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The Roger Jones Award: Thomas A. Betro

Thomas A. Betro

During my senior year of college, agents from the Naval Investigative Service (the name of NCIS at that time) visited the Walpole, MA, Police Department, where my father worked as a policeman. The agents were there conducting leads in a background investigation on a NIS applicant. My father, who was understandably a bit anxious about my post college employment plans, or more accurately, the apparent lack thereof after having paid for four years of my college education, inquired if NIS was hiring, and then offered me up as an eager applicant. I subsequently participated in an individual and then panel interview during the screening process, but then I didn’t hear from NIS for 18 months. Meanwhile, I had taken another job. When NIS finally offered me a position, frankly, I thought it was a friend playing a practical joke on me. I eventually accepted the position, thinking NIS employment could be a stop-gap for a year or so until I figured out what I really wanted to do. Twenty-six years and many memorable experiences later, I’m fortunate to lead the men and women of a world-class law enforcement agency and directly impact the Department of the Navy mission.

NCIS is the investigative arm of the Navy and Marine Corps, with broad-ranging mission areas of law enforcement, counterintelligence and counter-terrorism. We work closely with other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies such as the FBI, CIA and State Department, as well as state, local and international law enforcement and security agencies. We are frequently on the ground where and when no one else is, and operate anywhere that the Navy and Marine Corps have a presence, including combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. NCIS is a critical element in protecting the Department of the Navy (DoN) and as is viewed by DoN leadership as truly a strategic asset.

I’ve had tremendous opportunities to face new challenges and enjoyed living and working in different countries—the Philippines and Iceland—as well as several locations in the U.S. and aboard two aircraft carriers at sea. Part of the excitement of being an NCIS special agent is the travel and work overseas- unique opportunities that most Americans don’t get to experience or appreciate.

I have held management and leadership positions in NCIS since 1988. I enjoy mentoring people as well as influencing organizational policies, practices and operations, and in that way, impacting overall organizational direction. As a result of having held a variety of leadership positions, each with increasing levels of responsibility, I have come to realize that people are this organization’s most precious resource. Consequently, I understand how critically important it is to have the right infrastructure, training, policies, programs and opportunities available to support employees. For example, mobility is a major issue within NCIS. We frequently move people to fill our approximately 160 locations around the world, and moving is often times disruptive to families. I am constantly searching for ways to minimize the impact such moves can have on our personnel and their families.

I also hope my actions have demonstrated my strong belief that diversity is not only a core value of NCIS, but an operational imperative as well. It’s important that the face of NCIS reflect the face of the communities we serve around the globe. The success of our operations rests largely in our ability to connect with, and build rapport with, the people with whom we come in contact, be they witnesses, victims, customers, counterparts, and even suspects. To do this effectively, we must look like them, speak their languages, understand their religions, and ultimately, understand their viewpoints. A diverse workforce is essential in this regard

I am particularly proud of the role of NCIS in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Historically, NCIS has had limited roles in combat environments. Most of the NCIS executive staff was deeply worried during 2003 at the onset of the War on Terror. There was a tendency to rationalize why we, NCIS, an organization comprised of a predominantly civilian work force, should not be in Iraq and Afghanistan. I asked the executive staff to consider the requests for our personnel in more simple light, “Do we have the capability to do these missions, to save people’s lives?” The response of the senior staff was a resounding, “Yes, we do.” Subsequently, over the past 5 years, more than 600 NCIS civilians have voluntarily deployed to combat zones for extended periods of time, up to six months. I am so proud of each and every one of these volunteers. This has changed the face of our organization and speaks volumes about the character of the men and women of NCIS. They are the reason we have had so much operational success.

Thomas A. Betro was appointed as the Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in January 2006. As the Navy’s primary law enforcement, counterintelligence and counterterrorism arm, the NCIS is a Federal law enforcement agency tasked with protecting Navy and Marine Corps assets and personnel around the world. The agency is comprised of approximately 1,300 Special Agents as well as 1,350 additional civilian and military personnel assigned to more than 160 locations around the world. Under Director Betro’s guidance, the NCIS has dismantled multiple terrorist cells, arrested 150 known or suspected terrorists, and pioneered the use of law enforcement methods on the battlefield, including the establishment of forensic lab capabilities in Iraq.

Director Betro has been recognized for the significant accomplishments of the NCIS as an active contributor in the Global War on Terrorism. During his tenure as Director, over 600 NCIS personnel have volunteered to deploy for extended periods of time to combat zones to support U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

To ensure the face of the NCIS workforce accurately reflects the faces of the Navy and Marine Corps as well as the communities in which it operates, Director Betro appointed the first NCIS Diversity Officer at the Assistant Director level. In addition, Director Betro implemented the NCIS Leadership Development Program to identify, mentor and encourage future leaders while providing them with significant educational and experiential opportunities.

Since joining the NCIS in 1982, Thomas A. Betro’s assignments have included such unique missions as Special Agent Afloat during deployments of the aircraft carriers USS John F. Kennedy and USS Enterprise. Following an appointment as the Acting National Counterintelligence Executive, he returned to the NCIS as Assistant Director for Counterintelligence and was subsequently promoted to Deputy Director for Operations. He holds a BA from Colby College and an MA from the Naval War College. His numerous honors include the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award.

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