Intelligence Expert Jim Steiner Retires

Jim Steiner

Steiner, a 33-year veteran of the CIA, taught courses at UAlbany for the past 15 years.

Everyone remembers where they were the morning of September 11, 2001. For Jim Steiner, he was approaching his 30th year with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), living and working in Washington, D.C. as the Director of Transnational Issues, and had gathered his entire staff together for a Tuesday morning meeting in the CIA Headquarters Auditorium. Placing transparencies on an overhead projector at the front of the room, his presentation was suddenly interrupted with news of the catastrophe in Lower Manhattan. The hundreds of officers quickly cleared the room, unsure if CIA Headquarters was next on the terrorists’ target list.

“In that moment, the Agency turned on a dime,” recalled Steiner. “Within two to three weeks, we restructured so that we were focusing on nothing but counterterrorism. I started getting calls from people who had retired recently and they all wanted to come back to help. Everybody wanted to help.”

While it was certainly the most stressful period of Steiner’s 53-year career in intelligence, it was also the most rewarding and impactful. “I’m most proud of the Agency office’s response and the degree of patriotism and the enthusiasm that the officers showed in the face of the attack.”

Jim Steiner began his career in the CIA in 1972 and served until 2005. For the first two decades, he focused on Soviet defense and economic issues and rose through the analytic and management ranks, getting promoted to the Senior Intelligence Service in 1992. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Steiner moved to the Department of State as Special Advisor to the Ambassador at Large for Russia. His duties expanded to include providing daily intelligence briefings and other focused support to the Deputy Secretary of State.

Jim Steiner

Returning to CIA Headquarters in 1996, Steiner took on a series of increasingly senior line and staff positions, including serving as Deputy Director for European Analysis, Executive Secretary and Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), and Deputy Director for Crime and Narcotics.

In October of 2000, Steiner moved into his final line position at the Office of Transnational Issues — the role he held on September 11th. Steiner led a team of analysts with unparalleled expertise in global energy and economic security, corruption, illicit migration, illicit financial activity, foreign denial and deception programs, societal and humanitarian conflicts, and the medical and psychiatric analysis of foreign leaders.

Steiner completed his CIA career as the Agency’s Officer in Residence at Georgetown University, where he had previously earned his BS in Foreign Service and an MA and PhD in Economics. Upon his retirement in 2006, Dr. Steiner was awarded the CIA Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal.

While some retirees move south and fill their days with leisure activities, such as golfing or fishing, Steiner was still raring to help the intelligence world however he could — much like the recent retirees that called him in the weeks following 9/11. So, in mid-2006, he moved north to Albany for a new role.

“After I retired from the Agency, the Chief of Intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security asked me to come up to Albany and work with the State,” said Steiner.

There, Steiner took on not one, but three new positions — intelligence advisor to the Director of New York State’s Division of Homeland Security, consultant to the Chief Intelligence Officer in the Department of Homeland Security, and adjunct faculty member at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

Jim Steiner

When Steiner arrived in the Capital Region, Rockefeller was in search of an intelligence expert for the newly created homeland security certificate. Conveniently, a veteran intelligence guy showed up on its doorstep.

“Jim joined the homeland security group at Rockefeller very early on,” said R. Karl Rethemeyer, Rockefeller College’s former dean and professor. “There is no substitute for having a seasoned professional to teach in a new program.”

The homeland security team, led by Rethemeyer, Professor Victor Asal, and joined by Steiner, effectively laid the groundwork for the University at Albany’s first-in-the-nation College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC).

A few years after he arrived, Steiner recollects attending a presentation at the Rockefeller Institute of Government (RIG) that may have served as a turning point in the University’s history. There, an intelligence officer from the New York State Office of Homeland Security spoke to the room and the officer happened to also be enrolled in Rockefeller College’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. Steiner mentioned this to the man sitting next to him at the event, who turned out to be UAlbany’s provost at the time.

“I essentially told him that every intelligence officer working in the New York State Office of Homeland Security had either been in a career program or certificate program at Rockefeller College,” recalled Steiner. “He hadn’t realized what a huge homeland security and intelligence training educational program we had.”

That revelation drew the attention of University and State leadership and pressed the accelerator down for more opportunities in homeland security at UAlbany. In 2014, Steiner moved to full-time at the University, wrote a textbook entitled Homeland Security Intelligence, and in 2015, CEHC was formally established at UAlbany. Steiner went on to serve as UAlbany’s Homeland Security Program Director.

Jim Steiner

“With 33 years at the CIA, followed by New York State service, Jim gave the program instant credibility with students, state officials, and intelligence agencies in Washington,” said Rethemeyer. “But Jim is so much more: a PhD economist that can speak the academic language. A person who clearly cared so much for his students and the program – Jim never missed Welcome Week or advising sessions. And Jim is a gentle soul who could help students discover the right path, even if intelligence or homeland security was not the one for them. Finally, Jim was a great team member as the College continued to build our program and then helped to bring the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity (CEHC) to UAlbany.”

“Working with Jim was a pleasure,” added Asal. “Besides being smart and hardworking, Jim is kind, thoughtful and creative. The homeland security concentration we created would not have been what it was without his tremendous contributions, and I have heard from many students what a wonderful educator he was in the classroom.”

The foundation laid by Rethemeyer, Asal, and Steiner 15 years ago continues to hold strong as UAlbany’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management concentration currently ranks ninth in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

Jim Steiner

“Jim’s commitment and dedication, both to our students and to the University at Albany, are second to none,” said Department of Public Administration & Policy Chair Edmund Stazyk. “His kindness, sense of humor, and generosity will be sorely missed. We wish him nothing but the best in whatever life adventures come next!”

Now, at age 76, Steiner hopes his second retirement will be filled with more typical leisure activities, such as studying new topics of interest, bass fishing on the Mohawk River, walking his labs Lucy and Daisy in Washington Park, and spending quality time with his wife, Lynne, and sons, Chris and Jon — a Rockefeller alum.