A spy by luck: the case file on CIA's Jeanne Tisinger
CIA Chief Information Officer Jeanne Tisinger
May 25th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

A spy by luck: the case file on CIA's Jeanne Tisinger

Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile key members of the intelligence community. As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community

By Pam Benson

You don't really expect to simply fall into the spy business, but for Jeanne Tisinger, that's pretty much how it happened.

She was a business major at George Mason University, looking for some experience in her field while continuing her studies. She joined the college's work-study program and, much to her amazement, her first interview was with the Central Intelligence Agency.

"I was surprised they were even hiring co-op students," she says. "Why would they want a college kid to come into their version of campus? I wasn't sure what they were going to do with me. Then there was, of course, a part of me that was. wow, the mystique of the CIA - what better place to start. It was just kind of a bit of a wide-eyed wonder."

That was nearly three decades ago.

"I'm the classic story of sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Tisinger says.

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Intel Gatekeeper: the case file on Senator Dianne Feinstein
April 29th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

Intel Gatekeeper: the case file on Senator Dianne Feinstein

by Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile key members of the intelligence community. As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community

It's true: one of the most powerful players in the world of U.S. espionage and intelligence wears ruby red nail polish.

In her role as chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California is the gatekeeper for the country’s most sensitive intelligence agencies. She is regularly briefed on evolving national security threats and keeps her ruby red-topped finger on the pulse of the most secret of missions. She’s blunt, direct, stubborn, and not afraid to admit it.

Since taking the gavel of the intelligence committee, Feinstein has added her own touches, among them changing the way some classified briefings are held.

“Typically, the sessions were pretty formal, much like the style of public hearings,” said a committee staffer who asked not to be named. Before Feinstein, members of the committee would sit in a briefing room, the witnesses at a separate table before them, and each member would wait his or her turn to pose questions to the witness. Now, once a month, “they all sit together at a round table, usually a few dozen doughnuts are brought in, and they have a discussion,” says the staffer. “There are no opening statements or written statement for the record, no rounds of questioning. Members just ask questions as they see fit.”

The sessions may be informal, but Feinstein remains on a mission of her own when it comes to her responsibility as chairwoman, a responsibility that she says is a key reason why she remains in the Senate.

“It is congressional oversight of intelligence. It is very important,” said Feinstein, who agreed to a rare interview to discuss the role she plays in the country’s intelligence structure. “We have the ability to stop something if we want to stop it. And we have the ability to watch things very carefully, as closely as we want to watch or can watch.” FULL POST

April 25th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

EXCLUSIVE: Up close with America's Border Patrol Chief

by Suzanne Kelly

Since 9/11, the task of securing the U.S. border has changed significantly. Today, the number one threat that Customs and Border Protection officials worry about is terrorism. That doesn't mean it's the only threat. The continuous problems associated with illegal immigration, human smuggling, drug smuggling and gun running remain the primary focus for border patrol agents.

In an exclusive interview with Security Clearance, Customs and Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher explains how new technologies honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are being used on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

See also the up close tour of border patrol security operations.

April 24th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Man on the Wall: The 'Case File' on the Customs and Border Protection Chief

By Suzanne Kelly

Editor's note: This is part of a Security Clearance series "Case Files," which profiles members of the national security and intelligence community.

Mike Fisher was a law school intern in the late 1980s, sifting through files in the basement of the Crawford County, Pennsylvania, District Attorney's Office. Within the pages of those legal briefs lived the adventures of other people.

"I was reading case files and preparing briefs and I saw all this neat cop stuff that people were doing out there and I just decided at that point it was something that I didn't want to be writing about. I wanted to actually do it," said Fisher.

He sent his application to the FBI, but as he recalls, it was only interested in hiring Chinese linguists and accounting majors, so he took the advice of one of the FBI agents he met and blanketed other federal agencies with his resume.

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Pulling back the curtain of secrets: The 'Case File' on NSA's Fran Fleisch
March 25th, 2012
02:29 PM ET

Pulling back the curtain of secrets: The 'Case File' on NSA's Fran Fleisch

by Suzanne Kelly

Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile the key members of the intelligence community. As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community.

She is the highest-ranking woman entrusted with the National Security Agency's most-guarded secrets. Inside Fran Fleisch's mind are the details of the country's most delicate and sophisticated intelligence-gathering operations, intertwined with the knowledge and experience needed to run the world's most secretive spy agency.

As executive director of the NSA, Fleisch is No. 3 in the management chain, reporting to Deputy Director John "Chris" Inglis. He recently assumed more responsibilities when Director Keith Alexander took on the extra job of heading U.S. Cyber Command, which is dedicated to the growing national security threat posed by those using keyboards and servers as their weapons of choice. FULL POST

Intelligence Goes Private: the case file on Joan Dempsey
Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Joan Dempsey
March 16th, 2012
10:30 AM ET

Intelligence Goes Private: the case file on Joan Dempsey

By Suzanne Kelly

Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN profiles key members of the intelligence community.   As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence.

One of the first measures of tradecraft, as any good spy will tell you, is being able to tell when something just doesn't add up. So when Joan Dempsey began ticking off her decades of experience in various roles in the military and intelligence communities, it's tough not to add it all up in your head. With some 25 years in the U.S. Navy, (some of it in the reserves) another seven at the CIA, and some 17 at the Pentagon in a variety of intelligence leadership positions, Dempsey is one of the women in the intelligence community who has been a true pioneer, which of course, also means she has achieved a number of "firsts."

