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Vice admiral looks out for 300 million fellow Americans in top intelligence post
Story by Clare O’Shea, MA ’87 & BA ’84
A hurricane wipes out large sections of New York City. Terrorists set up camp near the Khyber Pass.Troops in Iraq plot an airdrop in Kurdistan.
Those scenarios may be hypothetical, but for Vice Admiral Robert B. Murrett, they are similar to the real-life problems he might face routinely. Murrett is director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which provides images of the earth in support of national security. One of more than a dozen members of the U.S. intelligence community, the NGA is not the most familiar. But of course, says Murrett, “the fact that a lot of people don’t know about us is not necessarily a bad thing.”
UB degree BA ’75; Most influential professor Selig Adler (1904-1984) of History: “He had a way of connecting with students that was truly remarkable”; Where he met his wife in the UB dorms, where they were both RAs; “Casual” reading “history and government matters, usually on airplanes”
Part of the Department of Defense, the NGA collects and analyzes images and other information for both civilian and military leaders; some of it is classified, some not. The agency also provides images for humanitarian challenges—like the wildfires in California—along with top-secret information “based upon reconnaissance methods,” says Murrett, “on current and potential adversaries to the United States.”
Murrett’s path from Buffalo to Bethesda, MD, home of the NGA, has been long and illustrious. An American history student in the early 1970s, he remembers UB as an exciting place and the history department as “exceptionally strong. [It] did a great job of challenging students and fostering a deep understanding of the United States and its role in the world,” Murrett says. Courses in economics and history, in particular, helped lay the foundation for his career. “Certainly [with] the assignments I’ve had overseas, either afloat or ashore, having that kind of grasp of history has been very helpful,” he says, “because if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.”
With public service as his goal, Murrett entered the U.S. Navy after graduation. Over the next 30 years, he earned two master’s degrees (at Georgetown and the Defense Intelligence College) and held diverse positions, including afloat intelligence officer, assistant naval attaché to the U.S. embassy in Oslo, Norway, and commander of the Atlantic Intelligence Command. He was serving as director of naval intelligence when President George W. Bush nominated him to lead the NGA in 2006.
Although he has relished all of his assignments, Murrett’s latest role must be especially satisfying. His job, essentially, is to look out for 300 million Americans.
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