SpyCast 7.18.23
Ep 594 | 7.18.23

“Leader, Lecturer, Analyzer, Nerd” – with Jorhena Thomas


Erin Dietrick: Welcome to SpyCast. The official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm Erin Dietrick, your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond's content partner. Each week we explore driver manager aspect of the world of intelligence and espionage; it's past, it's present, or its future. Coming up next on SpyCast.

Jorhena Thomas: You can be smart and you can be a hard worker, but it's also good to have that ability to ditch and from your own feelings, from your own assumptions, from your own biases, and look at things for what they are, whether it serves you or it doesn't.

Erin Dietrick: This week on SpyCast, Andrew is joined by Jorhena Thomas, educator, mentor, and analysis extraordinaire. It was an absolute pleasure to have Jorhena in the studio to discuss her career in national security, which began at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where she served as an intelligence analyst for eight years. She moved on to work at the Washington DC Fusion Center, the District of Columbia Deputy Mayor's office, and in private consulting. She currently lectures at both American University and Georgetown University and serves as a director of mentorship and professional advancement at Girl Security. In this episode, Andrew and Jorhena discuss the intelligence cycle, what makes a great analyst, and how Jorhena operated as an analyst and the FBI's adaptation into the intelligence community after 9/11. This is a reminder that you can support us for free by subscribing to the show, or giving us a five star review on Apple Podcasts, the original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Andrew Hammond: Okay, well I'm so pleased to speak to you and to learn more about your career. I just wanted to start off, can you tell us how you got involved in the world of intelligence?

Jorhena Thomas: Sure thing, thanks for having me here, Andrew. I wish I had a great story about how I got into the FBI as an intelligence analyst, but I don't. I was just finishing grad school in international affairs and I was looking for a job that I thought I would like and that I'd be good at and at that time, this was around 2004, the FBI was just starting to entire the intelligence community, you know, we were a few years post-9/11 and there was a big push to get intelligence analysts into the Bureau and build up that cadre. So, I was just at the right place at the right time and I applied and I got in, and the rest was history.

Andrew Hammond: And was a lot of that focus on the post-9/11 counter terrorism mission? Did you have a sense of that when you began?

Jorhena Thomas: I did, I absolutely, absolutely did. When I got in, I was put on an international terrorism squad. Which was perfect, because I, my degree was in international affairs and so the fact that I was put on an international terrorism squad was great, because a lot of times people go in and they just put you where they need you, regardless of what your background might be, so, well that's what they were doing back then. So it was great, and yeah, because if that large push post-9/11 and the growing counter terrorism mission, they were really trying to get an analyst into the, into the Bureau at that time.

Andrew Hammond: And what was it like, you know, for the vast majority of people who have never been in the FBI, what's it like when you get that phone call or email or letter saying that you've been accepted, what's it like when you graduate? Help us understand some of those experiences as you lived through them.

Jorhena Thomas: So the thing that comes to mind is that they really are good at tempering your expectations, because from application to my first day was 10 months. And mind you, I'm someone, I'm from the United States, I've never lived overseas, all of my family is from the United States, so you know, my background check wasn't particularly complex. They were really good at helping you to build your patience. But you know, after month one, month two, you're really excited, and then you're like, okay, month three, month four. But finally when you get the call, you're really excited and I think the first call was to come, after some months, to come do my polygraph and so that was a little terrifying. I didn't have anything to hide, but still you know, it was a little terrifying. And so I went to do that and I waited some more months, and then I got the call saying you've been accepted, you're going to start on this date, show up here, and so it was kind of surreal because the organization is very cool, very interesting, and the fact that I was able to get in, particularly at such a young age, I was at that time 24, it was really exciting. And I didn't know what to expect, but it was exciting.

Andrew Hammond: And what was the training like for the position? Help us understand, you come in from grad school and then, you know, they put the FBI, you know, stamp on you. How did they go about doing that? What's the training like? Help us understand that cultural onboarding if you want to put it like that.

Jorhena Thomas: Certainly, so, at that time the training was called ACES, and I don't remember what it stands for, you know, they're all about acronyms, so I think that there are acronyms around I don't know what they stand for. It was about five months, I believe, of training down at Quantico. Quantico is the training, FBI Training Academy. Their agents train there as well as the analysts, but at that time, the training was separate; so the analysts had a lot of classroom training, learning how to write, how to analyze, you know, all of those mental agility types of skill building. But, it's my understanding that after some years, the agents and the analysts started to do some of their training together, which was ideal, because they work so closely together in the real world so it made sense for the training to be done together. I will say that I didn't go to training until I had been in my job for maybe a year. So I already was on my squad, my international terrorism squad, working with a team of agents and I had learned so much already, just from being thrown into the job. I was literally thrown into the job, like here, you're on this squad, go for it. But it was good because then that gave context to the classroom training that I got later on. So I thought that was helpful and one thing I want to share, Andrew, is that, you've probably heard this before, at that time, as I mentioned, the FBI was a fully law-- federal law enforcement agency. So coming into the intelligence community there were some adjustments that needed to be made, and one of the biggest ones was adjusting to all these analysts coming in and working with the agents and it went from an organization that was primarily sworn law enforcement agents, to now you have this whole other category of professional staff there; the analysts. And so there was some dance that had to happen to get them used to working with us and I did spend a lot of time convincing agents, hey, I can help you. I can help your case. I can do this research. I can put these pieces together for you. And some of them were not receptive, they were like look, I've done this for years on my own, I don't need an analyst to help me. But some really embraced the idea of having an analyst on their team and we were able to do a lot of good things together because of that. So at that time, you know, yes we had this training dedicated for the analysts, but there was still a lot of pushback that the analysts were getting in the real world.

Andrew Hammond: What was that like doing that to try to come from grad school to come into the FBI? You go to the squad, you're there for a year, you go to training. How steep or difficult or different was the learning curve like for the writing? Was that just listen, I know how to write, I just need to modify my style a little bit for intelligence specific products, or was it oh geez, this is yeah, I really have to deconstruct what I'm doing and build it back up from scratch? Just help us understand that process of you going from eager grad student who's real interest in international affairs to being an intelligence analyst for the FBI?

