Program Brings National Security Fellows to Duke

Two mid-career officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation began classes this fall as the first students in the new Counterterrorism and National Security Fellows Program at the Sanford School. The program is designed to give mid-career military and national security officials a deeper understanding of the policy-making process, broaden their communication and problem-solving skills and deepen their understanding of other cultures.

“The agencies we talked to were drawn to Duke’s strength in studies on terrorism, especially our work on the growth in homegrown radicals in the United States,” said David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Schanzer, an associate professor of public policy, helped develop the program.

During the nine-month program, the fellows are taking courses in national security studies, counterterrorism policy and policy making. Each fellow will conduct independent research with a senior faculty member and present their findings to the community in a public forum in the spring. They will also work as a team in a practicum, analyzing and proposing a solution to a real-world national security problem.

“This first year is going extremely well,” said Program Director Tim Nichols. Next year, three fellows are expected, including one from the U.S. Army.  Nichols hopes to draw fellows from other agencies, including the CIA and departments of Justice, Defense, State and Homeland Security, as well as the other branches of the military.

 “When you are in the field, you are so conditioned to think in a certain way that the opportunity to step outside and think differently about these things, and to do honest research, is a tremendous benefit,” said Cassandra Butler.

Butler has 19 years of experience as an intelligence analyst, the last six with the FBI and 13 with the Central Intelligence Agency. Most recently, she was part of a task force at the FBI field office in Tampa, Fla., investigating homegrown violent extremists, terrorism financing and online radicalization.  While at the CIA, she worked on terrorism, economic sanctions and energy security and traveled to the Middle East and Western Europe.

The typical 90-day fellowships the FBI offers to mid-career agents are “not long enough for serious research,” Butler said. She is focusing on an aspect of domestic Islamic radicalization: U.S. -born Islamic children who are sent to the Middle East for parts of their education and then return to the States for high school or college.

“The late teenage years are a time for internalizing values, and I wonder how hard it is for these kids to assimilate back to the U.S.,” she said. That difficulty might make them more vulnerable to becoming radicalized.

Derrel Martin said, “It’s been enlightening to learn about some of the behind-the-scenes policy decisions.”  In the months after 9/11, he said, “Marching orders came down – find this, do that,” and in Schanzer’s class on the terrorist attack and its aftermath, Martin has learned about the thinking behind those orders.

An FBI special agent for more than 15 years, Martin serves in the Cookeville, Tenn., office and is responsible for domestic and international terrorism investigations for the region as well as counterintelligence, white collar crime, bank robberies and gangs. He is the Assistant SWAT Team Leader for the Memphis FBI division. In 2009, he was embedded with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, where he was responsible for collecting and analyzing terrorism intelligence for an operations area.

               Martin will research the sovereign citizen movement, which the FBI categorizes as a domestic terrorist group. The movement doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. government and has established a “shadow government” with a president, senators and a common law court. The group commits “paper terrorism,” issuing false liens against property and squatting in foreclosed homes. As the movement has grown, so have clashes with law enforcement.

“Some of these people are scammers, but some are true believers. I want to figure out who they are and where they are going,” he said. 

The fellows have met with some of the national security speakers that have come to Duke, such as former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.  “That type of access never happens within the intelligence community,” said Butler. Both Butler and Martin think the program will help in the next step in their careers, especially in learning to appreciate the perspectives of other agencies.