SpyCast 2.20.24
Ep 621 | 2.20.24

A CIA Psychologist on the Minds of World Leaders, Pt. 1 with Dr. Ursula Wilder

Show Notes


Dr. Ursula Wilder (LinkedIn) joins Andrew (XLinkedIn) to discuss the intersections between psychology and intelligence. Ursula is a clinical psychologist with over two decades of experience working at the Central Intelligence Agency. 

What You’ll Learn


  • How psychology can be useful to national security
  • Historical examples of leadership analysis 
  • Leadership personality assessments & the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Psychoanalytic theory and espionage 


  • Human nature throughout history
  • History repeating itself 

And much, much more …

Episode Notes

This week, Andrew is joined by Dr. Ursula Wilder, a clinical psychologist for the CIA. In this episode, Andrew and Ursula discuss the psychological profiles of historical world leaders, and why this type of work is critical to national defense. How does psychology relate to intelligence, and how do intelligence agencies use this information to advance their national security interests? Tune in to find out.

Dr. Ursula Wilder has worked within the Central Intelligence Agency for over 27 years. In addition to her career with the CIA, Ursula has served as a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Hong Kong, a Federal Executive Fellow at The Brookings Institution, and as an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.

This episode is Part 1 of a 2-episode series. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!


Although the formal academic and scientific study of psychology largely began in mid-19th century Europe, the interest in understanding the human mind and the practice of informal psychoanalysis has ancient roots across the world. To learn more about global ideas of the mind from ancient China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, check out this article

Quotes of the Week

“Together, these documents are quite powerful. The psych assessments are very, very carefully, tightly held and are classified at a high level. Every intelligence officer has this fantasy about seeing the file that's kept on them by the opponents.” – Dr. Ursula Wilder.




*Beginner Resources*



  • Freud and Beyond, S. A. Mitchell (Basic Books, 2016)
  • Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory, J. M. Post (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
  • The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, E. Hoffer (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010) 
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, D. K. Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 2004)
  • Leaders, Fools, and Impostors: Essays on the Psychology of Leadership, M. F. R. Kets de Vries (iUniverse, 2003) 



Primary Sources 

*Wildcard Resource*

  • On Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1901)
  • In this simplified version of the father of psychoanalysis’ seminal book The Interpretation of Dreams, you can get a small taste for Freudian philosophy. Freud believed that dreams were a reflection of the subconscious mind and that studying a person’s dreams can elucidate their inner wants and needs. What are your dreams telling you?