Jorhena Thomas: Yeah, so it's all the above. There were some of the skillsets were the same. Like I need to be able to research well, I needed to be able to think critically and differently and look at alternative interpretations of what I was looking at. I needed to be able to communicate with people, you know, and grad school you have to communicate your ideas, as an analyst I had to communicate and convince people of what I was saying of the different ideas and hypotheses that I had. So, in that sense, there were a lot of the same skills. From the other end of it, I did have to learn a lot and learning the culture was a very steep climb and learning all the different pieces of the organization, learning all the rules, back you know, there's the law-- there's the set of rules that govern law-- federal law enforcement, there's a set of rules that govern, as I know you know, intelligence. What can you do? What can you share? Who can you share with? All of those things, and so that was a process of constant learning, you know, we had at that time, two, again because we're on the heels of 9/11, the National Security Letters. I don't know if you remember, there was a big uproar about that, and there still is actually to this day, 20 years later, about you know, the FBI would send out requests for national security letters to telephone companies, for example, say AT&T. [inaudible] national security letter asking for specific set of into, but the telephone company would send back just a lot more than we needed. There was a lot of real-time things that we had to learn as analysts with the laws and the policies and then the public side of things, the way that things were perceived about what we were doing, particularly because, you know, the Patriot Act was well in affect at that time, and we had to navigate all of that.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. Yeah, that's interesting to hear about those considerations because I guess it's very different from just, I don't know, say you're a grad student, you want to publish a paper in a journal, you know, you just author your own thoughts, write any way you want and you know, the devil may care, but there's lots of other things that you have to think about when you're writing for an intelligence product for the FBI. That's really fascinating and where was your international terrorism squad based? Was that DC, New York?

Jorhena Thomas: We were based in Washington DC, and so we had all the terrorism cases for a certain geographic region, so if an American was impacted, an American company, an American citizen or person, the kidnapping you know, murder, whatever, that's a lot of grim stuff but any crime that any federal level crime that involved an American, our squad dealt with.

Andrew Hammond: Okay, wow, and when you go into the unit, is there, how does is work in terms of your on the job training? Do you get an official mentor or are you just, you have a boss who is meant to, you know, skill you along and so forth, or yeah, how does it work in terms of just your coming into the organization, or I've also been in some organizations where there is no like structured onboarding process, there's just, you know, survival of the fittest and you've got to figure out. So I'm hoping it's not going to be that, but I don't know. Yeah, how is the onboarding process?

Jorhena Thomas: Well, it was kind of that. So like I said, I was met at the door by a senior analyst, and he actually was, he turned out to be a really nice guy, but he actually met the part of like what the media portrays as like FBI analyst. Like he had the trench coat on, I think it was a rainy day, you know, he met me outside the office. So he took me up to my squad and was like, here you go, here's your new, here's your new squad, see you later.

Andrew Hammond: Bye.

Jorhena Thomas: So it was kind of survival of the fittest, there was an agent on the squad, she was, she took me, her name was Jennifer, she took me under her wing . She was one of those very forward, she was a senior agent but she was one of those people who saw the benefit of having analysts around, and so she took me under her wing, she put me on all her cases, she would just come and drop stacks of files on my desk and said hey, can you make sense of this? This is what I'm try to do. She was actually one of the best agents I've ever worked with. She became an informal mentor to me. Things like that happened and in terms of the reporting structure, so, those of us analysts who were assigned to a squad of agents, we had two masters; we had the head of the squad, the supervisory special agent that was the head of the squad, and then we also answered to our supervisor on the intelligence side of things. So, we had to navigate that as well. So we had two bosses.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. Yeah, when you go to the International Counterterrorism Squad, how long are you in that squad for?

Jorhena Thomas: Okay, so I was on that squad for five years.

Andrew Hammond: Five years, wow.

Jorhena Thomas: Five years and yep, and then I went over to headquarters and that's when I worked, I helped to stand up the International Operations Division Intelligence Unit over there.

Andrew Hammond: Wow, what's the difference like from working the international counterterrorism unit to move over to headquarters? Is there a radical change in culture and so forth, or is it, is it an easy transition?

Jorhena Thomas: Radical change in culture.

Andrew Hammond: Oh really? Wow. In what ways?

Jorhena Thomas: Well because, so yeah, just real quick, so the FBI has headquarters, with lots of different over, you know, management units that oversee a lot of things. So lots of administration, a lot of policy. But then there are the field offices all around the country, and they answer, you know, so the head of the field office but also ultimately to headquarters. So, whereas at the field office, it's really about the work more. Everyone's in their cases, everyone's understanding the area of responsibility that the field office has, so it's more focused that way. Headquarters is a little bit more political, it's a little bit more buttoned up, it's a little bit more you have to be more concerned about wider ranging things and it's just, yeah, it's just more political there. So it was a different, it was a mind shift for me, because for five years I was just like buckled down doing case work. At the headquarters level, I had to be very mindful of who was who, and who's up for promotion next to be in this unit? And you know, it's that type of stuff. It wasn't necessarily bad, it was just a different mindset.

Andrew Hammond: Just different.

Jorhena Thomas: Yeah.

Andrew Hammond: When you were working on international counterterrorism, can you give us an example of a case that you worked on that's in the public domain that you can talk about a little bit?

Jorhena Thomas: Sure, I would say the biggest one was the case of a former FBI agent named Robert Levinson. And this case came to us in 2007, I'll never forget this as long as I live, it was one of the defining cases of my career, and so essentially this was an older gentleman who had spent his career in the FBI and had retired, and he went on to be a consultant, a private sector consultant, and that took him around the world. And so he traveled to different places. He ended up going missing off of Kish Island, which is an island off of Iran and is administered by Iran. And so, that case came to us because he was an American citizen and we had that part of the world as a part of our area of responsibility on our International Terrorism Squad. So we didn't know if it was terrorism or not, but sometimes we-- our squad got just high profile cases anyway because of the expertise on the squad. So, yeah so that case required a lot of coordination among field offices and even with headquarters, of course. There was a lot of high level things going on with the case and so I, as the analyst, I was the primary analyst at the field office level working the case. And so it required me to pull from a lot of my skillsets, just from organizing information, I participate in interviews, source interviews, I was able to help piece together bits of information that we were getting from different places and help to guide the agents or suggest to them areas that we should look into further. So, it was a long story short, we were never able to recover Mr. Levinson, but the case drug on for quite some years, and we really worked hard. All the agents and all the analysts that did work on that case worked really hard. But that case is a really good example of what we do at the FBI, because it touched on you know, a lot of interagency collaboration, we worked with State Department, other intel community agencies, the media on that, and it also was a good example of a case where the expertise of agents and analysts working together, it really highlighted how it's supposed to work.

