NIP Chairman's May 2020 Update

Naval Intelligence Professionals Chairman’s Red Tie Update – May 2020

I hope this note finds you all in good health. There are many who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and our prayers go out to them all. Our thoughts are also with those who to continue to serve our nation and provide the warning and analysis our decision-makers need. Times are tough, but Naval Intelligence Professionals are always up for a challenge.

ONI has been meeting the challenge from the pandemic and we had a chance to hear about their work this month in a “virtual” 3rd Thursday Leadership session held on 23 April featuring COMONI RADM Kelly Aeschbach. We had 110 NIP shipmates online for the call to hear RADM Aeschbach describe ONI’s operations over the past few months during the pandemic. As you would expect, ONI acted quickly to adapt its products and to protect the workforce. A summary of the teleconference is included below. Look for our notices for future events which will include the INDOPACOM J2, RADM Mike Studeman (congrats on his promotion to 2-stars in April!) and CENTCOM JIOC Commander Captain Josh Himes.

As with many annual spring events this year of quarantine, our Red Tie luncheon was not held. However, we are pleased to announce our annual Red Tie Award. This year it is presented, posthumously, to Melissa Drisko. Commissioned in the Navy in 1981, Melissa served as an Intelligence Officer and then as an ONI and DIA civilian. At ONI she was a stellar submarine analyst, served as Operations Officer and eventually as Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence. Melissa also held many important and senior positions at DIA before being named as Deputy Director, the role she held until she passed away in November 2018. Melissa was known to all as an exceptional analyst, manager and leader. She cared deeply about the mission and the people who perform the demanding job of Intelligence. Her full citation is attached below and we plan to present it to her husband Phil Kosmacki at our fall luncheon. Please take a moment to remember Melissa and say thanks for what she meant to Naval Intelligence.

Sue Himes, NIP Editor, has been very busy on plans for a new hard-copy publication. We are calling it the NIP READBOOK and intend to get the first edition out to you this fall. Sue is interested to get your personal stories on the pandemic impact and on how folks are coping with the stay-at-home order. Please send any inputs you want you want to share to You should see a short note about the READBOOK in your postal mail this month. We thank all the NIP members that have provided updates to their home address and other information in their NIP Profile. For those members that have not had the opportunity to update their profile on the website, please do so if you wish to receive a hard copy of the READBOOK by mail.”

The deadline for this year’s annual NIP scholarship program has been delayed until 1 June to accommodate the administrative delays caused by school shutdowns. Jim Everett is our lead for this effort. NIP provides six $5,000 scholarships, five for dependents and one for active-duty enlisted.

Details for the NIP/USNI Intelligence essay contest can be found on the USNI website and the deadline is 31 July. This is an opportunity get your ideas in front of the community as well as a chance to win a cash prize for the three top essays. Last year we had more than thirty entries so the odds are good. Given the likelihood of geo-strategic change caused by the Pandemic, it’s also a great time to offer some new ideas!
Let’s all hope this virus abates soon. Until then, stay safe and we hope to see you all in the fall!

Tony L. Cothron
Rear Admiral, USN, Retired
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Naval Intelligence Professionals

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COMONI Addresses NIP Crowd via Telecon, Outlines How ONI Has Led the Way for the IC Community with Response to COVID-19 Crisis

Commander, Office of Naval Intelligence and Director, National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office, RADM Kelly Aeschbach, in company with CMDCM Laura Nunley, provided inspiring and insightful remarks to a NIP audience via teleconference on Thursday, April 23, discussing how ONI has been responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. CAPT Bob Allen (Ret) moderated the event, which had a record attendance for “Thursday” Social hours, with 110 listeners on the line.

RADM Aeschbach began her remarks by discussing the balance ONI has struck to meet mission requirements while protecting the workforce, and she emphasized that the focus is on protecting the workforce and continuing to meet mission requirements. One of the key take-aways that emerged over the course of her talk was the fact that ONI identified the problem— the impending pandemic—early and took steps to address it quickly and decisively, adjusting along the way as necessary. Ultimately, ONI became a model for the IC, with several organizations requesting its procedures.

