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My Cambridge International Security and Intelligence Program Experience

By Ensign Mary Almy, U.S. Navy

Editor’s note: For the past three years NIP has provided a scholarship for one newly commissioned 1830 ensign from the U.S. Naval Academy or a Naval ROTC unit to attend the one-month Cambridge Security Initiative's International Security and Intelligence (ISI) Program, which takes place in the summer in Cambridge, United Kingdom. This year’s scholarship was for approximately $6,000, which covers the ISI tuition and board at Cambridge. The NIP Board of Directors reviews the applications (due by 31 January) and selects a recipient by mid-February. Once selected by NIP, the candidate must also apply for and be accepted into the program. 

On 26 May 2023, I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Naval Intelligence officer. Shortly thereafter, the NIP afforded me an invaluable opportunity to attend the International Security and Intelligence (ISI) Program at the University of Cambridge. The ISI Program allowed me to interact with both practitioners and academics in the fields of intelligence and security. I learned a significant amount from both the staff and students participating in the course and am confident that the knowledge I gained during my month in Cambridge will be beneficial to my future career as an intelligence officer.

The course consisted of lectures, seminars, and supervision meetings. The lectures delved into material ranging from the history of intelligence failures to human intelligence in the digital age. Many of the lectures included information relevant to the role of an intelligence officer. This was especially true for the lecture regarding the producer-consumer relationship within the intelligence community, which described how intelligence products can reduce uncertainty for both political and military issues.

The seminars throughout the course prompted important conversations between students, forcing us to deal with difficult topics such as intelligence sharing between nations, strategies for the public disclosure of intelligence, and how the intelligence cycle must change with the introduction of modern technological capabilities. The seminars gave me an opportunity to broaden my perspective and learn about the intelligence community outside the military. Hearing the thoughts and opinions of current undergraduate and graduate students, civilian practitioners, and academics gave me a more well-rounded understanding of the field I am entering.

The supervision meetings were dedicated to working with a small group and professional supervisor to research and write a paper on a topic of interest. My research focused on the challenges big data analytics impose on clandestine human intelligence collection. I wrote specifically about the difficulties of maintaining a verifiable cover with the unprecedented amounts of data being collected through massive surveillance systems, social media sites, and invasive data leaks, such as the Office of Personnel Management data breach of 2015.

The ISI course provided the opportunity to conduct research with not only scholarly journals and articles, but also with the insights from a prestigious group of intelligence practitioners. Listening to the experiences of professionals such as Professor Sir David Omand, Knight Grand Cross and former head of GCHQ, and Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, enriched the course material and added value and perspective to my research and learning. Other guest lecturers included Christopher Andrew, who presented on the role of intelligence throughout history; Brigadier General Eystein Kvarving of the Norwegian Armed Forces, who spoke on the strategic importance of the High North; and Doctor John Park, the director of the Korea Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, who spoke on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s crypto theft and nuclear proliferation. The regional expertise of the diverse group of lecturers provided me with an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the current state of the world and the role intelligence plays in national security.  

The exceptional operations team of the ISI program ensured we made the most of our time in Cambridge by organizing trips to places such as Bletchley Park (home of the allied code breaking effort during World War II), Ely Cathedral, and the Cambridge University Library. The program maintained a nice balance between time in the classroom and opportunities to immerse in British culture and explore the Cambridgeshire area. 

Overall, the ISI Program was an incredible way to begin my career as an intelligence officer. I am extremely grateful to everyone who made this experience possible and supported me throughout the process.