Twenty years after graduating with a criminology degree from Valparaiso University, Kristin Lenardson is an experienced intelligence and security professional with demonstrated success in both the public and private sectors, with several areas of expertise.
When asked how she got her start in security, Lenardson quotes her internship with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, working on international drug trafficking cases.
After graduation, she worked for 10 years at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a contractor and intelligence analyst. Her responsibilities included identifying threats, violent crimes and domestic and international terrorism.
In early 2010, she had the opportunity to transition from government to the private sector, as an intelligence and security operations center manager for Anthem, Inc. At the time, the travel security program was very new, and she realized that many of the company’s travelers flew to many parts of the world before a formal travel security program existed.
There, she was responsible for building the company’s travel information and security program and standing up Anthem’s global security operations center (GSOC) – from building the physical center, to the software integration and hiring, training and management of the GSOC. “I had a lot of opportunities there, including working in protective intelligence and as part of the protection team for the CEO.” This was Lenardson’s first assignment in executive protection.
Since then, she has held similar roles at many companies, including Koch/Matador, AS Solution for Nike, Abbott and Capital One – all of which have led to her current role as Vice President of Managed Risk Services at WorldAware.
Security is Challenging
“Overall, implementing a security program is very challenging,” she says. “But when you’re looking at intelligence, moving into political risk and security operations, it depends on many different factors. It’s never the same job every day,” she adds. It depends on the work a company is doing in a specific country and how that relates to the business, different travel locations and specific security threats that come with those locations.
She recalls her role as an intelligence analyst during the 2016 Turkish coup d’état. During the coup, more than 300 people were killed and more than 2,100 were injured, and many government buildings, including the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace were bombed. A three-month state of emergency was declared by Turkey’s President and later extended due to the continued extreme social and political unrest.
“With significant events such as the coup, we mount large logistical operations, taking into consideration what is the event, how long will it last, how the event will affect the business of the company and how employees, especially those who were traveling to a high-risk area, will be affected,” she says.
“That is really just one example of how the industry changes day to day,” she notes. “The risks and the risk profile vary depending on where you have people traveling throughout the world. Those risks can also be elevated with political issues and different relationships between countries.”
“Your company’s risk profile is understanding the geopolitical risk profile and putting that into context – and I enjoy that the most about this sector,” she says.
Challenges with Intelligence
Intelligence is a key to mitigating risk, yet Lenardson says that it is more of an art than a science.
The value proposition behind intelligence is inherent, she notes. “However, many times with intelligence, you have to educate people, such as stakeholders on what exactly it means: analyzing geopolitical security risks. And then explain the importance of intelligence to their business and how intelligence is a risk management tool.”
“Some people think security intelligence is very tactical, and some think it’s very strategic. But it can be both,” she explains. “It can include creating a forecast profile of every threat to the business and how those risks will affect business. Or it can be very tactical, such as mapping a critical area where business will be conducted.”
Educating her customers can often feel like using a crystal ball sometimes, she notes. “It’s important to explain to stakeholders that we cannot predict the future. We can only analyze the facts, past history and the current risk landscape to provide solutions and best practices,” she explains.
She adds, “Another challenge is that safety and security are very tangible. You may have physical guards, access control, surveillance and other solutions to help ensure the safety of business travelers,” she says.
But when you’re traveling, safety is often intangible. “We might work with a traveler, who has extensive experience with high-risk areas and thus, might feel safe. We might also have a new traveler going into a high-risk area. They might feel very apprehensive and have security concerns. This is where intelligence can help. Intelligence is about tailoring specific travel security plans to a person, a business and a situation, but this can at times be challenging as well,” she says.
Lenardson combats these challenges by ensuring her team is up to the task to analyze threats and risks that emerge daily. At WorldAware, her team – Management Services – provides client-focused geopolitical security.
Within the Managed Risk Services team, Lenardson is in charge of providing embedded security intelligence analysts to directly support clients. Lenardson and the team offer turn-key solutions, tailored to each client, including travel security support, online threat monitoring, due diligence investigations, forecasting and threat assessments.
On a larger basis, the team includes regional experts (issue-based analysts) whenever there is an issue, such as a global health hazard like COVID-19.
Teamwork is how Lenardson and the team ensure operations run smoothly and are well coordinated and well organized, and most importantly, that those who are traveling feel secure and looked after.
“We also have operational support roles who can help to evacuate people, solve logistical problems and secure travel worldwide,” she says. “It really takes about 200 people to make sure our operations run smoothly, that we’re covered from an intelligence perspective, and that we have operational support if we need it, too.”
Aside from her WorldAware team, Lenardson considers her International Protective Security Board as part of her external team. She is the past President and a current Board Member.
The International Protective Security Board (IPSB) was established in 2016 as a nonprofit organization to facilitate the development and awareness of professional standards and best practices for the Protective Security industry. The IPSB offers protective security professional development and continuing education.
Lenardson sits on the ASIS International Executive Protection (EP) Council, as well, which seeks to promote the protective security industry. There, the council studies and teaches means of protecting organizations’ interests by safeguarding high-profile leaders in business and government, as well as persons of elevated risk. The EP council conducts workshops, webinars and other outreach to promulgate best practices.
She currently leads a council for AIRIP – the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals, a nonprofit business association, which promotes, professionalizes and enhances the intelligence analyst field. AIRIP focuses on, but is not limited to, the areas of business opportunity, physical and cybersecurity, reputation and political risk intelligence, says Lenardson.
She also has a fantastic family, friends and a cute dog that help her every day. “I have the opportunity to work with outstanding people who enrich my understanding about working in the intelligence and security field and help me perform my job better every day,” she says.