasion and just working with my good friend Phil Froom who wrote the book. And just...
Andrew Hammond: Literally.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, literally. He wrote the book - and just collecting as much as I could and just getting more and more rare. 'Cause you start out, and you don't have anything. So just the first few pieces, you're like, that's easy to find. But the more you get, the tougher it is to find these pieces. You don't want to bid against your friends. So a lot of times, we'll call each other up and say, OK, I'm looking at this piece. You're looking at that piece? OK. So - 'cause we've learned in the past that we've bid against each other and ended up paying double what we could have paid for it. So, yeah, it's - the chase is amazing. I really love that. Gosh, I'm thinking about pieces right now that I've been emailing folks about, and they're super rare. And they just make me go, this is real history. It's about real people. These are real gadgets. Better than the movies. Gets my blood pumping.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And is there a piece that you're like, wow, I would love to have that? That would be like Christmas, my birthday, New Year's Eve, all rolled into one?
Dexter Ingram: You know, I - gosh, this is kind of sick. But the rectal toolkit, I...
Andrew Hammond: OK.
Dexter Ingram: ...Like that. I think that it's just super neat. It's basically this escape kit that they used during Vietnam. It had saws and pliers, different pieces inside of it. And it was basically in this tube that went up your bum. And if you were captured, you could take it out and use the tools to escape. I just - for some reason, those weird, fascinating, gross, fun, ingenious things are just so much fun for me.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And you mentioned that you've went through almost, like, phases of collecting. Can you tell us a little bit - some - about some of them? When you mentioned that earlier, it made me think about one of the reasons why I've never got tattoos because if I had got a tattoo for each phase of my life, I would have, like, Iron Maiden tattoos, a lot of soccer tattoos. I would have tattoos, like, that wouldn't make any sense anymore.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, no, you're right. I - gosh. So a lot of it - I feel this way about life. This is how I feel. I feel that things fit if you kind of sit back and just let them happen. It's been that way with my career. It's been that way with my family and with my home and with my collecting and my passions, all the things I get to do. So I feel like things fit. I remember one time I was getting to the point where I was like, it'd be cool to display some of these items. And I went, I think on Craigslist, like, years ago, and somebody had this old sunglass display case that was pretty big. It was probably about, I think, six or seven feet tall and about four feet wide. And it had different shelves on it. And I was like, oh, this is cool.
Dexter Ingram: And then I started putting things on shelves by categories, and I had a bunch of caltrops from different wars and eras and we - OSS, World War I, World War II, even some Roman ones. I had a shelf full of caltrops. And then I was like, hidden cameras. Oh, I have a bunch of hidden cameras. I have a shelf full of hidden cameras. Then I started doing agencies. I had CIA. I had a CIA shelf. Then I had a KGB shelf. Then I had a Stasi shelf. And it was cool because all these glass shelves were already in there in this big display case. And now it's just a huge centerpiece.
Dexter Ingram: Then after that, I started working on the walls. And it's a mixture between, I think, pop culture and just real history, real gadgets. I have a whole "James Bond" section that also has a display case, and that has a lot of real props in it from the movies. I have a couple pinball machines. I have a 1980 Gottlieb James Bond machine, and I have a 1996 "Goldeneye" machine. Gosh, I have Japanese pachinko machines that are James Bond. And I have a slot machine - I have two slot machines that are James Bond. One is, like, the big Vegas slot machine that - I need to figure out what I'm going to do with that one. But the other one is kind of a pachinko, pachislot type of machine. So it's just - like I said, it's so much fun.
Andrew Hammond: I was going to ask you about that because it's not just Anglo American stuff you collect, is it? Stasi, KGB, former Soviet Union. Tell us a little bit more about some of those artifacts and maybe one or two of your favorites.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, gosh. So - I'm trying to think. So for the KGB collection, it's interesting to me because you have certain things that cross over. So, like, my hidden camera collection, some of that are KGB cameras. So I have a cigarette case that has a camera in it. And this is from the KGB training facility in Kyiv. And that was just a rare find. That was really cool to get that. But that's in the hidden camera section. In the KGB section, I have things like the button camera, the Ajax button camera that would be a part of a coat that you would have the actuator in your pocket, and you'd be walking around whatever city, just clicking pictures, and nobody would know. Just trying to even things out over time, I think - I feel like certain shelves get a little busy, and then I want to make the other shelves just as busy. So...
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Dexter Ingram: ...I go on, like, the shopping...
Andrew Hammond: A true collector.
Dexter Ingram: ...Frenzy again. Yeah. And if - my wife is always saying, if you look, you're going to find it. I can't help but do my research and look and see what's out there.
