by Ryan Meehan
Mike Baker is a former covert operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he spent seventeen years specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and counterinsurgency operations. During that time he engaged in and supervised operations around the globe, specifically Asia, The Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Soviet Union. These days he’s the president and co-founder of the private intelligence and security firm Diligence L.L.C., where he oversees the company’s operations and growth in the Americas. Baker advises clients on strategic and competitive intelligence matters and oversees due-diligence, investigations, continuity, and risk management practices. Additionally, Mike is also currently a producer and a script adviser to the entertainment industry and a current guest on several Fox News Channel programs including FOH favorite “Red Eye with Tom Shillue”. This is fantastic news to us, because it means he is one of the few people on the planet who just might have some information as to what Andy Levy is really up to when he’s not in the News Deck. It’s going to be difficult for this interview to fly under the radar in the manner which he has throughout a majority of his career, so let me proudly say that we are more than honored to have former CIA operative Mike Baker as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: You were born in London, England. In no way do I mean this to come off as rude or insulting, but…Why Idaho? With all of the places that you’ve had the chance to live and work throughout your life, what is so special about that state which makes it such a great place to raise a family?
MB: I get that a lot…particularly from friends on the East Coast, in and around New York City where we lived before moving to Idaho. It’s all about the quality and pace of life. My wife Emily is from Idaho…so we’ve been coming out to this great state for the past decade to ski, fish and enjoy the great outdoor life that they have here. When my daughter went off to college, and our three little boys were just about to start school, we thought…now’s the time…let’s pack up the wagon and head West. It’s been a great move…the people of Idaho are terrific, Boise is a college town with a terrific music and arts scene…great bars and restaurants…minor league hockey, baseball and basketball teams…plus some of the best fishing, hunting, rafting and skiing in the country. What’s not to like?
RM: Was there any particular moment during your upbringing that really inspired you to want to choose the career path that you eventually decided on? Why did that specific instance have so much of an effect on the way your outlook of the world was shaped?
MB: My inspiration was my family…my Father was the greatest man I’ll ever know. He spent a career in the military and then working for the government…he had a deep sense of patriotism and duty. He and my Mom passed that along to me and my brothers. I viewed the opportunity to sign on with the Agency as an opportunity to do my part. I’ve spent the majority of my childhood and adult years overseas, and I’ve seen a lot of this world. I have no hesitation in saying we live in the greatest country on the planet. But that greatness doesn’t just happen…and we can’t take anything for granted. I believe strongly that we all have a responsibility to do our part for our nation…to give something back in exchange for the benefits and advantages we have as Americans.
RM: What kind of tactics are necessary for a counternarcotics operation to be successful? How do the methods by which collecting information about an international drug operation differ from gathering data about something such as terrorist activity; and just how closely do you believe the practice of human trafficking is related to global distribution of illegal drugs?
MB: There’s not a lot new under the sun when it comes to complex investigations, intelligence operations and the methodologies involved. Identifying and locating targets, unraveling the web of companies, organizations, support structures and associations involved…understanding how all the pieces fit together and obtaining actionable intelligence, whether in the world of counter narcotics or counter terrorism, is a painstaking, labor intensive process. It’s a combination of finding and developing human sources, communications intercepts, financial investigations, surveillance and working with other US government agencies and our foreign liaison partners…it’s hard to appreciate just how much work is involved unless you’ve been part of the process.
To answer the second question…drug cartels are all about revenue streams…maximizing their profits. Drug cartels aren’t just about narcotics…they engage in human trafficking, prostitution, extortion, kidnap/ransom…whatever brings in cash.
RM: Although you likely can’t share the exact details of the situation, how would you best summarize the way you felt during the most dangerous operation you were ever a part of? When you’re in the middle of a tense encounter where seconds are crucial and security is a critical concern, how difficult is it to detach yourself from the fact that once that operation is over you are a human being that is a husband and a father?
MB: With the CIA, just like with any other organization that operates at the pointy edge of the spear, there can be long stretches of relatively pedestrian but obviously important intelligence collection and prep work, peppered with very challenging, unique and exciting moments of operational activity. During those moments, you realize that what you’re doing is special…that nobody else out there is engaged in that particular activity. It makes you feel proud…and those moments have a way of keeping you focused and motivated in all aspects of your life.
Separating your work from your personal life is, to some degree, something that everyone has to deal with no matter what the job. Admittedly, being in CIA operations has its own unusual concerns…you have to be good at compartmentalizing, at keeping your yap shut…it’s not a job for someone who is always looking for validation or a pat on the back. When you’re in the job, the key is to not stand out…boring is better, it doesn’t attract attention. As with any job, when you walk through the door of your home you have to be able to set aside the work and make the family priority number one. The kids don’t care what your occupation is…they just want you sitting on the floor playing Legos with them.
RM: Why is the word “Diligence” so fitting for the type of work for the type of services that your organization currently provides? What do we need to know about some of the other individuals who work within Diligence; and how did that company come to be the successful institution that it is today?
MB: Yeah, naming the company when we started was my one epiphany. “Two Guys and a Truck” was taken…I knew the standard practice was to take your last name and tack on “Associates” or “Global” or whatever. I just wanted an action word that was simple and said what we wanted to be all about. Diligence popped into my head while sitting in a pub in London where we opened our first office. It turns out that was my last really clever idea.