The Admiral first addressed mission readiness in the context of the road to crisis, pointing out that she started to recognize as early as late January that COVID was going to be an issue. ONI stood up a COVID crisis response team with a designated senior lead, an approach they have found to be the most effective way to coordinate across the enterprise. The team initially looked at assessing issues such as the impact on foreign navies and merchant shipping. As the extent of the crisis became clearer, the focus and level of effort evolved accordingly.

Protection of the workforce is a mission. ONI started acting early, restricting travel before DoD mandates came out. As the demands of COVID began swamping the Chief of Staff, ONI established a dedicated crisis operations/response cell in March. Blue and Gold teams were established, working on 14-day rotations and maximizing telework to the extent possible.

Throughout the crisis, RADM Aeschbach has emphasized communication and transparency with the workforce. As the workforce dispersed outside the building, this became more challenging, but they overcame and adapted in an effort to maintain the lines of communication. She noted that morale and retention are both high. Naval Intelligence Reserve units are also affected and have similarly developed procedures to protect people and continue mission support.

RADM Aeschbach also talked about the key lessons ONI has learned from this crisis:

  1. Don’t be afraid to rely on existing authorities until the issuance of case-specific guidance.
  2. Be flexible.
  3. Providing battlespace awareness for medical issues has not been well-resourced or given due attention in the past, but that may need to change going forward.
  4. Protection of ONI deployers has necessitated policy changes and travel restrictionsto ensure the safety of the deployers as well as the units to which they are reporting.
  5. Federation of intelligence expertise can lead to risk.
  6. Intel community, ONI, and Navy is underinvested in telework and tools for the unclassified workforce. 

The Admiral and CMDMC spent the last portion of the hour fielding questions from the audience, as moderated by CAPT Allen.

RDML Cothron closed the hour by thanking RADM Aeschbach and CMDMC Nunley for the terrific update on all the great things ONI is doing, highlighting ONI’s superb work in getting ahead of the problem and setting the standard for the IC.

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The Naval Intelligence Professionals Present The 2020 RED TIE Award
Posthumously To Ms. Melissa A. Drisko

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For exceptional service and outstanding contributions during a distinguished 37-year Navy and Intelligence Community career. Let it be widely known that Ms. Melissa A. Drisko has earned the respect, admiration and appreciation of all Naval Intelligence Professionals.

Prior to her untimely passing in November 2018, Melissa served as Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from August 2016. In this capacity, she assisted the Director’s management of a workforce with more than 16,500 military and civilian employees worldwide. Prior to assuming this position, she was the Director for Rank-in-Person Implementation at DIA.

A graduate of the University of Virginia and commissioned in the U.S. Navy in May 1981, Melissa completed assignments of increasing complexity in a range of duties. These included service as a manpower officer with Naval Intelligence Headquarters, Indications & Warning watch stander with the Navy Operational Intelligence Center, current intelligence officer with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, aide to the Director of Naval Intelligence, and Soviet submarine readiness analyst with the Office of Naval Intelligence.

In subsequent positions at ONI, Melissa managed programming and budgeting followed by a three-year assignment as the command operations officer. She also served for four years in the Directorate of Operations, Central Intelligence Agency, before joining DIA in October 2004 as the Chief of the Community Enterprise Office within the Directorate for Analysis. She later became the Deputy Chief Financial Executive at DIA in November 2007.

From April 2009 to September 2010, Melissa served as the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence where she had a major role in directing and resourcing all of Naval Intelligence. Returning to DIA in 2010, she served as the Vice Deputy Director for Collection Management, followed by her assignment as DIA’s Chief of Staff and then as Director for Science and Technology until August 2015.

Known for her analytical insight, courage, integrity and keen knowledge of the facts, Ms. Melissa Drisko inspired all who knew her. She was an exemplary and trailblazing Naval Intelligence professional who distinguished herself and will not be forgotten.

For the Naval Intelligence Professionals,

Tony L. Cothron
Rear Admiral, USN, Retired
Chairman, Board of Directors