Andrew Hammond: And what's the - 'cause I find this particularly fascinating. One of the things that makes us the museum that we are is this hugely impressive collection that we have, but we don't often hear from the types of people that do the collecting in their personal life. So tell us a bit about maybe one artifact that you spent a long time chasing down or one that came to you through very unusual circumstances. Tell us about one of the hunts that you were on.
Dexter Ingram: Years ago, I remember the former curator from the CIA Museum was a friend of mine, and she would always talk about this OSS matchbox camera she had. And she would speak about it and give presentations and talk about the history of it. And it was standing room only whenever she did this. And I was like, that is super cool. One day, I would love to have an OSS matchbox camera. And I can't believe it, but I got to the point where I have three. And...
Andrew Hammond: Oh, wow. OK.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah. Yeah. It's really neat, too, for me because sometimes if I see something and it's a really good value, let's say - let's say there's an auction, and I know something's supposed to go for $5,000, and I might say, OK, I'm going to bid $3,000 and just see what happens. And then you win it, and you're like, oh, I got a deal. But that item is still worth that $5,000. So you can trade it, and you get something else that you never really had. Not that I spend that kind of money, but just - (laughter).
Andrew Hammond: Wow. That's really, really interesting. And for the Bond artifacts, like, what are some of the James Bond gadgets or props that you have?
Dexter Ingram: I love the golden gun. Factory Entertainment made this really authentic golden gun that kind of comes apart. And so you have the barrel, which is basically a pen, you have the cigarette case and the lighter and cufflinks that kind of make up the rest of the gun. And it's in this really great display. It's actually the top of my - my top section of my James Bond display is "The Man With The Golden Gun." And I have the cigarette packs and the rings and the gun. And Roger Moore signed it, as well. So it's a - I love those type of things. It's interesting to me 'cause I know people that try to collect a lot, and we just have different interests. With some of my friends that collect "James Bond" gadgets and items, they're like, ooh, I really want that gun from "Moonraker." And I was like, I have no desire for that. Now, just - it's just not something that speaks to me. But I encourage other folks to collect whatever speaks to them.
Andrew Hammond: I get that. And I think that the gun from "The Man With The Golden Gun," I think that that's a very powerful one. And Christopher Lee was just one of the best Bond villains...
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Hammond: ...Ever, really. I thought that he crushed that rule.
Dexter Ingram: I totally agree. Yeah. It is interesting, too, because I've got to know a lot of the "Bond" actors throughout the year. It's just - I've been very blessed to meet a bunch of them at different times. We're getting to the point where folks are passing away - Roger Moore, Sean Connery - gosh - Yaphet Kotto, who I was talking to at the beginning of the pandemic. We were going back and forth on different issues. And he just passed away. It's bittersweet, but I'm blessed to have met these folks and interacted with them. I still keep in contact with a lot of them. We go to events together and host charity events. So it's a lot of fun. It's not just the collecting side of things; it's the people side of things that really matter, I think. In my life, the things that are important are the relationships you have with people and following your passion. And these two things come together in this portfolio.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. So it's also a community as well, then?
Dexter Ingram: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, wow.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, absolutely. And then just like with the spy gadgets, collecting the books, a lot of "James Bond" books are out there. And I remember one time when you guys had the exquisitely evil exhibit here that was, like, a "James Bond" display at the old building, a lot of folks came in town from, like, up north. And we all were talking on line at different times. I really didn't know the different folks in the group. So we met up, got some food, went to the museum. Then we took my boat back to my house, and...
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Dexter Ingram: ...I remember walking around with them, and one guy was like, oh, I see you got my book. Another guy was like, oh, you got my book, too. And I was like, this is super cool.
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Dexter Ingram: I had no idea that the community was this real and honest and curious and fun.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. That's really, really interesting. And just before we move on to the next part of the interview, I was wondering, what's your favorite "Bond" movie and who's your favorite Bond?
Dexter Ingram: So all my "Bond" friends are going to totally not like this answer, but I really, really, really like "No Time To Die." I just really do. I thought it - so "Bond" has evolved, to a certain extent, along with my life, meaning, like, when he was single, I was single. And then he falls in love and has - I don't want to spoil anything. But, you know, there's a child. And he sacrifices himself for his family. And as a family man now, it resonates with me. And to see just the end of so many different levels to it - I really liked Jeffrey Wright throughout as Felix Leiter, as the CIA agent. Him and Bond passing away during the same movie, it's kind of poetic to me. And then, oh, I love the Havana scene. Ana - what is her name? The young actress, she was amazing. I like the fact that I think every woman that was in the most recent movie was strong. There were no victims. They were all just cast. Whether it was the new 007, whether it was Moneypenny, whether it was the other agents, I mean, they all were just very, very strong. So it spoke to me.
Andrew Hammond: This really came a long way in terms of gender characterizations, hasn't it?