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'Eye in the Sky': the case file on NGA Director Letitia Long
March 9th, 2012
10:26 AM ET

'Eye in the Sky': the case file on NGA Director Letitia Long

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile the key members of the intelligence community.   As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community


On May 1, 2011, Letitia 'Tish' Long was at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, watching the greatest intelligence-special operations mission of the past decade, unfold.

"We were anxious. It was tense. There were periods of time when we didn't know exactly what was happening," Long told CNN.

Long and others could do little but wait to see whether months of intelligence preparation would pay off as Navy SEALs raided the compound in Pakistan where they believed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding out.

She was one of only a few women in the room that day, and the only woman who headed a major intelligence agency. FULL POST

Help wanted, must keep a secret: the case file on ODNI's Stephanie O'Sullivan
February 9th, 2012
12:02 AM ET

Help wanted, must keep a secret: the case file on ODNI's Stephanie O'Sullivan

By Suzanne Kelly

Editor's note:  In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile the key members of the intelligence community.   This story is the first in a special Case File series focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community

You never know when a life of espionage is right there in front of you, in an advertisement, calling you to a new adventure.  At least, Stephanie O'Sullivan says she didn't know when she answered a help wanted ad more than two decades ago for an employer looking for someone with experience in "ocean engineering."

The recent college graduate with a civil engineering degree had moved in with her parents in Annapolis, Maryland, while her fiance, whom she'd met in college, finished up his own program.  Her parents, in full anticipation of sailing off into the sunset when her father retired, had bought a boat, and that's where the three of them lived.

"I thought, 'Well I know about that, I live on a boat and I've been into boating all my life because my father was into it," said O'Sullivan, who answered the ad, not really understanding the full scope of what "ocean engineering" meant.  She soon realized why the ad was so cryptic:  it was for work on a classified program. "It turned out to be intelligence community work and it was luck because it's been a career of infinite challenge." FULL POST

Trying to overcome Blackwater: the case file on ACADEMI CEO Ted Wright
December 12th, 2011
09:48 AM ET

Trying to overcome Blackwater: the case file on ACADEMI CEO Ted Wright

by Suzanne Kelly

Programming note: Watch Erin Burnett's exclusive TV interview with ACADEMI CEO Ted Wright on OutFront. Monday night 7pET.

Editor's note: This is part of a Security Clearance series, Case File by CNN Senior National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly profiling key members of the security and intelligence community.</em>

Traffic out of DC was at a standstill on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but it wasn't a bad thing for Ted Wright. The newly-hired CEO of the company once known as Blackwater, (and later renamed Xe Services) could use the time to think. Wright had taken the helm of the world's most notorious private contracting company less than five months earlier and was about to make an incredibly bold move: changing the name of the company to help revamp it's tarnished image.
Before the company was sold to a group of anonymous investors a year ago, Blackwater had earned a public reputation for breaking the rules.

"It was just this huge sense of arrogance that I don't have to follow the rules of the United States government, I don't have to follow the rules of business, I don't have to follow any of that crap," said Wright. "That was my initial impression from the outside looking in and I knew that is behaviors, that is not culture. Their culture was, they're darn good operationally. And they cared about what they were doing. Their behaviors were what made them appear to be arrogant. It's a lot easier to change a behavior than it is to change a culture."

A lot of the heavy lifting when it came to changing the culture had been done by the time Wright arrived this past June. A name change had been tried to create distance from Blackwater. The company was renamed Xe. Most of the company's original top management team had been relieved of their duties when the new owners came in, but many of the people at the lower levels stayed.

Some of them had been there almost since the beginning a decade earlier, when Blackwater got its start a training business. Owner Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, used a sizable inheritance to start the company and then started pressing for more government contract work. The first financially significant customer was the U.S. Navy, which came knocking after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, when the Navy realized how poorly its seamen were prepared at warding off, or responding to terrorist attacks. Then came the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and business boomed. Prince found success providing private security teams for some of the top U.S. Diplomats working in Iraq.

But Afghanistan and Iraq in the early days of war, were the epitome of the wild west, and Prince's men were seen as acting as if they were the new sheriffs in town. Effectively accountable to no one in those early days, because of an incredibly complex legal and oversight structure, some of Prince's men began earning a reputation for being heavy-handed in their actions against Iraqi civilians.

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Filed under: Case File • Iraq
Safeguarding the Strip: The case file on fusion center coordinator Tom Monahan
December 6th, 2011
10:22 AM ET

Safeguarding the Strip: The case file on fusion center coordinator Tom Monahan

Editor's note: This is part of a Security Clearance series, Case File by CNN Senior National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly profiling key members of the security and intelligence community.

by Suzanne Kelly

Lt. Tom Monahan was a metro Las Vegas police homicide commander with some 600 murder cases under his belt in 2006. He was looking into the case of a burning car found in the Nevada desert with the body of a woman inside when his bosses called him into the office and presented something very unexpected.

"They said we're starting up this new thing here," Monahan said.

The 'new thing' was the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center (SNCTC), one of 72 'fusion' centers that the Department of Homeland Security helped create across the country in response to 9/11. The purpose is to better coordinate threat-related information and intelligence between local, state, and federal partners and to be able to better coordinate response when there is a major event, such as a terrorist attack.

The SNCTC sits in a shiny new building that houses the Metropolitan Las Vegas Police Department, located just a few minutes' ride from the famous Strip, the stretch of flashy hotels and casinos where some 37 million tourists come calling every year.

Standing at the fusion center's watch desk, one sees a wall full of monitors lining the room as the sounds of crackling radio communications break up the silence. Some 18 local, state and federal agencies share cubby space here, representing local fire services, public health officials, law enforcement personnel, emergency medical responders, even the county school district. FULL POST

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