The company has been successful and has grown because of the people we’ve hired over the years. It turns out that if you hire smart, motivated people with common sense, explain the company’s mission and have them focus on customer satisfaction, and then avoid micromanaging…you’ve maximized your chance for success.
RM: The front page of the Diligence website includes a passage that reads “In an era when information is abundant but corroborated facts scarce, we provide the precise knowledge and expert advice clients need to navigate difficult strategic challenges…” What are the most common strategic challenges that clients of your firm face; and what is so different about the approach Diligence utilizes when compared to similar companies?
MB: Our objective, for all our clients, is to simply minimize risk and maximize opportunity through the provision of timely, accurate, relevant information. It’s a straightforward concept…whoever has the best information usually wins. This holds true whether we’re assisting a client with a complex cross border investigation, providing them with key due diligence ahead of an important investment, collecting competitive intelligence so they understand what they playing field looks like in a new environment, conducting opposition research or providing our various security consulting services. We have a lot of very good competition out there…I just happen to think we’re better, which I know is a surprising statement. I believe we’re better at human source intelligence collection…our people are hired because of their elicitation skills, their ability to develop sources…we don’t hire people because in a previous life they were senior deputy directors of some government organization. That might be good for marketing and impressing clients, but we hire people who actually can hit the ground running and collect information that means something to our clients. A former senior government official isn’t going to want to fly to the former Soviet Union, take a train to the middle of nowhere, and find a source who can give us relevant insight into a production facility that one of our clients may be considering for investment.
RM: You said on an October 2nd episode of Red Eye that “the potential solution to Washington’s problems lie in the middle”…How do the leaders of the United States go about finding a solution in the middle when so many of the problems originate at the far left and the far right of both political parties?
MB: It’s a great question. My point I suppose is that if we keep going the way we’re going, nothing will exist in the center or middle ground eventually. The far right and far left are busy throwing hand grenades at each other, and at anyone who doesn’t hold to every belief and concept that they themselves hold. Inertia and dysfunction are a result of an increasingly polarized and uncivil political environment. Look at our current election season…most of the discourse is inane…dumbed down into soundbites designed to fire up a particular portion of voters. It’s the politics of low expectations. Somehow we need to get back to a more civil discourse…we need to judge candidates on their character, experience and specific policies and plans. And when the hell did compromise become a bad thing? That’s how crap gets done…whether in politics, business or family life. It seems more and more folks view compromise, or evolving thinking and negotiation, as a negative…they want their particular candidate to believe everything they believe and to never compromise or work with differing opinions.
RM: Another really interesting point you made was on Outnumbered where you said that you wished we had a president just once who wasn’t worried about their legacy…Why do you think our leaders as well as the media who covers their careers have become so obsessed with that aspect of a president’s term when at sometimes it has very little to do with their actions in the present?
MB: I said that? I keep forgetting what a deep thinker I am. It’s human nature…everyone wants to leave the planet as a hero who made their mark. No President wants to be known as the biggest mook to come out of the White House, that’s understandable. I just wish we could have leaders and politicians who are less inclined to think that way…more inclined to do what’s right for the nation, for their constituents and willing to occasionally do the right thing even if it doesn’t poll well. Part of it is that we’re becoming more and more risk averse…we want everything we want and we don’t want any risks involved. Part of it is the speed of information and social media…politicians know they’ll be judged quicker than ever before on decisions they take. This is what we call a rambling answer.
RM: What is your take on the individuals who make up the organization Anonymous; and how effective can you estimate they can be in the fight against the Islamic State of Islamic Leaders given that we know virtually nothing about the resources that they’re working with?
MB: Anonymous is a fascinating entity, collective, concept…however you choose to describe it. I think they could be a tremendous benefit if they used their collective abilities and resources for good. Which makes them sound like the Justice League.
RM: What’s the biggest misconception about the way the Central Intelligence Agency operates? Do you think the general public will continue to share that misunderstanding over the next four or five decades; and how much do you think the answer of that question depends on how quickly technology progresses in the next half of a century?
MB: I think the biggest misconception is that the Agency is some nefarious political organization out to screw the world. The outfit was set up with a fairly simple premise… gather intelligence overseas that will help to protect US National Security. Unlike how its portrayed in feature films and beach books, the Agency is a nonpolitical entity…I’ve spent a lot of time overseas and have seen intel organizations that are politically charged…believe me, we’re very fortunate to have an apolitical intel service. The agency simply takes its marching orders from whichever administration is in charge…it matters not whether that’s a Democratic or Republican administration. Obviously I’m subjective, and there are a lot of folks who like to think of the Agency as the Death Star, but I’m here to tell you it’s an incredible organization filled with dedicated, hard working citizens trying to do the right thing and keep this country safe.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MB: The usual…next week we’re overthrowing another small country. By the end of the 2nd Quarter we should be finished with construction on our new underground lair inside a dormant volcano. Other than that, building Diligence…keeping clients happy and growing the business…it’s a full time job. There’s the occasional television and film project…I’m co-hosting a new series on Travel Channel called World Access that should be ready for release in the next couple months. Plus, a book that I’m writing that should be out in the Fall, just in time for holiday shopping.
Official Diligence Website: http://www.diligence.com/
Mike on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MikeBakerCIA
Mike on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MBCompanyMan
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