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, it did, you know? You have not just - you know, you have Hispanic women. You have Black women. You have strong casted, capable, competent women. And the men were - I'm not going to say more sensitive, but they were, you know, just more modern, I'd say. Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: And favorite Bond? This is it?
Dexter Ingram: So because of that - because of "Casino Royale," because of "Skyfall," because of "No Time To Die," Daniel Craig.
Andrew Hammond: OK. OK. That's - I think I can swallow that one. It was like one of those ones where we've got a great relationship. And I was like, this could be a breaking point, you know, if he doesn't choose Sean Connery. But the way that you described it, I can totally live with that (laughter).
Dexter Ingram: Sean Connery was - he was always there. And then, you know, over time, Daniel Craig slid in there. But it's those two.
Andrew Hammond: For me, those first five movies of the Bond franchise, they are just - it doesn't get any better than that for me, from "Dr. No" on, but OK. Well, moving from the world of fiction into the world of the fact - so tell us a little bit more about what you do now, Dexter. And then we can start fleshing that out because the story is really, really fascinating - White House intern, U.S. Navy, State Department, fighting ISIS, fighting WMD proliferation - all sorts of things. So what is it you're doing now?
Dexter Ingram: So currently, I'm the acting director in the defeat ISIS office at the State Department. We basically oversee the coalition of 85 partners that work together to defeat ISIS globally. And we support the Secretary of State in various settings as well. Definitely keeps us busy - ISIS is a global threat. And it's totally a coincidence that I like to collect spy items and that I love the movies, that I get to do something that I think makes a difference and helps people. I do a lot of meetings and sitting behind a desk now that I'm married. But, you know, in previous lives, I got to do fun things. I mentioned "Top Gun" earlier. Seeing that in the '80s was something that really inspired me to want to fly. So I went to college, graduated, did Navy ROTC there and got - was commissioned as a naval officer, went to flight school and earned my wings. And I got to fly, which was amazing, just to work with the men and women in uniform and serve your country. A lot of trips to Europe. I flew on the East Coast for the most part, so we did a lot of European work. And I got out before 9/11. So it was an interesting time because it was after the Gulf War but before 9/11. So the world was a little different then.
Andrew Hammond: And you went to a historically Black college, that's right?
Dexter Ingram: I did. I went to Hampton University, loved it. I always say, besides marrying my wife, that was the second-best decision I've ever made - the friends, the atmosphere. Gosh. I still keep in touch - I talk daily to people that I grew up with. And what I really appreciated was people that can challenge you in a way that is positive, talking about things like your credit score. Who does that, you know? To have young men sitting around, especially young Black men, sitting around and talking about things like their credit score, it's neat. And we have to have these open discussions - talking about relationships, talking about just mental health and how you're feeling and what you want to do and supporting each other. I look back now and, gosh, I see Harvard MBAs and Harvard doctors and just all kind of amazing people that - we all were in this small college together initially. And we're all close.
Andrew Hammond: Booker T. Washington and Wanda Sykes went to that school. So I think it's only a matter of time before they add Dexter Ingram to...
Dexter Ingram: There are a lot of amazing people that went to Hampton - really can't say enough.
Andrew Hammond: It was a long list, yeah.
Dexter Ingram: It's a long list. And it's a good community. I have a lot of my friends whose sons and daughters go there now. And I'd be honored if my kids attended. They could go to Georgetown. They can go to Harvard. But I would be honored if they went to Hampton.
Andrew Hammond: And are you from Virginia originally, Dexter?
Dexter Ingram: So my dad was in the Navy, so I was actually born in the Philippines...
Andrew Hammond: OK. Wow.
Dexter Ingram: ...On a naval base there. And we lived all over the world. We lived in Alaska and Seattle and Monterey, Calif., and Virginia Beach, Miami. But my dad retired in Maryland, so we moved to Maryland in the middle of my junior year of high school. And that's where they still live. After that, I went off to college. Then I was in the Navy, did flight school in Pensacola, did some flight school in Texas. And then I just flew all over the world.
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Dexter Ingram: And now I live in Maryland.
Andrew Hammond: Because I was going to ask if you always knew that you wanted to join the Navy or if being at Hampton University, which is just right across from Norfolk, which is one of the epicenters for the U.S. Navy - was it before you went to college or was it during college, with it being right there?
Dexter Ingram: So I fell into a lot of good things. I really - so I was accepted to Penn State. I remember I was going to go to Penn State. And then my best friend at the time had gone to Hampton. And he was there a year before me. And he was talking about it. And I said, you know, that sounds kind of really interesting. It's right on the water. They have the largest naval sailing yacht. They got a 62-foot ketch...
Andrew Hammond: Oh, really? Wow.
