Ravi Satkalmi is an intelligence executive with over 15 years of experience in national security, counterterrorism, and law enforcement. He serves as the Director of Intelligence for U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), leading a team charged with identifying and interdicting threats to the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress.
He previously served with the New York City Police Department for over a decade, departing in 2022 as Director for Intelligence Analysis. In that role, Satkalmi helped lead the core analytical unit integral to the department’s counterterrorism investigations, shaped the NYPD’s understanding of strategic threats, and established analytical efforts to combat gun violence.
Satkalmi has also served as a South Asia analyst for the Department of Defense specializing in political and military matters, during which he completed two deployments to Afghanistan supporting senior leadership in theater.
Satkalmi holds an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a BS in Business Management from the Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University in New York. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Fulbright fellow.
CTC: You serve as the director of intelligence at the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP). You assumed this role in April 2022, so you recently hit the one-year mark. Can you unpack the work of your team, your mission? What are the functions of the intel shop at USCP?
Satkalmi: The best way to think about this is to understand the scope of the mission of Capitol Police, which people intuitively understand to be protecting members of Congress here in D.C. and the Capitol and these wonderful buildings around us. But it’s actually much broader than that. It entails protecting the members, the staff, and visitors who come up on the Hill, but also members and their family across the country. So it’s a fairly large footprint that we have to cover from a protective standpoint and from an intel standpoint, which presents a lot of challenges.
We are focused here in D.C. We have two field offices—one in Tampa, one in San Francisco, both of which are relatively new—but we do not necessarily have the national footprint that is commensurate with the scale and the breadth of the threat that we face. And so our job as an intel shop is to solve for that problem. We have to figure out how to do that most effectively.
We’re protecting 535 members of Congress and their families, as I mentioned, so that is a lot of people that we’re responsible for. We do that in any number of ways, including doing what anybody in the business will understand as OSINT social media analysis and threat intel work based on what’s available online and through open sources. And this is largely an open-source threat environment. So we’re doing a lot of that work to proactively identify threats and threat trends, which will be familiar to a lot of your readership as best practices. The Department also does a lot of coordination work with local law enforcement. That’s how we solve for X. If we’re not there, somebody’s there. We reach out, build those relationships, and ask them to step in to provide protective services where we can’t. A lot of that coordination is coming through my shop as well.
We are looking to continue to grow our own subject matter expertise on the full spectrum of anti-government threats and anti-government violence across the board. And I have said this probably ad nauseam to my team, but our goal is essentially to be the premier intel shop for anti-government violence, full stop. We are sitting on a vast trove of threat information that’s being sent to us by our members’ offices and that we are finding on our own. And the key distinction here is we get it from all sides all the time. We’re protecting Democrats; we’re protecting Republicans, people of all political persuasions. And they all have enemies, and they’re all making threats. It provides a pretty robust dataset for us to think through trends and what may be coming down the pike, and I would argue our biggest responsibility is to cull through that data and identify those trends.
CTC: It’s hard to talk about the U.S. Capitol Police intelligence and not talk about January 6 as a watershed moment for the country, for the U.S. government across the board, for U.S. Capitol Police generally, and the intelligence division specifically. You were brought on after the event, in April 2022, and there has been a lot written about January 6 and some of the challenges, some of the failures across different government components and the U.S. Capitol Police recognizes that there’s a need for change and evolution. That’s part of the reason why you were brought on, I’m sure. When you think about the key lessons that the U.S. Capitol Police has learned from January 6 and what led to it, how has the posture of your work on the intelligence team been evolving to prevent a future event like that or for other related threats?
Satkalmi: I spend a lot of time thinking about that. I have to approach it with a degree of humility because obviously I was not here, and many of my colleagues were, and they’ve got a lot of perspective to bring to that question. One of the first challenges I had [was] to understand how we as a shop were operating beforehand, what the trajectory of the shop was going into January 6, and then where we need to go from that point forward as we think strategically about building out the team.