Andrew Hammond: Wow, and can you, just for our listeners, can we just sketch out the Robert Levinson case a little bit? So he was a former DEA officer as I understand, and then he was in the FBI for a while and he worked, I think it was Denver, and then the New York field office where he was looking at the mob, the five families and New York City, and then he was in Miami, and he's also looking at the Columbian cartels, and he built a bit of a reputation as someone that could really understand the organizational dynamics of organized crime but then I'm less sure of what happens and the various things I've read, he was just there on business, or he was there as an FBI, working for the FBI, there's a whole variety of things. So can you just walk our listen-- correct any parts of the story that I've told wrong, and then walk the story up to him going missing on Kish Island. Like why was he there?

Jorhena Thomas: Yes, so you're right as far as I know, I don't remember like all the field offices that he was in, but I do remember that he did live in Florida, because so I think he retired out of Miami. Because we went down to Florida a lot to talk to people, to talk to the family. So yes, he had an expertise in organized crime and he took that after he retired into his private consulting. So he had different types of consulting clients, and he was traveling, from what I remember, to Kish Island to investigate some cigarette smuggling, I believe that's what it was. And so that's what took him there. He was known kind of as a, I don't want to say rogue in a negative way, but just like he was a go-getter, you know, he wanted to get information, he wasn't a fearful type of guy. So he was the type that's kind of cavalier, like let me go and do what I can do, and so, you know, whereas many Americans might say, you know, I kind of draw my line at doing my work in a territory of Iran. He was like, I'm going to go here. And he had been in touch with some folks that you know, maybe a little questionable about using them as like contacts to get what he needed. But he nonetheless did that and he went missing. So there are different theories about what happened. One of the prevailing theories I will say, and this is out in the media, was that he was taken, he was detained by the Iranian government, either the MOIS, the intel service, or the IRGC, and was being held as a pawn. But you know, that theory kind of washed out over the years because with all the different opportunities to use him as a trading piece, Iran never did and actually, Iran never really acknowledged that he was there, so pictures would pop up, so if anyone researches Bob Levinson or Robert Levinson online, you'll see pictures of him when he was missing. You'll see pictures of him after he was in captivity for some time with a long white beard and an orange jumpsuit, holding different signs. Obviously in captivity, obviously someone took both pictures of him, so we were never able to get to the bottom of who took him and why. And it's my understanding that he has passed away in custody.

Andrew Hammond: And it's a very tragic story and I can't imagine the heartache of the family. Could you give us just a couple of sentences on the two Iranian intelligence agencies you spoke about so the Iranian Revolutionary Guards one and the other one, please?

Jorhena Thomas: Sure. So the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the MOIS, which the intelligence service, I can't think what the acronym stands for. They run spies, they do counterintelligence, they seek out spies, that's what they do. The IRGC has more of a military element to it, but also an intelligence component and they're known for being quite harsh and you know, but that's information from you know, a U.S. bent so I want to caveat my statements with that. But, both are known to have, to take political prisoners and to do things kind of secretively sometimes and so as I mentioned, there were different theories as to which of these entities took him or if he was exchanged between the entities, he was rumored to be held at this prison called Evin Prison, which is an infamous prison in Iran, I forget exactly where it is in Iran, and that was the rumor that was going around about where he was.

Andrew Hammond: And the prisons in Iran, they're kind of notorious for being overcrowded and for being, let's just say not particularly hospitable environments, especially for an American.

Jorhena Thomas: Absolutely. And he is, as I mentioned, he was an older gentleman of retirement age, and he also had some medical issues so that was something of concern as well. How he was being treated, you know, those conditions are terrible for, you know, a younger, healthier person, so you know, someone else that they have some medical issues, it was very concerning and you know, he had a family. He had a very large family, several children, very loving wife, she actually went over to Iran multiple times asking for assistance and pleading from a humanitarian perspective, you know, can you all please help us with this. But unfortunately, it didn't end the way we would have liked it to have ended. But her name was Christine Levinson, just such a resilient, resilient woman, strong and brave.

Andrew Hammond: And Kish Island is really fascinating, it's in the Persian Gulf and it's off the southwest coast of Iran and can you tell our listeners a little bit more about it? When I was reading about it, it sounds a little bit like the, you know, it's definitely Iran but it sounds a little bit like Macao or Hong Kong, or maybe even a little bit like Vegas or something of a Iran, there's like what, people go there for shopping, there's resorts there, it's very different from what a lot of people would think of when they think of Iran.

Jorhena Thomas: Absolutely. So Kish Island, you're absolutely right, Andrew, Kish Island is used to having a lot of foreigners there too, so he, and so that was one of the pieces of the Levinson case, he wouldn't necessarily stick out as someone of note, because there was so many foreigners there. Such a mix of people there and Kish Island isn't as locked down as we typically think of as Iran, so that was something of concern to us too. Well, how did they know he was there? And was there another element to this? Was there an inside piece to this? If the people he was coordinating with that set him up potentially. I don't know, I'm just, these are some of the speculative things that came about. The Kish Island, it wasn't like he went directly into Tehran, you know? He was in Kish which presumably would give him a little bit of cover and a little bit more of room to operate. But nonetheless, he was there and people knew he was there and that was the last place that he was seen.

[ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: Before we take a short break in the interview here, I'd like to remind all of our SpyCast listeners that during the month of July, you can nominate SpyCast for a People's Choice Podcast Award. If you enjoy listening to our podcast and appreciate what we do every week, please consider sending in a nomination. We are registered under the history category and all it takes is a couple of clicks on www.podcastawards.com. The link to nominate our show will also be in the show notes of this episode, alongside the rest of the notes which feature resources and links for further learning. Thank you so much for your continued support and we hope you enjoy the rest of the episode.

[ Sound Effects, Typing ]

Andrew Hammond: And just help us understand for you as an intelligence analyst, so you hear about this case, you've been at the Bureau for a few years, and then this case comes on your desk. Like help us understand how you walk through that case, like how do you build up a picture of the world? What kinds of sources are you, you know, open source from newspapers, publications, you know, all the different types of intelligence that are coming your way. How do you keep, how do you keep all of them in order? Do you, is there a Bureau way of doing this or is it left up to the analyst and your might have, you know, a whole bunch of Post-It notes or a huge spider diagram or main map, or you know, [inaudible], yeah, just help us understand like how you as an intelligence analyst, this case, there's all of this information coming your way, how do you deal with it? How do you consume it? How do you synthesize it? How do you organize it? And then how do you hand it off to the people that you need to hand it off to? Just help us understand how you wrap all of that together.

Jorhena Thomas: Yes, so it's a little bit of both. We have this concept in intelligence community called the intelligence cycle. And so, that is just kind of like a step by step circle basically of how you plan for whatever intelligence endeavor you have, you plan, you layout your gaps in information and your requirements, what you need to know. Then you move to collecting on that, then you move to processing it, organizing it, getting it ready for analysis. Next step is you analyze it and the next step is you disseminate it. And it's kind of like a circle that goes around. It doesn't always work that neatly, but that's the concept. So, working from that, that larger strategy framework, each analyst does it a little bit differently. So I was one that had, if you saw my desk, Andrew, you would see all the Post-Its, you would think that a psycho worked where I work. Post-Its everywhere, notes, papers, organized in different piles that only made sense to me. But I also was very systematic too, so I had developed, through the years that, the few years that I worked there, what I call intelligence connection plans. And they really served me well when I was working on a case, so I would lay out all those steps of the intelligence strategy but lay it out in a document that made sense to me and the agents I was working with. And so the first section would say okay, this is what we're doing and this is our goal. The intelligence really practical, right? It's really just about getting information and making sense of it to help you make better decisions and help you know where to go. That's what it is. So then once I laid out, this is what our goal is, then I would move on to say these are all the questions that we have, these are the primary and secondary intelligence requirements that we have. This is what we need to know in order to move forward. So once we have that, we say okay, where can we get this information? Is it from other partner agencies; CIA, NSA, DIA, would it relate the relationship with the military at the time? And then looking at the different types of intelligence that's open source as well. And open source intelligence is really it's the most valuable one in a lot of cases, because you can use it in court, you can use it, you can share it, so I develop a collection plan related to all of that. Where can we get our information? And then I just start parsing, then I start collecting, so for the things that an agent needed to do, I would give it to them and say hey, can you go and get this. And the things that I could do, liaising with my colleagues in different agencies and my research skills, I would do that. And then bring that all together. And make sense of it. And I will say that when we were working with sources, all the information didn't come in at one time. It would kind of trickle in or when we could do the interview or whatever, so it was like a constant going back around the wheel and analyzing the information that we had and then when we got new pieces in, you know, incorporating that, folding that in; what corroborates, what doesn't? What is most likely? What aligns with what we already know? You know, things like that. We did, you know, we had inner steps and we had other things too that we had to jointly manage together, so I did have a very large intelligence, what do we call it, a chart, a link chart. I had a very large link chart that I would update regularly and we had it smack on the wall where we could all go up and talk about it and look at it and say okay, who's connected to who, what do we know now? So I would update that link chart regularly so everyone would know where we are. And it was a really good visual for us to see where we were and what the connections were at that point in time.

Andrew Hammond: And a link chart is like when listeners watch the movies and those FBI analysts and there's like photographs of people up there and there's like you know, pieces of string connecting them and here's all the relationships. Is that that?

Jorhena Thomas: Kind of. It was more, it was like computers [inaudible]. So I didn't have a role of string that I would cut.

Andrew Hammond: Okay, that's old school.

Jorhena Thomas: Yeah, that's old school. It was a [inaudible]. And we didn't have a, we didn't have like glass. You know on the movies they have like a glass that you can see through the other side? No, it wasn't that, it was a piece of paper.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. And how does it go, [inaudible], for all of this information, are you organizing it? Are you thinking to yourself, there's a report that I have to write that brings all this together, it has to have a middle, it has to have a beginning, it has to have a you know, series of three chapters that could be chronological or thematic, and has to have a conclusion? Or is it not that? Is it here's the 20 questions I've been tasked to answer, and here's the best available evidence I can get on each one, like when did he go missing, you know, I get all the evidence I can. Here's what we know, here's what we can say for certain, here's a couple things we don't know, et cetera. So what was the, what was the kind of forma, what was the genre that you were aiming towards? Was it I need to answer a bunch of questions? Was it, I need to write a report? Was it, I'm going to be orally debriefed by someone who's investigating the case, or all of the above? Help us understand the final products.

Jorhena Thomas: It was all of the above. And it depended on who the audience was. And that's one of the key skills that an intelligence analyst needs to have. Knowing who your audience is and then tailoring your products accordingly. So, you know, we'd have regular meetings where the squad or the people who are working on the case, the team, would get together and we'd have to debrief. So I would do a particular type of product for that; it would be short and sweet, I have my three or four top judgments, or updates to share, and then done. Because we didn't have a lot of time, like again, like if you're in grad school, you know, you're telling a narrative and you have the beginning, middle, and end, and you have your big conclusion at the end. Intelligence writing and intelligence presenting of information is flipped. So, we work with what we call the bottom line up front. So, you start with your most important information. You say what you have to say, and then you support it, if you have time you give your support, and then you get out of there. So, your products work that way, and your oral briefings work that way as well. So you don't build up to it and tell a story. You start with your conclusion at the top and then if you are a supervisor or your team members have questions, then you're prepared to substantiate those. But other than that, yeah. So I would do what we call a baseball cards, and so they were just like kind of small snapshots of key people in the investigation, so who they are, who their connections are, where they're located, why they're important. Like that. And then sometimes we'll do, we'll do like a shorter bulletin so if we had a key development, we would put together a shorter bulletin that says, like maybe one page, this is what this is, this is why this is important. And then from time to time, depending on if it was a more senior level audience, we might put together something longer but it would still be written that bottom line up front format. And yeah, so that's how, so using the link chart and other smaller things to keep me organized, I did that and it was more like on the squad. But when external people were involved, the products kind of shifted depending on who the audience was.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. So it's a bit more like journalism and a little bit less like an Agatha Christie novel, you don't wait until the end to find out it was Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with a candlestick or something like that.