Dexter Ingram: ...That was a captured drug boat. And that was amazing. I got to take that out every summer. We'd go from Hampton, Va., up to Boston and back, and there'd be 10 of us on it just for weeks at a time. So a lot of great memories, a lot of great adventures.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. The Navy, I think, is quite interesting because the squadron that you were in before you left, that was a reconnaissance squadron, right? So there's an inherent intelligence component to that, right? Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Dexter Ingram: Yeah. So it was VQ-4, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 4. And our mission was basically just to be a nuclear deterrent. We were in the air, and our job was to talk to submarines in case, let's say, there's a surprise attack, and we always can retaliate. That was a lot of fun. And there was a WMD component that I later learned to love with that as well. But again, it's the needs of the Navy. It wasn't me going, I want to do this; it was the Navy saying, you will do this, and I'm saying, yes, I will. And then when I got out of the Navy, I was still fascinated with weapons of mass destruction. I remember 9/11 being really impactful. And when I was in the Navy, we had a saying - rules are written in blood. So if something happens that's bad, you change the rules so it doesn't happen again. So if you are walking by a jet engine and you get sucked into a jet engine, we'll change the rules so you don't walk within 15 feet of a jet engine, right? Well, we saw a lot of the rules change after 9/11. We created the Department of Homeland Security. We created new committees in Congress, like the Homeland Security Committee in Congress, which I was fortunate enough to get a call from. And they asked me to run their terrorism policy, which was a blessing. I loved that job. I loved the people I was working with there. It was a lot of fun. It was challenging, but it was a lot of fun.
Dexter Ingram: I look at big things like nuclear terrorism and biological terrorism and chemical terrorism, and I say to myself, we have to get ahead of this. We can't write these rules after something horrible happens. We have to do all we can to get ahead of this game. So within the State Department, we created the WMD terrorism office that specifically looked at working with other countries to stop terrorists from getting nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. I was fortunate enough to work with the FBI as they created their WMD directorate and be a part of that for a few years. And then same with Interpol. Interpol created their chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear and explosives unit that was tied to counterterrorism as well. So I got to spend a few years doing that. So it's been a mission of love, and it's been just an amazing opportunity.
Andrew Hammond: We'll be right back after this.
Andrew Hammond: I find your interest in WMD really, really interesting as well. And I must admit, I just find it totally fascinating. We had a podcast, I think it was earlier this year, and it was largely looking at nuclear weapons and going through the command library. And I remember falling down this wormhole where I was just so fascinated by multiple independent reentry vehicles, fractional orbital bombardment systems, just all of the kind of wonky techie-type stuff. But nuclear strategy and everything that's at stake because it's such high stakes, it's just really, really interesting. So tell us a little bit more about that part of your career, the WMD part and counterproliferation part.
Dexter Ingram: Sure. One of the things that we realized that we had to do in the initial formation of the WMD terrorism team was to work with other countries. You know, we are the State Department, and we started the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and that was really interesting because at that point, Russia and the U.S. were co-chairs of that organization. We still are. We had to work together. There was material in different parts of the world that we had to make sure that folks didn't have access to it. So we had to work with countries that were willing to come up with systems in place to stop any kind of proliferation. I remember when North Korea first tested its first nuclear device. We have to come up with ways to contain proliferation from not just terrorists but state actors as well. So these are all the things and challenges that we get to work on.
Andrew Hammond: And just for the layperson that may be listening to the episode, proliferation means that we don't want other countries beyond the countries that already have nuclear weapons to have them.
Dexter Ingram: Correct. Correct. We don't want it to leave a country and go to another country, especially a country that could do harm to us or our allies.
Andrew Hammond: One of the things that I find quite interesting is, like, you've - like, during your career, you've had lots of different positions. You've been a policy fellow at one place. You've worked on counterterrorism. Some people from the outside looking will be like, how do I get a job like that? How do you get this job where - some people want to go into one niche, stay in that niche and just climb up the ladder, but you're moving laterally and seeing different parts of the organism and so forth. And it's not the most typical career path, certainly...
Dexter Ingram: Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: ...For people that we've had on. So tell us a bit more about that. What have you learned? How do you do it? What are the challenges? What are the downsides?
Dexter Ingram: I think that there are a couple of pieces to that. First of all, you have to do what speaks to you, right? Follow - when you do something that you love, you do it well. You're energetic about it. You're normally happy. And that's contagious, and people want to work with you. And that's led to other positions that have been created, some uniquely for me, some because of the modern need as time evolves. I remember when I got out of college, there was a nine-month wait to get into flight school. And I was like, you know what? It'd be cool to be a White House intern. And I applied for a White House internship, and I got accepted. So I was a naval officer working in the White House. And this is before 9/11. This is, like, 1994. So the world was totally different. I got to meet Nelson Mandela when he came to the White House and just all kind of politicians, Bob Dole, Whoopi Goldberg. It was just a blast. It was a dream come true - and then went to flight school. And my career started that way.