There’s a couple of things that stood out to me, not necessarily because of January 6th, but I think would go a long way to help plug some gaps. The first thing is making sure that the intel apparatus is at the ground level, integrated into the operational world of Capitol Police in a way that makes it unthinkable two years from today that we didn’t have an analyst doing X or an analyst working on Y. It is important to me that the analytical and intel pieces become part of the cultural DNA of Capitol Police. That is a message that people understand and have bought into even before I got here, up the chain, and I think everybody is supportive of that. The question now is how we make that happen and finding those opportunities to integrate at the lowest level possible. It should be almost impossible to do your work here and not have an intel component inform what you’re doing. So that is a huge step that we want to take and the direction that we’re moving.
Secondly is making sure we are continuing to develop key relationships around the community in D.C., but also as I mentioned, given our national scope, that we are developing those relationships around the country. [That] is just as important. We’ve done a really good job of having those relationships in place here, with some of our key partners being MPD [Metropolitan Police Department], the Secret Service, U.S. Parks Police, the Supreme Court, and the FBI. That we have on lock. It’s looking to replicate that across the country so that we’re seeing not only what’s in the District, but what’s developing in places where our protectees have their district offices, state offices, and constituencies. We need to understand that. That’s another lane of effort for us.
CTC: The USCP Strategic Plan for 2021 – 20251 acknowledges that 21st century technologies have changed how terrorists operate and talks about aspects that are obviously very relevant to you and your team. Things like prioritizing data analysis, technology and tools, partnerships, as you mentioned. As you think about technology, tools, and data, how has the work of the intel team been evolving? Are there specific examples that speak to those changes, and challenges?
Satkalmi: This would be the third point to my previous answer: technology and identifying the gaps that we have in our view of the threat landscape and finding ways to fill them. Of course, technology is a huge piece of that, and so we acquire additional tools to help broaden our aperture in terms of what’s out there from a threat perspective and to better inform us of where we need to be looking for the next threat vector. But the other piece, and it goes back to what I was saying earlier, is doing more with the data that we already have internally. For us, and this is true for any organization that is in the threat mitigation space, is to think about what you have that is unique, that adds value to the community. As I mentioned before, for us, that is this trove of threats data that is reported to us. Like I said, it’s a large volume, but it’s also exceedingly diverse. One of my goals is to be able to start culling through that in a systematic, disciplined way to start extracting value in a way that helps inform not just us but the broader community about what the threat is looking like: What is it that we’re seeing in terms of tactics, ideology, motivation, actor, all those types of things. Nobody else has that data; we do. And to translate that into value for everybody else is going to be critical.
We had one of our analysts do a first deep dive into all of the 2022 data and just take a look at it. It was a manual process. So we talk about tech tools: This is something that we need to automate, and we’re moving in that direction. We want to efficiently be able to answer questions [like]: What we can say about when threats spike vis-à-vis mentions on social media, vis-à-vis key political or sociological developments in the United States? How do those things map, and what does that mean for us [regarding] deploying resources to protect the people and places we’re responsible for? I thought that was a good exercise; there was a proof of concept to say that this data is there and we can start answering these kinds of questions. That’s something I want to continue to move forward on. It’s one of those things that I want to institutionalize as a way of dealing with the data we have.
CTC: Yes, there’s a lot of power in the context of data and the longitudinal look to help us evaluate and understand change. As you know, the broader counterterrorism community is, given the shift in priorities and being a bit more risk-accepting in certain ways when it comes to international terrorism, trying to navigate how we optimize the data that we have and get more out of it and understand it more. A lot of that conversation is oriented around this issue of indicators and warnings. You mentioned the pilot data project, are there partners that you have or entities that you’re looking at to say, ‘We like what they’re doing. We have a unique mission, and we need to adapt it or adjust it, but we want to learn more from this entity when it comes to data and data analysis’ and extracting that type of information and trends you mentioned?
