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Deirdre Walsh ’00: Speaking Truth to Power

Deirdre Walsh ’00: Speaking Truth to Power
Deirdre Walsh supports Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats (seen here with Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency) in presenting the global threats to U.S. national security before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

An alumna does her part to keep America safe as the COO of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The first item on Deirdre Walsh’s to-do list in January 2017 was preparing the intelligence community report on Russian influence on the 2016 election.

“It was hugely important and changed the face of history, and I was right there as we rolled the information out to Congress and the public for the first time about what we knew about such an egregious effort to undermine democracy,” said Walsh, who is the chief operating officer of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in Washington, D.C. “In the moment, I was thinking, ‘I have a million things to do, meetings to set up.’ But when I walked into the hearing room and there were cameras and reporters and the lights went on — I was watching history happen right before my eyes.”

The Office of the DNI oversees all 17 of the U.S. intelligence departments — Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, to name a few — and presents an integrated intelligence picture to the president, Congress, and all policymakers. Walsh took over as COO in early 2018, after working as the director of legislative affairs for four years. She has worked in D.C. since graduating from Scranton in 2000 with a degree in international studies, and she has spent the past 12 years in intelligence.

High-Profile Cases

Walsh is no stranger to high-profile, politically charged situations like the investigation of Russia’s influence on American elections. Over the years, she has been part of everything from launching national security space systems into orbit to the scandal involving CIA detention programs. From the events involving attacks on Americans in Benghazi to the political fallout that resulted, Walsh weighed in. In these high-stakes moments, Walsh relies on facts over bias.

“In the intelligence community, you are taught from the very first moment that you speak truth to power. Our job is to present the facts — what we know and what we don’t know,” she said. “The intelligence community is a non-political entity of the U.S. government, but we live within the normal government system, which includes political motivations, so it’s a balancing act. One of the best parts of working in intelligence is that when all of the political winds swirl around you, your compass is going in the same direction. We do not waver in the face of political challenges.”

During her 12 years at the DNI, Walsh has helped write landmark intelligence policy to keep the United States safe, including the executive order that unified the intelligence agencies under the Director of National Intelligence and, most recently, critical legislation that gives intelligence agencies critical national security tools in the fight against terrorists, weapons proliferators, foreign spies and other bad actors.

“Getting there can be really stressful, and you feel the responsibility on you because you have to deliver,” said Walsh, who earned a master’s degree in legislative affairs at The George Washington University. “It’s a challenge, but it can also be very exhilarating, too.”

athletes.jpg A Higher Mission

Walsh enjoys contributing to a mission larger than herself — providing facts and intelligence so that government officials can make informed decisions — and connects it to her Jesuit roots.

“Doing something on behalf of others is in the Jesuit tradition, which was born in me from a very early age,” said Walsh, who grew up in a Scranton family, with dad, Kevin J. Walsh ’73, and brother, Ian P. Walsh ’02. “Providing security for our nation is something I’m being called to do.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Deirdre ’00 (left) and her brother, Ian P. Walsh ‘02 (right), both played basketball at the University. Here they are during their Scranton days with their father, Kevin Walsh ’73. 

Walsh played basketball when she was at Scranton and said the skills she gained as a student-athlete — such as time management and resiliency — are critical in the work she does today. The support of a Scranton mentor also has played a major role in her career trajectory.

Jack Bagley ’65, president of consulting firm The Bagley Group, was Walsh’s first boss in Washington, D.C., when she worked for him as a summer intern at the Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit science and technology development company. Bagley was vice president and head of the D.C. office at the time, and Walsh was his first intern from Scranton.

“I benefitted from a mentor in my own career and wanted to do the same for others,” Bagley said.

The internship went so well that Walsh decided to move to D.C. after she graduated, and Bagley was there to lend a hand once again.

“Jack gave me lots of good guidance about how Washington works, everything from how to get around the city to how to navigate issues and relationships. He gave me guideposts and then let me figure some things out on my own,” she said.

For his part, Bagley says he is proud to have played a small role in Walsh’s success, but that it all goes back to their Scranton roots. “Her career progression is a testament to her academic experience at the University, her work ethic and her commitment to public service, inspired by the Jesuit ethic."

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