James Lint was a 19-year-old Marine on duty in the Mediterranean when he had his first encounter with a national security threat. She was an attractive young woman, as James remembers the story, and she took a real interest in the warship he was guarding. “She asked me what types of weapons we had aboard the ship, and whether it ran on nuclear power,” Lint recalls. He ceased the conversation with the woman and immediately reported the incident to the Marine Corps Counterintelligence Team on ship. That moment shaped his career in national intelligence, and Lint retells the story to the young people he mentors through the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a volunteer organization he started in 2007 to support educational advancement for the next generation of national security workers.
Run entirely by volunteers, the Lint Center offers a mentoring program that connects emerging leaders with professionals in the U.S. intelligence and national security field. More than 200 mentors, seasoned practitioners in their field, volunteer through the Lint Center to show younger people what they can do in the intelligence community. This enhances the study of national security issues and creates a natural bridge for the next generation to acquire “the lessons learned, the wisdom gleaned from experience and the knowledge attained in the trenches,” as Lint puts it.
According to Lint, “It is important that we grow a new and smarter counterintelligence and national security workforce to replace those of us who are retiring. If future leaders in the industry cannot see where they are going, then they should have a viable resource to ask current members of the defense and intelligence community that have been there before.”
Lint, now retired from military and civilian intelligence service, knows outsiders get many of their ideas about the intelligence community from what they see on TV or at the movies. Lint points out that, by virtue of the important and highly sensitive role they play in securing America, intelligence and defense professionals cannot – and should not – draw attention to their work. This circumstance can create barriers to the public’s understanding of the work and the careers that exist in the national security field. But Lint sees value in the volunteer mentoring program to dispel the James Bond fantasies for those seriously considering a career in intelligence. “Surveillance work is not like what people see on TV,” he states, adding “There occasionally exciting days, but there are also many boring days.”
While the topic of national security will always be incredibly serious in nature, Lint Center Chief Operations Officer Timothy W. Coleman has found opportunities to smile, asking rhetorically, “If we didn’t have fun or it wasn’t a great group, why would a volunteer sign up or stay for that matter?” The Lint Center staff are enthusiastic about their role in bringing together mentors and mentees to transfer knowledge across generations. “We are an all-volunteer force,” Lint explains, “so every action is done through the generous donation of someone’s time, skillset and desire to see our mission succeed.”
The Lint Center also awards merit-based scholarships ranging from $500 to $1,500 to people pursuing educational opportunities in government and international affairs that can prepare them to serve the interests of national security. Volunteers from the intelligence community, department of defense, armed forces, treasury, justice department and other branches of government review the applications to select awardees. Coleman, himself a past recipient of a Lint Center scholarship, explains that students apply from schools all over the nation, and the awardees “must demonstrate their ability to think outside the box when it comes to national security.”
Since 2007, the Lint Center has awarded 32 scholarships, with financial support from corporate sponsors ranging from a global investment bank to a geopolitical intelligence firm. To Lint, making phone calls to students with the good news that they’ve been selected to receive a scholarship is always a happy occasion. Coleman agrees, having been on the receiving end of one of those calls. “After I hung up the phone with Mr. Lint, I was very excited,” he remembers.
Drawing on his career experience as a leader in the national security and intelligence community, retired Special Agent James Lint and the Lint Center for National Security Studies are preparing the next generation of professionals to protect our nation through volunteer-based career and education programs. “It’s my mission, the mission of the Lint Center, and I hope we will complete it,” says Lint of his volunteer mentors and protégés.
Good work is happening in communities everywhere, powered by volunteers. Who’s making a difference where you live? Nominate an exceptional volunteer or organization today for the Daily Point of Light Award at http://www.pointsoflight.org/programs/recognition/dpol/nomination