Satkalmi: From a data analysis perspective, I’m all about finding partners that are doing this well in the government or outside of it. NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] produces its Violent Extremist Mobilization Indicators guide that lists dozens of flags to look out for. USCP also participates in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit to get additional insight into what motivates an actor to violence. And there are a lot of think-tanks that are looking at large datasets to extrapolate and quantify trends: New America Foundation, the George Washington University Program on Extremism, RAND, for example. I would love to be able to contribute to this body of research using our own data—and there’s support for doing that here.
But, generally speaking, if you ask anybody to list their top-five indicators of concern, the lists are going to be pretty similar. And I think people have a good understanding of what’s a red flag, what is maybe a yellow [flag]. The challenge at this point isn’t trying to identify what some of those flags are, because I believe the community has a good understanding of what those are. It’s being able to find it in the first place, and that’s where the security community is struggling. The attack on [former Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi’s husband is a good example of that. [In mid-May] an individual took a baseball bat to a district office in Virginia and carried out an act of violence.2 How do you find those people is the question, right? That’s getting harder. But if we have the data, we know the indicators. We can do the exercise.
CTC: And how do you do it in the American environment, where there is protection of civil liberties.
Satkalmi: Yes, and the other part that is making this difficult is [that] the general acceptance of violent rhetoric and violence as a tool is at a higher level now, and so it’s hard to pick out when something becomes a threat. The way that I think about it is if you’re at the ocean and it’s low tide, you can see what’s out there: I’m not going to step there; I’m not going to swim over there. You can see the dangers. But when the water level rises and everybody’s angry, you stop seeing it. Threats stop sticking out, and people don’t know what they need to report on anymore. You say, ‘See something, say something’ 20 years ago, great. But now, a lot of the stuff you’re seeing—particularly violent rhetoric—has almost been normalized in a way that makes it unexceptional.
CTC: Sea level rises is a helpful way to frame it, just how the scale of issues to look at has changed in that regard and that makes it, as you mentioned, just harder to identify out of that bigger pool which of those individuals are going to be the individuals that are going to go violent. It’s a tricky thing to do. You mentioned that the vision for the USCP’s intelligence team is to be the premier intel shop for anti-government extremism. That makes a lot of sense. When your team looks at the terrorism and extremism threat landscapes, what do those landscapes look like? Can you talk a little bit about the diversity of that landscape? And more specifically, the types of actors that you are most concerned about?
Satkalmi: The diversity of the landscape is going to be familiar to a lot of readers. The ideologies that we’re thinking about from the lone actor, unaffiliated individual, it spans the gambit. We’ve got everything from the left to the right. We’ve seen it from all sides here. We’ve had January 6th. We have the shooting at the baseball game practice in 2017 in which [Congressman Steve] Scalise was injured.3 We’ve had attacks coming from people that are ideologically difficult to pin down. They don’t like the government, and they are going to do something about it. It could be informed by a range of different thoughts about what the government is not doing or is doing that motivates some to action, but it’s not necessarily coming from a coherent book of thought. It’s just this is the thing. Identifying these actors is increasingly difficult. The conspiracies are what concern me most because they have this way of seeding themselves in the general population. We talked about the sea level rising; I think that seeding is a contributing factor.
That’s just talking about people that are consuming hateful ideology and deciding that they’re going to act on their own, but of course, there are state actors that we are obviously concerned about. Iran specifically is a very capable actor that has proven willing to try and pull off an attack on our shores, pretty brazenly at that. You had the [John] Bolton assassination plot most recently4 or the attempted kidnapping and assassination of the Brooklyn-based journalist, Masih Alinejad.5 There’s the Russian plot to target a CIA informant down in Miami in 20206 or the Chinese setting up their own police stations to target dissidents.7 There’s a brazenness that is prevalent among some of our most ardent state actor foes in crossing lines that maybe they weren’t going to cross 10 years ago. And we’re protecting people that are caught in the crosshairs. That’s a whole other level of concern that we have to deal with.