Dexter Ingram: The neat thing about my position was that before 9/11, I was already doing some kind of national security-related work. And think - after 9/11 happened and all these organizations were created, 9/11 became or - excuse me. National security became, like, on the forefront. It wasn't the top policy issue prior to 9/11. You had all kind of domestic issues that were really the focus. And so there was a need for people. And that need, there was a point - gosh, I know young folks now are going to hate me saying this. But there was a point where somebody said, hey, I need somebody. There - it was pretty easy to feel. Like, you had to sit there and say, OK, there is probably - anybody I know who wanted a job in national security could get a job. I'll just say it that way.
Dexter Ingram: Nowadays, you have - the competition is so competitive. It's very, very difficult. I have so many people talking to me every single day. How do I get into this field? I tell people to be flexible. You have to sit there and say, OK. There are thinktanks in D.C. There's Capitol Hill. There's the administration. There's the private sector. There's all kind of different organizations in Washington, D.C., that focus on different policy issues. And you can work for any of those and go from one to another, you know? I've worked from Capitol Hill. I've worked at a think tank. I've worked for an administration. I worked in the private sector. I served in the military. It all feeds on itself. And if you're doing what speaks to you, again, you're doing it well and you're making connections and people are thinking about you as jobs are being created.
Dexter Ingram: I didn't apply for the homeland security committee terrorism policy job. Somebody said, hey, you need Dexter. I didn't apply to come to the State Department. They said, we're creating this team. Oh, Dexter is written on this. Let's bring him in. And then my relationship working with the FBI - when they said, hey, we're taking this team out to Interpol to create the CBRNE unit, can you come out there? And I was like, there's no way that's going to happen. The State Department's not going to allow that to happen. I had an amazing boss back then, Jeff Obman, who just made it happen. He just parted the sea. And I was supposed to be out there for a year. And like I said, I was out there for three years in Leon, France. Great group.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And I find that really, really interesting as well because it's like, when you've got a foot in the door, you obviously have something about yourself. You do a competent job. You're good with people. You can write and push things forward. So you do that job. And then people are like, well, he'd done a good job there, so let's get him for this job. And then it just takes on a life of its own. It almost seems a little bit like - not to trivialize it, but when you think about the amount of people that want to become actors and very few people do it, and then you always hear of this breakthrough role where after that, they're like, oh, well, we saw that person in this. Let's get them for that. And then everything just seems to advance like that.
Andrew Hammond: But then that also leads me onto something that we spoke about when we - before we went on air, which was, how do you navigate or point people to get that foot in the door, because as you said, there's so many people that trying to do it? It's difficult to get those jobs that lead to the next jobs, that lead to the next jobs. And as we know from society more generally, it tends to - society tends to structure it so that certain people win at the expense of others. So - and that's great. But for the people that reach out to you, what's your advice? Like, here's Dexter's five rules to navigate the system and get your foot in the door and travel to different countries. Yeah. Help them understand the game.
Dexter Ingram: I talk a lot to young folks, everybody from elementary school to college and even young professionals. And I tell them, No. 1, follow your passion. No. 2, life is about people. Those relationships matter. I remember being at the National Security Council one time. And the folks at the table - everybody was fighting. It was chaos. And this was, gosh, 20 years ago. And I remember a few of us said, let's go grab a beer. And we went out and got a beer. And we hit it off. And then we understood that the other person's human. And we understood that the other person doesn't have any kind of nefarious plan to subvert our agency or whatever it may be. And we were getting things done faster than ever. And these same people grew with me in D.C.
Dexter Ingram: And so having that network of folks - I remember there was somebody from the FBI. There was somebody from the Department of Energy. We had a Navy SEAL. We all kind of were friends. And we trusted each other. We would hang out, but we had also worked together. And that was something that kind of stuck with me. I think timing means a lot. You can do things when you're younger that I say are somewhat selfish in a good way that you can't do when you're older. You can quit a job. You can take a chance. You can work for nothing if you have any savings. You can have ramen noodles, whatever kind of sacrifice you can make. Getting your foot in the door, meeting the people, getting some experience, looking at folks that are where you want to be and say, what have they done? What languages do they speak? I think a lot of young folks come to me and they say, what did you study? Where did you go to school? For me, that was...
Andrew Hammond: As if that's the answer?
Dexter Ingram: Yeah. That - I have a couple master's degrees. But that was just because the opportunities presented itself. I would have the same position I have now if I didn't have a master's degree. But it was just nice to be able to study and learn and figure things out and take classes and, again, network with people. There are a lot of fellowships out there that are catered for young folks that are in school that allow you to enter the government in a way that you wouldn't otherwise be able to use. There are also mid-career fellowships and different opportunities that you can take advantage of. And then there's more senior ones at the end. So mapping those things out have always been fun to me.
