Strategic Intelligence class briefs projects to U.S. decision makers

Jamylin Goggin, Contributing writer

The senior capstone class for Intelligence Studies majors, RIAP 425 Strategic Intelligence, has just concluded the briefing process to important U.S. decision makers based on their varying academic projects that they have been working on all semester.

Strategic Intelligence is a course meant to give Intelligence Studies majors the most in-depth and sweeping experience of their academic careers, providing them with an opportunity to produce a meaningful project that can not only have real world implications, but to also serve as a prime work ex-ample for potential employers.

Students use everything they have learned throughout their time here to put a product together.

“Strategic reinforced the importance of time management. Since we had limited time to essentially become subject matter experts in a topic we didn’t know very well, self discipline and staying on task was essential,” Madeline Breski, senior Intelligence Studies major, said.

This project allows students to get the experience to take their tasking from a decision maker, concluding the project with a final brief.There were two sections of Strategic Intelligence this semester, each comprising of 25 students. Students were able to choose from a list of decision makers and projects at the beginning of the semester, and from there, were able to make a selection based on their level of interest in each topic. These students were broken into five teams of five, who all worked together for the entire semester.

Some of the decision makers include the National Geospatial Agency (NGA), a major U.S. bank and an intelligence con-tractor. In some cases, there is a confidentiality agreement with certain organizations and contractors, preventing students from being able to share their projects publicly. Each group focused on various topics such as foreign stealth fighter aircraft, migration issues in Central America, potential threats to United States judges, cryptocurrency and other geopolitical issues.

One of the groups in the class focused their project on cybersecurity and ransomware throughout the year. Ransom-ware is a type of malicious software, or malware, designed to deny access to a computer system until a ransom is paid. This is typically spread through phishing emails or by visiting an infected website.

This group briefed their decision maker over the phone explaining the current issue of ransomware that is prevalent right now with the lack of cybersecurity within different countries. They explained their findings and showed them their analytic method which helped get an estimate of ransomware threat.In other cases, groups traveled for their projects to brief their decision makers on location, ranging from corporate head-quarters to trips to Washington D.C. to brief at government agencies.

Two teams briefed to The NGA, one team got to brief in front of an intelligence contrac-tor and another briefed in front of the U.S. Marshall Service.

For the groups, the most difficult part of this capstone project was getting enough data when researching about their topic us-ing only open source information, meaning information that is available to the public rather than classified.

While the students spearhead the projects themselves with their decision makers, they do receive assistance from the professors who teach the classes. Bill Welch, M.S., Intelligence Studies instructor and Christopher Corpora, Ph. D., Professor of Practice, were able to advise the different groups and help them during the research process.

“Professor Welch also made the process less stressful, as he met with each team weekly for progress updates and to address any roadblocks. His dedication to this class and the program is unmatched,” Breski said.

This capstone course is rewarding for both students as well as the decision makers in the sense that they will actually be using what students have found, taking them into account for their organizations. It also shows employers the strength of the Mercyhurst Intelligence Studies program, from its students’ professionalism to its instructors’ knowledge and experience in their fields.