But that is just physical threats. Now we’re talking about counter-intelligence threats: How do you protect against that? We’ve got the bedrock of American democracy that we are, in fact, protecting, and all the processes, information, and people that go with it. You have to try to get ahead of that to get a better understanding of who is targeting us, how, why, and what they’re going do with that information. That is a huge challenge.
Then [there’s] cyber, which feeds each one of these different threat streams but is also a threat stream unto itself. So, it’s a huge threat landscape. We have to look at everything from every angle. Our challenge is to stay ahead of it all. And [that speaks to] the need to have the relationships I mentioned before. We’re not going to be the expert in all these things. We need to rely on our friends to help us figure this out and help us respond. And we’re doing that.
CTC: You mentioned the sea level rising and how there appears to be a normalization of violent rhetoric or extremist rhetoric and also just an embrace of violence, and that’s reflected in some of the threats against members of Congress that we’ve seen. You have your chief here at USCP on record saying that over the past several years, threats against members are “historically high.”8 For the last year that USCP has released data, in 2022, there was a decrease in the number of threat investigations by USCP, but looking at the last couple of years, you can see in the numbers that it’s still quite high.9 As a result of the uptick, your chief also made the comment that it “has resulted in a necessary expansion of, not only investigative capabilities, but … protection responsibilities as well.”10 And he also talked about how “everyone continuing to decrease violent rhetoric across the country is the best way to keep everyone safe.”11 That seems like a very tricky thing to do. How have you been trying to navigate that challenge?
Satkalmi: I don’t know that we can. We don’t have control over that dial, unfortunately. I wish we did, but we don’t. The Chief is right: We are at an elevated threat level. The number of investigations into threats or concerning communications [per year] was about 7,500 when we closed out 2022; it was about 9,600 the year before, but that was coming after January 6th and a particularly trying and tense time in our national political discourse. So it’s come down a little, but as a point of comparison, it was under 4,000 five years ago. So certainly a large increase, and we’re going into what’s going to be undoubtedly a super contentious election cycle. And I expect that number to shoot right back up, and the fact that the baseline is now 7,500 and not, say, 3,500 is concerning. Again, rising sea level. The volume presents a challenge for us both in terms of managing the caseload but also identifying the ones we need to focus on.
I actually don’t know how it gets better. I think that is a whole-of-society conversation that is beyond my role here. The challenge here is fundamentally different than that posed by 9/11. The risk is fundamentally different when we’re discussing this kind of normalization of political violence against each other—an erosion of our civic norms—rather than a terrorist organization seeking to launch an attack from overseas. We’re not going to drone our way to success here. Regardless of the cause or ideology, this pursuit of political violence will [require] a law enforcement response at the last few inches of that threat. But everything that comes before is a much, much deeper conversation for us as a society to bring that temperature down.
CTC: There is now a bunch of data, including on threats against members of Congress, that demonstrates how the sea has risen and that hopefully can help to influence the trajectory of things. You talked about a range of different threats, cyber and so forth. To what extent is your team concerned about bioterrorism? Several days after 9/11, as you remember, there was the Amerithrax episode, and that was a core issue the government had to deal with at that time. There’s been a lot of technological change and innovation that’s taken place in the field of biology to include synthetic biology.12 So there’s concern there. How much is that an issue that you are concerned about?
Satkalmi: We’re absolutely concerned about it. It’s baked into the way that we do business. You’re right; you’ve got the Amerithrax incident that you’re referring to. People are thinking about ways to deliver toxins. It’s hard to do but there are some methods that are easier than others. It’s something that we absolutely have to plan for and mitigate. The folks responsible for our HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] or the folks that are doing our evacuation plans or the folks are thinking about intel and threat detection—that threat stream is baked into all of that decision making. And it has to be because even if it’s not the threat vector that we see the most often, it’s certainly one that has proven effective in the past.
CTC: You talked a lot about partners throughout this whole conversation. USCP is not a huge organization, and you mentioned how you need to rely on partners to cover the amount of threats and issues that your team is looking at. You have a unique mission. Who are your key peers and partners? And when you look around, particularly in the intelligence division for organizations and entities that you look for inspiration or to validate your efforts and where you’re driving from a change perspective, who do you look to?