Dexter Ingram: If something doesn't happen, it wasn't meant to be. Don't take it personal. There's not one thing that's going to make it or break it for you. You have to stay flexible. You have to stay patient. You're not entitled to anything. Life is not fair. You have to be able to roll with the punches. Sometimes things get dark and gloomy. And when things are tough, you've got to keep moving forward. You can't just take your cars and go home. You have to - even if you don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, you just keep moving because it's there. It's going to happen. It's going to get better. But I've been blessed to do everything I've wanted to do in my career, to be very, very honest, and work with some amazing people. And it's still getting better. Yeah.
Andrew Hammond: And are you at the stage now where you're thinking to yourself, this is where I want to be, this is the position or this is the role that I would like to have eventually? Or are you still at the - I'm just happy to embrace different opportunities as they come along and see what the next one is? Or is...
Dexter Ingram: Yeah. So for me, I like taking care of people. I like leading teams. And respect is important, treating people with respect, giving people opportunities to grow, supporting them, having a good morale. Those are all important. So I like leading the team and being able to hopefully grow other future leaders, whether they stay in this field or not. But I just want to do what makes me happy. I think that - I put so much down on paper, you know? I'm on the advisory board of the Spy Museum, and that was my retirement plan. That was literally what I wanted to do in 12 years. And to have it happen last year was insane for me. I thought - I was extremely honored, didn't feel worthy. But it's been a great opportunity. The people that I get to work with every day, like yourself and Mira and Lucy and Amanda and Hannah and - just the whole group. I don't - Chris. I don't want to miss anybody.
Dexter Ingram: But it's just an amazing group of people. Like, they're very giving and very thoughtful and very kind. And I think the whole mission of the museum is something that speaks to me, especially the education side of things. It's exciting to learn about the history and to educate folks on the history. But there's also programs for kids with autism. There's programs for all kinds of folks with special needs and the elderly. And those things really speak to me as well. So like I said, it's just - if you're having fun with what you do, that's what it's all about. It's not about titles or prestige or anything like that. I would do all of this on a volunteer basis any time.
Andrew Hammond: Well, we're really pleased you are on the board and doing this podcast. And just to pivot a little bit, another thing that I was going to ask was - for the different jobs that you've been in, tell us how they have intersected with the world of intelligence and espionage 'cause one of the things that I want to do with the podcast is not just have people that are involved in the sausage factory; I want to speak to the people that are consumers and users and people that get the product on the other side. Just tell us about that experience of being you, defeating ISIS, countering proliferation (laughter), WMD, counterterrorism. Those are all inherently intelligence enterprises at one level or another.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, you're right. And I think intelligence feeds into a lot of the things that we do. And to be very honest, I am more into open source now. I have members of my team that live in the classified world, but I personally - after leaving Interpol - 'cause at Interpol, everything is unclassified. You have law enforcement-sensitive things, but things are usually unclassified. And being able to talk to the people and share information is really important to me. So we're constantly working with the intelligence agencies. There's so many intelligence agencies within the 85 partners of the coalition. NATO are partners. And within the U.S. government, we have so many different intelligence agencies. Within the State Department, we have the INR bureau, which does great work. So we get to work with great people at different agencies, at the bureau, within other intelligence organizations around the world. Maybe I'm just at the point where I just - like I said, I like to keep things unclassified. I don't like to have to shred something or put it in the safe. I just want to keep it as simple as possible if I can. We're constantly, you know, using that intel for a variety of different reasons, and my team is top notch.
Andrew Hammond: And for your role at the moment, how does the intelligence come together? We had the NATO head of intelligence on earlier this year. He was talking about the difficulties of being in this multilateral environment with many countries. You've got a lot of countries, and then you've got even more intelligence agencies, and trying to coordinate all of the different parts of that is very difficult. So in terms of defeating ISIS, countering ISIS, you need intelligence to be able to do that. So who is it coming from? How does it all get brought together? How does that guide what you are doing? Or is that all open source as well?
Dexter Ingram: No, it's not all open source. But I think that the military obviously uses a lot of intelligence methods to fight. How things are gathered, the methods and the sources always need to be protected. When we work with the coalition, our 85 partners, we have to be able to communicate. And I think we have a tendency sometimes in the U.S. to overclassify things. I think that we can find ways to say things without compromising sources and methods, and that's what we tried to do within the coalition. So we share as much as we can with partners. We have certain relationships with certain partners that we can share more information with. Typically, I always tell folks what I know, what I don't know and what I think.