Jorhena Thomas: No, no, no. No, no, no. Because things are moving fast and people don't have a lot of time, you know, to hear the whole story. They need to know what they need to know.

Andrew Hammond: So, all of this information, so you're bringing all of this information together. Help me understand the supply and demand dynamics to this, so is it just you get all of this information and you make sense of it but can you also go and say listen, here's something I just can't answer, is it possible to gather intelligence on x or y? That could be stuff that's already collected but it just lies in another agency or with another team or can you also, in terms of demand driven, can you also say listen, can we have you know, a satellite go over here, or an operator do this, or yeah, just help me understand the supply and demand parts of your job as an analyst.

Jorhena Thomas: Right, so I'll answer the second one first, in terms of saying can we have a satellite go here or do this, that was above my pay grade, so I was not--

Andrew Hammond: But could you ask your boss to, could you ask your boss to get it authorized?

Jorhena Thomas: Potentially. I've never done that. So the closest I've gotten to that was working with partners and different agencies saying hey, this is, here's an intelligence requirement that we need. Let me know if you can collect on it and they do whatever they do. That's the closest I've gotten. But yes, and in terms of the first question, the supply, I'm a big proponent, Andrew, of not reinventing the wheel. If I don't have to go spend 10 hours researching something, I just need to make a call to someone who is an expert in that and I would do that. And so that was one of the things that I really learned as an intel analyst too, make allies across the field because it'll really make your work, it made my work more efficient. So, instead of deep diving into for example, the you know, internal politics of Iran at the time, and the policies towards Kish Island, and what was going on there at the time, I could have researched that, sure, but it was much more efficient to go to a friend I had who was a specialist in Iran and said hey, I'm working this case, you don't know anything about this case, but you do know about Iran and you do know about Kish Island. Tell me what I need to know. Then I can take that back. So, in terms of supply, right, there's all sorts of information sitting in all different agencies, in open source, and so I think a good analyst is good at being resourceful in getting that. Because you can research all day, you know, there's so much, there's not a dearth of information at all, so yes.

Andrew Hammond: And you mention the onboarding process of the FBI doing more of these intelligence, bringing on these intelligence analysts and so forth, so you're there and let's say [inaudible] 2004 onwards, what was it like for the rest of the intelligence agencies or for your fellow analysts who were in other agencies? What was the FBI intelligence analysts onboarding process like for them? Was it, you know, we're happy to help? Or was it sometimes a bit haughty, you know, these people don't have a clue what they're doing, we've been doing it for decades. Did it depend on the agency? Was it all of the above because of personalities? Help me understand that onboarding process.

Jorhena Thomas: Personalities definitely played a big part in it and yes, because the FBI was kind of, I mean there were intelligence analysts before 9/11 but not nearly as many as after. So yes, I think that some of our colleague agencies who had been in the game for decades were like, oh, you guys are so cute. Let me show you, let me help you out. Yeah, a little pat on the head. But yeah, so it did take, just like I told you internally, it kind of took some coaxing of the agents to say hey, we're here, we have the skillset. It was also like that with our colleagues in other agencies too. Hey, this is what we're doing, you know, can we you know, can we engage with you? You know, it was kind of like baby steps. So again, just like internally with the agents, some were more readily open to embrace us than others. And it took time. But I will say I built some really great relationships with people and other agencies. NSA comes to mind right away, because I had some really awesome people who I actually never met face-to-face, but we built a rapport through, you know, communicating on the classified system, and they were happy that someone was interested in their expertise. Because you know, a lot of times they're gathering a lot of information and they're happy to know that someone wants to put it to practical use. So, that was a helpful thing and building those relationships. But it just took time. And I will say that some analysts were better at it than others. Those of us who were based on squads, we kind of had to refine our communication schools because we had to, we had to get buy-in all the time. But then some analysts were, weren't on squads, they were on, they were like, worked with other analysts mostly and they did more intel stuff, strategic intel stuff, so they didn't have to refine those skills as much as the others and so, I always thought those folks were super smart. Like you could ask them anything and they would tell you everything. So that was the awesome part too, Andrew, about being an analyst for the FBI, like you could find your niche. So if you were more of an extroverted person and you liked getting your hands dirty, you could work on a squad. But if you were more of a cerebral type, and you really just wanted to delve into a topic and just be the expert on that, and people would come to you, you could do that too. And so that was the cool thing about the FBI. There was a place for you if you wanted to do the work.

Andrew Hammond: It's interesting that you mentioned the NSA there. I always think that the NSA is a little bit like, like if U.S. intelligence was like a band, I always think the NSA is like the bass guitar, like a lot of people forget about it. A lot of people overlook it, it's quite often underappreciated, but it basically makes everything else hang together. And I think the CIA is a bit more like the lead guitar or something like that. You know, they're playing the solo like getting the attention but actually the NSA is just quietly in the back, just strumming away on the bass guitar. Would you agree? What would the FBI be? Would they be rhythm guitar or drums or--

Jorhena Thomas: I love this analogy. I love it and I agree with you. Where would the FBI be? I think maybe the FBI would be the drummer? You know, holding things, you know--

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, in the back, I can see that. Yeah, yeah.

Jorhena Thomas: Yeah.

Andrew Hammond: Maybe the DIA.

Jorhena Thomas: [inaudible] follow the rules.

Andrew Hammond: Maybe the DIA are rhythm guitar or something like that.

Jorhena Thomas: I love thinking of this in that context.

[ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: The FBI has six branches, let's discuss the three that are most important for SpyCast purposes. One is the National Security branch, which features units like the counterterrorism division and the counterintelligence division. We've had the recent assistant director for counterintelligence, Alan Kohler, on the show, as well as a former assistant director of counterintelligence, Frank Figliuzzi. These are the spy catchers, they counterintelligence gathering by adversaries. The second is the Criminal Cyber Response and Services branch. This features units like the criminal investigative division and the critical incident response group, which many of you will no doubt be familiar with from TV shows and movies. Think gangs, bank robberies, the SWAT team and the behavioral analysis unit. It also futures the International Operations Division, which oversees the FBI's Legat Program. The learn more about the Legat Program, FBI officers who serve overseas as representatives, go to our episode with Kathy Stearman. Finally, it features the Cyber Division. And we've had the current FBI Cyber Division chief on SpyCast not too long ago. The third and final one we will discuss is the Intelligence Branch. This came into being formally in 2014. Inside this branch is the Office of Partner Engagement, which liaises and works alongside other law enforcement agencies, but more specific to our purposes here, is the Directorate of Intelligence, which is where Jorhena worked. They gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence that is important to the long-term national security. The leader of this branch is the one who coordinates with the other 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that constitute what is termed, the "IC," the intelligence community.

[ Music, Typing ]

Andrew Hammond: So, what does the intelligence analysis picture look like for the FBI? So we've got counterterrorism, which you were working on at that time, but we've also of course, classically got counterintelligence, counternarcotics, organized crime, all those sorts of things. So, where the vast majority of these new analysts that were recruited in the early 2000s, are they all gone towards counterterrorism or is the longer-term result that the counterintelligence analysis is beefed up as well and the counternarcotics and organized crime is beefed up as well? Or is it still, you know, mainly on counterterrorism that those analysts are?

Jorhena Thomas: Well, I think they cover, they cover the board. So, right after, like when I came in, a huge chunk of them went to counterterrorism units and squads, but I think the upside of that is that when things kind of leveled out, those analysts were dispersed across the other needs of the FBI as well. And I think the good thing about the intelligence analysts' push was that it was seen that analysts aren't just useful for counterterrorism. Actually as an organization, we can use them across the board to enhance the work that we already do. And I think that was the realization that came. And so you mentioned the big ones, the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, but there's also public corruption. I had some friends that were [inaudible] corruption, there are financial cases, weapons of mass destruction, cybercrimes, which is a huge thing now and it has been for the last several years, and so yeah, the FBI works with all of those types of cases and topics,

Andrew Hammond: So you're at the International Counterterrorism Squad for, is it four years?

Jorhena Thomas: Five years.

Andrew Hammond: Oh sorry, five years. And then you go to headquarters. Help us understand that transition over to headquarters. So we spoke a lot about earlier about the culture. I believe you go there to be a program manager, is that right? Can you tell us a little bit more about what that entails and what you were doing and I'm also interested as well, I've spoken to people, a lot of people from the CIA before and they're saying that you know, quite often if you spend a whole career in, you can find yourself in these leadership positions or management positions but you've never received any training for it, it's all just you're expected to figure it out as you go along. And a couple of them have said to me, you know, we need to be more like the Army, I mean, maybe not like people go away for a year to a staff college, but there should be like more of a, you know, management/leader training kind of package for them. So I'm just wondering where the FBI falls in that, how much training is there? So summing all of that up, program manager, what were you program managing and what was the training, if any, for that?

Jorhena Thomas: So my title was still intelligence analyst, I was an acting supervisor intelligence analyst by the time I left that job. But I went over to, like I mentioned, to help set up the-- we have International Operations Division, which oversees our legal attachés, which are FBI offices who are in embassies around the world. So they're our FBI representatives in many countries. And so up until that point, the International Operations Division didn't have a central location for the legal attachés, called legats for short. For the legats to coordinate their intelligence, you know, their intelligence gathering, whether they needed intelligence to share with their partners, you know, on a case or just general situational awareness, or otherwise. If they were able to get a piece of information that they thought would be useful for our national security, they really didn't have a central place to send that back, you know, they may have known someone on you know, an organized crime squad or counterterrorism squad they'd send it to them, but that wasn't very efficient, and that wasn't good for the organization as a whole. I, and several other analysts, who became really good friends over the years, came from different parts of the Bureau and we set up this unit there and so I, and then we broke it up by region. So the legats are organized by region and so were we. I had the western hemisphere, so I had all the legats in the Americas, from Ottawa on down to Mexico City, Central America, and South America, the different capitals, and so I was the legats main point of contact for all their intel matters. So if they wanted just better understand their area, we call it domain awareness, so understanding your domain and up until that point, there wasn't one central place for them to get that information either. Like what are FBI's interests in X country? Why? How does that intersect with other interests in a neighboring country? There was no central way to do that, so it was a really good way for us to build domain awareness and provide support for legal attachés, both with outgoing intel and incoming intel. And that, and in terms of training, no. It was, the whole unit was new, everything was new. So we really just had to figure it out as we went along, but I will say we had such good passionate and smart people that we were able to work well together and figure things out how to manage it and I will say that the FBI does have a really good leadership, well at the time. I'm not sure now, but they had a really good leadership program so you could self-select to go and build leadership skills, but in terms of just like on the job training, at that time it wasn't, it wasn't maybe as structured as it could have been.

Andrew Hammond: This is an interesting question, I think, what makes for a great analyst? Like in your career, could be someone you worked with, you know, or someone that's universally considered as a great analyst or maybe it's someone that people still talk about and [inaudible] terms, "Oh, my goodness, you should have seen this person when they were in the FBI, you know, they were off the charts, like just crazy good analyst." Like what makes for an amazing analyst, like is there some you know, obviously there's a whole variety of things. It's hard work, it's talent, it's organization, it's you know, persistence, but yeah, what makes for like a really great intelligence analyst as opposed to just a good one?