Satkalmi: We have so many, which we have to. Some of it is a function of necessity because the jurisdictional boundaries of D.C. itself are very challenging: You’re looking at three different jurisdictions across the street. But our closest partners range from the local level to the federal level. So MPD is a huge partner for us. We can’t protect Capitol Hill without making sure that we are coordinating with the Metropolitan Police Department. They’ve got resources, and they’ve got domain awareness here of the entire city. So they’re a huge partner for us.
The Supreme Court [is] across the street. We are literally adjacent to one another, so whatever threat they are facing, you just turn around and we’re facing it as well. Threat actors don’t make those kinds of jurisdictional distinctions. The Supreme Court police are partners that I have made a priority from the intel side. We’re both making sure that we’re building this relationship because we’re both small so we’re looking to come to the fight together.
U.S. Park Police are another key partner. The National Mall is on the other side of us. Same rationale and justification. They are responsible for large swaths of this area and have a ton of experience in terms of protest groups: Who’s a problem? Who’s not a problem? What’s coming down the pike? And so they are a huge partner for us.
Secret Service, for obvious reasons: They’re the ones that have the closest kinship with us in [terms of the] mission to protect elected officials; that’s what’s driving a lot of their work, and so we do look to them for how they operate from an intel perspective. It’s another intelligence relationship that we’ve prioritized so that we can pick up the phone and ask, ‘What are you seeing about X?’ And we’ve been doing that in both directions, which is super helpful.
From an investigative standpoint, our biggest partner is the FBI. We have several Task Force Officers detailed to teams dealing with terrorism, cyber threats, and counterintelligence. They are the lead agency in investigating and bringing to trial the over 1,000 January 6 defendants that have been charged for their actions on that day. And their national reach helps us mitigate threats well outside the D.C. area.
DHS is a big partner for us, I should mention. We’ve got an analyst there that’s over at I&A [Office of Intelligence and Analysis] working on the domestic terrorism threat. She just briefed their leadership on a product that we did in collaboration, which is a huge move forward to show number one, that we can produce finished intelligence that is useful to our Executive Branch IC counterparts, and two, that there’s inherent value in these kinds of relationships.
The takeaway here is that we rely on a lot of people, and those relationships are critical for us. As I mentioned before, we are tightly networked here in D.C., and the next challenge is to export that model to other parts of the country. So we’ve been talking to the National Fusion Center Association about getting some analysts in the fusion centers across the country. That was a conversation that started before I even got here. We’re continuing to move in that direction, choosing our locations based in part on the level of threats that we’re getting from these places, and using those as launching pads to replicate this kind of networked relationships that we have here in the National Capital Region. This initiative is going to prove to be hugely important over the next five years.
CTC: Similarly, are there foreign partners you work with or look to?
Satkalmi: We have spoken with agencies from other Five Eyes countries that are protecting their legislative branches as well. I’m not as familiar with their operations as I am with our partners here in D.C., obviously, but it is clear that they are facing the same threats we are—and many of the same challenges mitigating them. It’s a fascinating conversation to have, to overlay our respective authorities and resources over the threat picture to figure out what works and what doesn’t in a rapidly evolving landscape.
CTC: You spent time at NYPD before your current role. How has your time at NYPD impacted and influenced your work here at USCP intel?
Satkalmi: From a technical standpoint, what I learned from NYPD that is directly applicable here is how to approach intelligence from a law enforcement standpoint versus an IC [intelligence community] Title 50 organizational standpoint. That understanding I don’t think is intuitive for lots of people because as soon as you say intel, they’re like, ‘Oh, CIA.’ It’s like, no, intel as a discipline, not intel as in the Agency. Thinking about how to turn information into intelligence in a way that is useful from a law enforcement standpoint—from the officer on patrol to police executives—is one of the biggest lessons that I took away from NYPD. Just as important is the integration of the analysts with the operational and investigative missions of the agency at the ground level. To go back to one of my earlier points, one of the approaches I’m trying to replicate here in a much broader scale is making sure that each one of USCP’s critical lines of effort has an intel component that is supporting it. [This] is something that I saw work well at NYPD and that I’m bringing over here.
