By Senior National Security Producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
Editor's note: This is the first 'Case File,' a new Security Clearance series. CNN national security producers Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson profile the key members of the intelligence community.
His predecessor joked about being compared to "Jack Bauer," but while the new head of the National Counterterrorism Center may not be running and gunning like the fictional '24' character, Matthew Olsen is tasked with keeping the country safe from attack.
Just weeks into the job, the former Justice Department lawyer was faced with the serious 9/11 anniversary threat that emerged last Wednesday. In real life, the clock doesn't stop ticking after 24 hours. Olsen's job may sound like a fictional hero's, but a big part of his day is spent managing, which is certainly less glamorous but its just as critical, according to Michael Leiter, the man who held the job for four years before retiring earlier this year.
Leiter had some words of advice for Olsen as he was about to take the helm of the agency tasked with making sure the mistakes of failed intelligence sharing - made evident in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 - never happen again.
"The first thing was that the greatest asset of the center was the work force and to really pay close attention to the care and feeding of the work force," Olsen recalled. "The second was to be really mindful of the team effort and that we work largely as part of a broader team, as part of the counterterrorism community, and spend some part of every day thinking about collaborating."
Olsen, who had known Leiter for about five years before taking the job, seems to have taken the advice to heart. He said he incorporates the collaborative effort into his everyday routine.
As Olsen reaches to turn off the alarm clock at 5:30 every morning, senior analysts at NCTC are putting the final touches on the threat briefings he will receive. By the time many Americans are just rolling out of bed, Olsen already knows what threats loom.
The briefings are often followed by the more mundane management-related meetings. But on any given day, he could be summoned to the White House to brief the president. On other days, he meets with key counterparts at the FBI or the Department of Justice.
The days can last well into the night, and often do. When he does finally go home he takes his secure BlackBerry and phone with him, in the event the terrorists' schedule doesn't line up with his own.
Olsen is likely a lot more charismatic and diplomatic than Jack Bauer. Leiter says he needs to be.
"As director of NCTC you are charged with coordinating communications between organizations you don't control," Leiter explained," so you have to be able to use the power of persuasion."
Persuasion is a skill Olsen has had 20 years to polish. A government lawyer by trade, he served as general counsel at the National Security Agency and before that held various legal positions within the Department of Justice, including a stint working closely with FBI Director Robert Mueller.
He was eventually appointed executive director of the Guantanamo Review Task Force, charged with helping the Obama administration meet its promise to close the Guantanamo facility within a year.
Though that clearly didn't happen, Olsen was key in making decisions about which detainees could be brought to trial and which should be sent to countries outside the United States, not knowing whether those countries would take appropriate measures to counter any security risk those detainees might pose in the future.
And then there are those detainees who even the smartest government lawyers just didn't know what to do with. Not enough evidence to try and deemed too dangerous to transfer elsewhere.
Having tackled many of those tough decisions and the thought process behind them might come in handy as Olsen works to mitigate new risks.
His number one mission? "Doing everything we can to prevent an attack. That is my overriding mission here.
"Beyond that, it is to continue to place the center on a footing where we can be the place where all threat and terrorism information is available for analysis," he said.
And that part of the job isn't easy either.Ten years after 9/11, there are still gaps in communication between agencies and local law enforcement across the country. There is still analysis that isn't finding it's way into the hands of people who need to see it. Olsen acknowledges the challenges ahead. "That is still a work in progress. I think its gonna take time, some of the big strides were some of the easier ones to make."
Olsen says right now his biggest concern is the threat that emerged last week. Despite the fact that there was no attack over the weekend, "the threat remains at the top of everyone's list of concerns right now," he said.
The other thing that concerns him most? Finding that "lone wolf" terrorist before he strikes. It's a distinct challenge because intelligence officials often cannot rely on the intercepted interational communications that often help detect more elaborate plots.
It's been a busy first six weeks on the job. Olsen pauses to reflect on where he is and where he's going, even if it's a place he never would have imagined for himself just a few years ago.
"I definitely don't miss just being a lawyer," says Olsen. "I totally have embraced this role."
It's a good thing, because given the most recent threat, there is plenty for him to worry about.