Dexter Ingram: I remember one time after the Iraq invasion, we wanted to get some intel from the agency, and I remember they were just not telling us what we needed, but I think they were thinking that we were going to politicize it somehow. And I remember I was sent there by myself, and I walked in the door, and I was met by, like, five lawyers. And they were like, what's your hidden agenda? And after a few hours, they were like, you really don't have a hidden agenda, do you? Like, you really just want to know what we know, what we don't know and what we think. And that's the people part of it, just saying, look - we're just going to do the right thing. We're going to communicate. Sometimes it gets frustrating because partners have different agendas.
Dexter Ingram: I remember when I was in Afghanistan, we were a lot more - we took more risks than other partners did. Not that we took unnecessary risks, but I knew what the different threats were in the city. I had great local nationals. I was out a lot, meeting with the warlords and the district governors and the district police chiefs and tribal elders and everybody in between. But some of the other countries - they were more risk-adverse because they knew the broader policy in their country was that if they lost a diplomat, a civilian, they would have to withdraw, whereas if I was killed, we would send five more people to replace me. So it's just understanding that just because people do things differently doesn't mean that it's wrong or right. It's just different. There are different ways to do things all around the world, and there are cultural pieces to that, and there are religious pieces to that. And it's a lot of fun learning about those pieces as well.
Dexter Ingram: I remember having this local national who was a local Afghan young man who knew so much. He was just amazing. I couldn't do my job without him. And he would tell me something that was happening in the city, a threat that was out there, let's say. And so there is a suicide bomber looking to kill this warlord, and I would tell that to a broader group - I'm not going to go into which countries - and they would just shut down. They'd be like - and then they would take that information and make it classified so that when we discussed it, he couldn't even be in the room with us 'cause he didn't have the clearance, but he was the one who gave us the intel. So it was just - I'm not a fan of overclassifying. I want to do things that make sense. I want to protect sources and methods, but I also want to make sure that we're working and communicating in ways that save lives.
Andrew Hammond: If I can just ask another question about open source, when did that come, or how did that happen? Like, why do you prefer to use open source? Is it because you have found that just at a technical level, you can get as much there as you can from classified, or is it more philosophical or moral principle? I should only be able to do stuff that the public know why I'm doing it. Or is it some combination of both? Like, why the shift over to I would actually prefer to do things that are in the public domain?
Dexter Ingram: It's not necessarily the public. It's more of, like, your partners. If I want to talk to my Italian friends, if I want to talk to my French friends, if I want to talk to my Turkish friends, if I want to talk to my - just friends from Norway, I want to be able to have a common operating picture. And it's something that if I know something and I can't relate it to them and it causes us to either duplicate efforts or not fill gaps or, God forbid, somebody get hurt or killed, that's not right. So we want to make sure that we do things that make sense, but we also do it in a way where we can share that information to the people that need to have it - 9/11 was a result of us not connecting the dots, not being able to have local law enforcement have information that could have prevented something like a 9/11.
Dexter Ingram: We have done a lot within the coalition to work with Interpol and other groups to get this information so that we can build cases against terrorists around the world. We want to make sure that we're training people that can prosecute people, that know how to preserve evidence and chain of custody. We want to make sure that there are programs in place to educate and rehabilitate folks. We want to make sure there are programs in place that speak to the different dialects throughout Africa. There are so many different dialects there, and we want to make sure that we're educating and communicating with people.
Dexter Ingram: And when I say we, I don't mean the U.S. I'm talking about, like, the coalition, for instance. You might have Egypt taking the lead on disseminating information out in 23 different dialects throughout Africa. That's needed, you know? You might have an imam training center in Morocco. Those things are needed. You have a lot of folks that can't read or write, and they're just being told things that they believe, and it's misleading them. So making sure that we're communicating to the people that we need to communicate the way that we need to communicate is important. And yeah, I'm just not a big fan of too many secrets.
Andrew Hammond: And what have you learned operating in environments that involve lots of different countries or just an international environment - so Interpol, at the minute, 85 different countries - because there's a certain art to that, to being able to interact with people from different countries and different cultures and so forth? I mean, you seem like the type of person who is pretty confident and good with people, but there must be some stuff that you've learned along the way about operating in that type of environment.
Dexter Ingram: Yeah, you know, I think that being vulnerable comes across as genuine. People appreciate that. I think that if you don't know something, it's OK. I remember one conversation I had where I was talking - a certain country - I'm not going to go there, but certain country - and they're like, so we're definitely staying in Syria. This is years ago. And I said, yeah, we're in it. There's no plans to leave. And less than a week later, the president said, we're leaving Syria. And they knew that this wasn't something that was recommended or assessed, and that whether it's General Mattis at Defense or Brett McGurk at State and others who actually ended up resigning because of this - that the partners knew that we weren't trying to mislead them. This was information that we saw as true at the time. Any kind of rational person would say, OK. And if we were going to do something, we normally try to give our key partners a heads up. I'm always calling our French colleagues and our British colleagues and our Italian colleagues and our German colleagues, saying, hey, this is what I'm thinking. How do you feel about this? And we don't just say we're doing X, for the most part.