The other aspects are more personal, which is I went to NYPD thinking I was going to spend two or three years there: maybe do this thing and then go back to D.C. where the ‘real’ intel jobs are. I stayed for 11 years, and that [was] because they kept me challenged. I thought “there’s enough interesting work happening here that it’s not worth walking away.” The shop that I came from at NYPD is full of super smart people doing super cool things, and that certainly influenced the way that I feel an intel shop should work—collaboratively, asking the right questions, and finding innovative means to answer them in a way that is relevant to the agency that we are serving. You’re not doing those pie-in-the-sky, abstract exercises, but you are literally answering questions that are going to impact operations tomorrow. That’s hugely important—and motivating.
NYPD is actually the first place where I was out professionally as a gay man. I started NYPD in the closet as I had been previously in my work life. A few close colleagues knew, but I wasn’t open about it. But I decided to come out publicly as New York hosted World Pride in 2019 and I was provided the opportunity to provide a security briefing to the community. Because of that milestone, U.S. Capitol Police is the first place I’ve ever worked where I walked into the role assuming everybody knew. The support I received from NYPD had a lot to do with that, from my immediate bosses to the chiefs to the people that I was working with every day. That gave me the confidence when I was interviewing for this job to speak openly about my work with the LGBTQ+ community and essentially say this is who you are getting if you offer me the job. Just assuming everybody knows is empowering in a very real way; to not have to think about who knows and who doesn’t is freeing. So that is something else that NYPD gave me that I was able to bring here.
CTC: You’ve blazed some trails through your career. You just talked about coming out as openly gay at NYPD. You’ve written a little bit about this, but I’m just curious through your time at NYPD and to who you are today, who did you look at as role models?
Satkalmi: It’s a good question. So this is not really a family business. Although there’s a big asterisk that comes with that and that is my dad’s father, who actually died before I was born but who was in law enforcement in India. And so every time I show [my] dad the badge, he gets a kick out of it. It’s still in the family, so there’s that super personal element of it, which provides some grounding. But I made the decision to come into national security after college. I was brought up by my parents valuing public service, community service. My dad is a social worker; my mom is a librarian. They are very civic minded, and they still are very involved in community activities. I also had a very impactful junior high school biology teacher and band leader, Mr. Harvey Moder, who was an American Legion member, World War II vet, and firefighter who instilled in his own way a sincere love of country and further nurtured in me this notion of giving back.
When I graduated college, I went into the private sector, and hated it because it was about counting your billable hours. This was not what I wanted to do with my life. So I made the decision to go back to school to pursue foreign policy, came to [John Hopkins] SAIS [School of Advanced International Studies] and that really launched my national security career. Throughout that career, I have to say that there have been several people that I worked under that I thought were excellent at developing talent and mentoring. Importantly, a lot of them were women, and to be a minority in this space that’s generally male and straight, there was probably some unspoken kinship in which I was like, ‘OK, there’s space for others here.’ I think about my first boss at DIA—who’s still in the game there—she was a fantastic boss and a good shepherd of how I should be doing intel work. Rebecca [Weiner] at NYPD was a great mentor, somebody that was very open to discussing new ideas and thinking about intel from novel perspectives. So all of those people I carried forward with me and continue to influence how I do the job here.
CTC: If you were to offer advice about how to make the terrorism studies or counterterrorism space more inclusive, what would that be? I think the community recognizes and has made changes, and there’s been varying views on that. There’s been criticism of that, in that it doesn’t go far enough. What’s your view? If you have recommendations for how to make our community more inclusive, what would that be?
