Treasury Notes

 Five Questions with Leslie Ireland

By: Erika Gudmundson
1/24/2011

In our latest installment of “Five Questions,” we interviewed Leslie Ireland, Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis.

What is the Office of Intelligence and Analysis?

In response to 9/11, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA)  was created in 2004, as part of the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) to help Treasury use its authorities to limit the ability of terrorists to access the U.S. financial system and their funding networks that are critical to sustaining their operations.  OIA is the intelligence element that is embedded in the Treasury Department - simultaneously part of the broader U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and the Treasury Department.

Over time, Treasury’s authorities have expanded to go beyond counterterrorism, to include countering proliferators – people who want to develop ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons, narcotics traffickers, and individuals who are involved in other aspects of illicit finance who pose a threat to the U.S. financial system.

So, here in OIA we were created to support the work that Under Secretary Levey and TFI do – to take the information developed from intelligence sources and help apply it to the problems that TFI faces.

But we support more than just TFI. OIA also provides intelligence support to the International Affairs at Treasury. We have an entire portfolio focusing on the economic relationships that the United States has globally. We provide daily support to Secretary Geithner and Deputy Secretary Wolin, keeping them up to speed on the important economic and national security issues that they face and are interested in.

And very often people look at OIA and think its just analysis.  That is the core of what we do, but there’s more.  For example, our people protect classified information and office spaces, staff a 24-hour Intelligence Operations Center (IOC), maintain an online website that connects us to other intelligence agencies, and represent Treasury and OIA at other organizations in the US and overseas. We are one miniature intelligence organization with all the elements that an intelligence organization needs to run, and we bring them together for Treasury’s objectives.

What can you tell us about a typical day for an OIA analyst?

Well, there is no such thing as a typical day for us.

I’ve often equated the job of an intelligence analyst to that of a journalist, because in many respects they are like a newspaper reporter who follows a beat, they’ve developed sources over time, they’re looking for the new developments in their story and when they have an interesting and new development, they report on it.  And that’s what an analyst does, but from a classified perspective using classified sources and relationships they’ve developed.

For an intelligence analyst, we call the area or issue that an analyst works on an “account.” OIA analysts understand the interests that Under Secretary Levey, or Secretary Geithner, or International Affairs have, and they write and prepare briefings on their accounts from intelligence information based on the interests and priorities throughout the building.  Some of their analysis has been provided to the President.

When people typically think of Treasury, OIA usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.  And even if they were to learn more about this office, some still might ask why OIA is at Treasury, instead of the CIA or at Homeland Security? Why is OIA here?

Treasury has had intelligence functions well before the establishment of TFI and OIA in 2004. When the Coast Guard was part of the Treasury at the turn of the century, there were intelligence functions. The IRS has had intelligence functions. In fact, I understand that it was an agent in the IRS’s intelligence unit that helped build the case against Al Capone.

Intelligence isn’t new to Treasury. What is new about this office is that when it was stood up, it was the first time that a separate element of the IC was housed within Treasury.

What is unique about Treasury OIA’s approach to the issue of threat and illicit finance is the very specific way that the information is marshaled. I worked at the CIA for 25 years in intelligence – on the analytical side of the business – and much of what OIA analysts do is distinct and different from what their counterparts do at the CIA. Could we turn to the CIA and say, “can you please do this?” Sure. But the CIA has other agencies, in particular the White House that they have as a customer and the same is true with the State Department, with the FBI, with DHS: they have different customers that may come first.  That’s not to say Treasury doesn’t draw on analysis from other IC agencies.  There is a wealth of excellent intelligence and analysis from other agencies that informs TFI, IA, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary.

In its infancy, OIA had a specific niche capability that understood the designation process, for example, and had a unique understanding of our policy goals and objectives. Our analysts look at the classic, all-source information that other organizations look at, but we take it from a very Treasury-specific perspective.  Having this office inside of Treasury gives the Department its own source of analysis but it also gives the broader IC insights into Treasury’s perspectives and needs that it probably wouldn’t get otherwise.  

Before you came to Treasury, you were President Obama’s Daily Intelligence Briefer. Can you tell us a little more about that job and what you did? That’s a cool title.

And it was a cool job!  It was something that I asked to do while I was at CIA because as an analyst I had written intelligence for the President’s Daily Brief and for me it was the “pointy end of the spear.” It’s a job where as an analyst, you are confronted face-to-face with what intelligence means to a policymaker, and in this case, the number one policymaker. And you have to learn how you present intelligence information so that it is as useful to that person as possible.

I’m a big advocate of people in the IC getting out and taking an opportunity to work in a policy organization to become exposed to how intelligence is being used and integrated into the formation of policy.  As a young analyst some of the most valuable feedback I received from a boss was the comment “so what?” written in the margins of a paper I had written.  At first I was insulted!  I thought he was questioning the value of what I was telling him.  That wasn’t it.  I had only reported a fact and hadn’t told my boss—or any other reader—the context of the fact and why it was important in a bigger picture.  As an intelligence analyst, when you work in a policy organization and see how the sausage is made, so to speak, I think it helps you understand what a policymaker needs from intelligence—his or her “so what”—which in turn helps your analysis. 

So having the privilege of sitting in the Oval Office with the President is huge because of the perspective it gave me. And I think it was arguably one of the best jobs of my career.

Did you travel with the President?

Yes, we traveled with him because in a lot of respects it’s a 24/7 job. When he is away from the White House, we still briefed the President every single day and also provided materials for his national security advisors.  We were the focal point for any intelligence question that would come up while he was traveling.

We started prepping for the President’s Daily Brief at about 1:30 am, so from that perspective, the days were hard. There were two of us because of the long and unusual hours. We would rotate, because as the President’s Daily Intelligence Briefer, you always have to be “on.

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