Andrew Hammond: We spoke the other day, and you were saying that coming up, you've got Budapest, the Hague, Niger - a whole bunch of places. How many countries have you been to?
Dexter Ingram: I don't know. That's a really good question.
Andrew Hammond: More than 100?
Dexter Ingram: No, not more than 100, I don't think, but...
Andrew Hammond: A lot?
Dexter Ingram: A lot. Yeah, that's a really, really good point.
Andrew Hammond: Tell us a little bit more about Islamic State and Africa, because Islamic State, Iraq, Syria, the Levant, it's tied to a particular geographical area, but now it's metastasized and turned up in parts of Africa. Is there any kind of control or is it just more inspired by them and more taken off some bastardized version of their ideas and their own thing? Like, what's going on?
Dexter Ingram: There's communication, obviously, but yeah, it's a different subset. It's a different creature. Africa is different than Iraq and Syria. You just - there's a problem, like I said, with education. There's a problem with unemployment. There's a problem with people being disenfranchised in general - not making excuses, but there's that subset there. And then wherever you have room for grievances, you're going to have different groups evolve. I think that there's a brand there with ISIS. I think that there are a number of networks and affiliates throughout Africa. I don't want to name them all, but there is the more than the three I just named. And then you have certain countries that are partners and certain countries that aren't partners, right? So when I say partners, I mean members of the coalition.
Dexter Ingram: So it's important that we constantly evolve. We traditionally focused on Iraq and Syria. Now we're focusing on issues related to ISIS in Africa as well as Afghanistan and ISIS-K. We want to make sure that we understand who's coming and going. These are important issues. And we want to be able to work with countries that aren't members of the coalition because ISIS is there too, and it's a problem for them. So we're trying to find very creative ways to pull in key partners, even though they, for whatever reason, might not be a part of the coalition. So it's challenging, but it's - we have a great team. And it's a lot of fun.
Andrew Hammond: And tell us a little bit more about the organization, because it's not like NATO or something where everybody is all in one building. It's dispersed coalitions. Or are you - so you're at the State Department. And then do you lead the State Department folks that are working on this and then you have counterparts around the world? Or is it like you've got a multinational team here and - but there's also people around the world? How does that all shake out?
Dexter Ingram: So we have a special envoy, which is also our counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department. And then we have a deputy special envoy as well. And then I'm the director of the office right now. What we do is we have a number of meetings throughout the year. We have meetings focusing on foreign terrorist fighters. We have meetings focusing on stabilization. We have meetings focusing on counter finance. And we have meetings focused on messaging. And we also have broader kind of political director meetings. And then we have ministerial meetings addressing a lot of the issues that we talked about. It's the people part of things that I like. I mean, I like literally texting my counterpart or the envoy in Italy or Morocco. And it's - we have such a good relationship where we can sit there and just be straightforward. We don't have to be formal. There's - it's just, again, what you know, what you don't know, what you think. It's being vulnerable. It's working on this together.
Andrew Hammond: And just to end where we began, the Spy Museum, if you could have one artifact...
Dexter Ingram: Oh, my gosh.
Andrew Hammond: Can only be one, which one would you choose?
Dexter Ingram: So the thing that comes to my mind first is the lipstick gun. I just really love that. I love it. I love it. And there was one that was supposed to be for auction, and they pulled it down and it bummed me out. I love the thing - The Great Seal. I love that. I wanted that. They had one for auction that was made by the original creator, and that - it sold for like $17,000.
Andrew Hammond: Wow.
Dexter Ingram: It blew my mind. See, you say one, and I'm going to list a bunch of different things.
Andrew Hammond: Go for it.
Dexter Ingram: Now, I just talked about the tool kit. And I like the gross stuff, man. I - the Tony Mendez piece that he made that - I don't want to go into - that I think is really fascinating. I'm a big fan of Tony and Joanna. They're just - Tony was a great man, and Joanna is an amazing woman. So they've made a difference, but they were just good humans. Yeah. You got me thinking about the museum now, man. Oh, the letter - the George Washington letter. That would be amazing to have. Stop. You've got to stop. Seriously, I could do this for an hour.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much.
Dexter Ingram: Hey, thank you, Andrew. You're the best.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you. Thanks.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Go to our webpage, where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalog for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter at @intlspycast and share your favorite quotes and insights or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond. And you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter - @spyhistorian. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The "SpyCast" team includes Mike Mincey and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.