Jorhena Thomas: I think I would say this person that I mentioned that was one of the best analysts that I worked with, her name was Eileen. She's since passed away, but she, one of the best things she taught me was detachment. You can be smart, and you can be a hard worker, but it's also good to have that ability to detach and from your own feelings, from your own assumptions, from your own biases, and look at things for what they are, whether it serves you or it doesn't. And she was really good at that and she taught me how to do that and sometimes it made more work for her, like if she submitted her, say she had a draft of an assessment and she submitted it to peers, she really wanted feedback. She was not attached to what she had written in terms of how it could be improved. If someone could give her some critically thought out feedback, she'd take it and make her work that much better. So that's what I would say, all the other stuff, attention to detail, observational skills, creativity, all those things are definitely par for the course, but the ability to take a step back from your work, take yourself out of it, I'm not saying not to be human, but I'm saying to ditch from those things, those kind of pitfalls that we as humans fall into, I think that's key.

Andrew Hammond: So what did that job involve? So the western hemisphere, did you have to do a lot of travel for that? [inaudible], did you have to do a lot of liaising with other American agency, intelligence agencies, with lots of partners in the western hemisphere? I'm assuming the answer to all those questions is yes, but would you just flesh it out for me please.

Jorhena Thomas: Yes, I would travel, I would travel a lot to the different legats for different things. So sometimes we'd have a summit with our counterparts over there, wherever there is, and you know, we'd talk about cases of mutual interest, sometimes we'd bring the case agents along if there was a major case that was going on. Well always if there was a major case that was going on that impacted both countries, the case agents would come, I would come as the headquarters representative for the western hemisphere and the legats would be there. Sometimes we would get together just to kind of level set. Okay, it's a new year, here's what we're working on, here are the priorities for our area of responsibility this year, this is what we want to collect, these are the people we want to engage with, so it kind of ran the gamut in terms of that. And while I was in country, I really treasured the opportunity to talk with the, you know, counterparts who were stationed there in the embassy from whatever agency they happened to work for. So it was very, it was very useful and again, all my time with the FBI really gave me an appreciation for just partnerships and understanding everyone has a role to play and if you respect what they do, and they respect what you do, then you can really get some good work done, and I think sometimes people look down on others who don't do what they do. And my attitude is; if they did what you do then you don't need to be here, you know?

[ Inaudible ]

Everyone has a role. And so it was really useful and it was, there was no, there was no substitute for spending that time with the legats there. Because it really helped them to be more efficient with their work too.

Andrew Hammond: Wow, and could you give us just a brief example of something that you've done when you were in this position working with a legat or something that was happening or something that was, you know, we need to get information about this, yeah, just help listeners understand a little bit more about that position through the lens of something you were involved in.

Jorhena Thomas: Let's see, so I will say, just, I can speak in generalities, like in terms of the information sharing and the intelligence sharing, so we have this process, and I know you already know but for the listeners, to get what we call share lines for classified information. So there may be information that's classified but if you want to share it, you know, within the U.S. Government or with a foreign partner, you can get what's called a share line, and it's just like a sharable version of a piece of intelligence. And I really was able to leverage the share line process to share with our partners, and it really helped the legats out because they, whenever they went to their meetings with their, you know, their federal law enforcement colleagues in country, they were always able to come with something if they wanted to. And so because they were able to come with a piece of information or a piece of intel that they could share from the FBI, it really kind of greased the skids and made their colleagues more willing to share with them. And you know, the currency in a lot of these jobs is information. And so, it really helped by doing that basic thing, finding pieces of information that would be useful. Let's take Mexico for example, because we did this a lot with our colleagues in Mexico and the federal police. There was information that we had, you know, organized crime information, you know, things like that we had in our coffers that was easy to share and so I would get their approval and then so when the legat had their next meeting, they could always go with something and that helped them to get things in return. So I would say that was a big thing that was useful.

Andrew Hammond: And that's interesting and that probably saved the FBI a lot of money, because if you're greasing the skids as you put it, with information, it means that you don't have to turn up with just a bottle of expensive single malt scotch whiskey or something like that to try to grease the skids. So you're probably saving quite a bit of money in the long-term.

Jorhena Thomas: Right. Yeah, and on top of that, it's, on top of saving the taxpayers the money, it also breeds good will, you know? It's an easy legal thing to do, and it breeds good will.

Andrew Hammond: And can you, can you tell us a little bit more about your next position so the WRTAC Fusion Center, can you tell us what that is and you know, how you ended up there?

Jorhena Thomas: Sure, so at that point I'd been at the FBI for about eight years and I was getting a little antsy because I had done so many cool things, I was so grateful to the FBI, you know, I worked some really good cases. I worked as a, I worked this great program at headquarters, and I was like, okay, what's next? And so, I could have gone to the counterterrorism division and worked there, but it was too hectic, like I have, I had two small kids at the time, I didn't think I could realistically do that. So I was just kind of looking to see what else was out there. So I came across the Fusion Center. The Fusion Centers are these kind of clearinghouses for information that are meant to connect the dots, if I can use that term, among federal, state, local, entities, government entities, and also the private sector. And they're run by cities or municipalities or states, and they're all about fusing information and so I'm sure you know, everyone's heard of you know, one of the failures of what allow 9/11 to happen was we had all these siloes of information, some people you know, align with this three, some don't, but the idea is that the silos need to be broken down and we need to have more of a fusion of the information that's out there because it would help us all and so, long story short, I went to be the deputy director at the Fusion Center in Washington DC. And this fusion center was housed within the emergency, the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, and it was run by the Homeland Security [inaudible] Management Agency and the police department, jointly. And so we had a staff of analysts and we had liaison officers from all different organizations, both government and non-government, like Metro for example, Amtrak, things like that. And we did a lot of good work together.

Andrew Hammond: For that as well, how many people are you responsible for, Jorhena?

Jorhena Thomas: So there I think I-- overall it was about 30. So with analysts, our analyst staff, our liaison officers, and our interns and fellows. So we had a nice sized group.

Andrew Hammond: Wow, so what does WRTAC stand for?

Jorhena Thomas: Oh, I should have said that. It is the Washington Regional Threat Analysis Center.

Andrew Hammond: So Washington region, so this is something that's not for the whole country? It's for the DMV?