Satkalmi: That’s an excellent question. I think—and this is not true just in our industry but in society in general—people need to be open to different experiences that they may not have had themselves, and to be able to understand the value that can come from that. It’s hard to do. If you don’t know somebody who represents a different background than you, you’re probably not going to be immediately comfortable with them. But you should challenge yourself. Think about what is maybe lacking [in] perspective in your organization and go out and seek it. As an example, USCP hosted its first ever Pride event this June. That’s a huge step for the Department.
For those of us looking for inclusion, we have our own burden—and that’s trying to point out behavior or practices that make us or others feel like we don’t belong. We have to both educate and advocate, especially when in a leadership position. It’s tricky, and it demands patience and energy. But my experience tells me that there are partners in progress in unexpected places. And we need to be open to bringing them into the fold. Our Chief Diversity Officer has a saying that I really like: “Diversity includes you.” Essentially, anybody can experience the challenge of belonging and anybody can be part of the solution. If we can check some of our own assumptions about who may be struggling and who effective change agents can be, we improve the likelihood for progress.
The other piece of advice I can offer to those striving for inclusion is pretty simple and that is to say that when presented with the choice, to choose being yourself and doing the job well. Because that will drive things forward.
CTC: Does it feel that there’s been progress when you look at it over time, when you look at your career and where you started and then to now, that arc?
Satkalmi: I think so, although I’m a little biased because I had one anecdote and it’s mine. It’s the lens through which I have seen my career and the lens through which I have progressed through it. But I look at people that have helped shape my path, organizations such as GOAL [Gay Officers Action League, which is a gay/LGBTQ law enforcement organization], the fact that those organizations exist and have healthy memberships is a good sign that people are willing to stand up and be counted. And that is the most important act to make these places more inclusive. Because when it’s abstract, it’s not going to go anywhere. When people know that it’s their staff member, their officer, their analyst that’s struggling, that’s when you see changes. So you need to stand up and be counted.
CTC: You grew up in Queens.
Satkalmi: I did.
CTC: If you were to offer advice to a younger kid from Queens, who grew up in your neighborhood who is interested in this career area, what would you tell them? What advice would you give that person?
Satkalmi: I’ve had this conversation with a couple of people, and they’re like, ‘Alright I should study intel.’ My response reflexively is, no, you shouldn’t study intel. If you want to succeed in this space, number one you need to know about the world, its histories, its cultures. You need to travel. You need to get out there. You need to be uncomfortable. Learn about the world in a way that makes you question what you assume. Because if you can’t do that, you’re not going to succeed in this job, in this career. There’s no way. Traveling is a great way of doing that. Languages are a great way of doing that. Understanding people and their perspective is one of the top qualifications you can have to be good at intelligence. Because ultimately when we are doing intelligence work, it’s not threat actors in the abstract, but people at the other end. So you need to be able to understand how they think, what they value, and how they perceive. You also need to know how to communicate. Learn to write and learn to write well. Learn to speak in public. That’s hugely, hugely important. Because if you can’t effectively explain why you think what you think, that’s pretty much useless.
And you’ve got to get out of New York a little bit. There’s a lot to learn west of the Hudson.
CTC: As you know, Queens has a very rich hip-hop history, and so I imagine you can’t be a kid from Queens and not have your preference for an artist that you’re a big fan of.
Satkalmi: Interesting. I’ll tell you, growing up I was actually a huge country music fan, generally because it was one of the few things on the radio that my parents, who immigrated from India, could easily understand and, I think, relate to. (I was closeted about this in high school, too.) But you’re right, coming out of Queens, obviously I grew up to the sounds of Run DMC and LL Cool J. A Tribe Called Quest was huge. They were pretty awesome and thankfully a big part of the soundtrack of my life in Queens. There’s a rich history there of music. And Nicki Minaj is from Queens; she’s super talented.
CTC: Nas is from Queens.
Satkalmi: Yeah, and you’ve got some contemporaries out there in Queens that are killing it. Lots of stuff going on in that small place. CTC