Jorhena Thomas: Well, so this particular fusion center is for DC proper, and so Virginia has two, Maryland has one, so all the states have at least one. If they have a major city or metropolitan area, they probably have two. So like Michigan for example, has the Detroit area one and they have a statewide fusion center as well. Throughout, they exist throughout the country in different formats, but they all are meant to do basically the same thing, to be a clearinghouse of information and analysis.

Andrew Hammond: And how long were you there for? At the fusion center?

Jorhena Thomas: I was there for three years. For three years. And then I went to another opportunity. But it was great. I really enjoyed my time there. But I just stayed for three years because another opportunity in the mayor's office came up to be a chief of staff for the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, where I thought I could, I could still work with the fusion center, just at a different level. And supporting their work.

Andrew Hammond: Wow, and what was that-- so by this point, when do you leave the FBI formally? Do you leave it before you go to your fusion center or afterwards?

Jorhena Thomas: Before.

Andrew Hammond: Before.

Jorhena Thomas: Yeah, so the fusion centers are all, you know, run locally or statewide. So yeah, I left the FBI and a lot of people were like, what are you doing? Like you have your dream job. But I really wanted to see intelligence, Andrew, from a different lens too. You know, I'd seen it from the federal side, I really wanted to be well-rounded. So I thought it would be cool to see intel from a very local level as well and what that looks like.

Andrew Hammond: You've had such a broad range of experience; western hemisphere, international terrorism, the fusion center, and for the mayor, this is another aspect as well. Tell us a little bit about that, did you learn any new stuff when, I mean the answer obviously is yes, but did you learn anything new or was it something different about working for the mayor than working for the previous places that you had worked?

Jorhena Thomas: Yes, it was extremely, extremely political and I actually didn't stay too long, it was very different but I did learn a lot and I learned that intelligence shows up no matter where you work, it's just called something different. And it's a currency no matter where you work, you know, whether you work in a political office or you work in the middle of the FBI, you know? I did learn that and that has helped me throughout my career. Just understanding that.

Andrew Hammond: And there's a, it seems like there's a real profusion of intelligence analysts over the last 20 years. You've seen them in the FBI, you've seen them in more and more agencies. We had someone on the podcast a few years ago, he used to work in you know, military intelligence and so forth and then he was analyzing street gangs in New York and so forth. So intelligence analysts seem to be proliferating across the country and you're right, they may be known by different terms but it seems like it's a real upward trajectory for the profession, would you agree?

Jorhena Thomas: I would agree a hundred percent, and not just in government, but also in private sector, you know, you'll find more corporate entities having intelligence functions or intelligence units as well. So I definitely think the trajectory is upward. If AI doesn't steal all of our jobs.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I'm sure even AI can't come up with some of the stupid questions and jokes I come up with, so I think I'm safe. Can you tell us a little bit more about Girl Security, so I just want to walk up to the present day before we close out. So this is something that's really interesting and in the UK there's also a group that's on Twitter called Women in Intel and it's intelligence historians and scholars and so forth and national security intelligence military space has traditionally been predominantly male and we're seeing changes and there's lots of changes that have happened, but you know, we're not at some kind of equity either. So just tell us a little bit more about what you do and why it's something you care about and those sorts of things, please.

Jorhena Thomas: Sure, thanks for the opportunity. So Girl Security is an organization, it's about seven years old, and it's all about exposing young women to the wide world of national security and helping them to learn about it, build skills and thrive, no matter where they want to go. And we define national security quite broadly. So yes, it's intel and defense but it's also climate change, it's also trust and safety on the internet, it's also just information, it's also biosecurity. I run the mentorship program, I'm the director of mentorship and professional advancement and that is one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had and it's all about matching younger participants in our program, we serve ages 14-26, who have any type of interest in any part of national security, we match them with professionals who are already in the field who are doing things that the younger women are interested in doing. And they have a three-month mentorship match and they talk about whatever the mentee wants to talk about and helps them on their way and helps them build skills and exposes them to different areas of whatever piece that they're interested in. Yes, the national, the traditional national security space has been very male dominated but that's not to say that women haven't played a part at all, because we know they have. Women have been great spies, woman have been great, you know, commanders in the military in recent years. So, but we just want more of that and you know, a lot of times I was the only woman in the room for sure, particularly at a senior level, and so we just want to move the needle forward so where it's normalized. I always say, I just want it to be normal. If you walk in a room, there are many women at the table and it's not like a shock that a woman in the one running the meeting or you know, calling the shots, or that a man is. But that it's just normalized to have a nice mix of people.

Andrew Hammond: Mm hmm, wow. And if any listeners want to take advantage of this, if there are young women who are listening who want to move into this space or who want to take advantage of these opportunities that your organization offers, what would they do? Should they reach out, is there a website or a contact page or yeah, how should they reach out?

Jorhena Thomas: Absolutely, we have a beautiful website, it's www.girlsecurity.org, and or they can connect with me on LinkedIn, or whatever, but we are happy to bring people in if they want to participate. That's what it's all about.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. And what does the future hold for you, Jorhena?

Jorhena Thomas: Well, you know, I'm going to say that I want to write a book. And I'm just like, I need to get to it. I, you know, I have teenagers and so I would love to write a book for teenagers that teaches them how to make decisions like and intelligence analyst. You know, I think--

Andrew Hammond: Okay, [inaudible] yeah.

Jorhena Thomas: --much more easy and less stressful. So we'll see if I can get on to doing that.

Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much. This has been a really amazing conversation. Thanks so much.

[ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up on next week's show.

Michael Vickers: You know, that was just unheard of to send not only a very new CIA officer, but one who hadn't even been to operational training yet. And you know, my boss thought, look, you've got all the special forces training, that's what I really need for this operation. And so, into Granada I went and one thing led to another and then eventually Afghanistan, so it was an extraordinary time and it's, there's just no place like CIA.

Erin Dietrick: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at SpyCast@spymuseum.org, or on Twitter at intlSpyCast. If you go to our page, thecyberwire.com/ podcasts/SpyCast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm Erin Dietrick, and your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Afua Anokwa, Elliott Pelzman, Tré Hester, and Jen Eiben. 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.

[ Music ]