This article was originally posted on http://bit.ly/FOI-CSmith by Mercyhurst University.
Some people dream of joining a specific business or organization when they think of their career aspirations. Others create their own position. IIS-MU graduate Craig Smith is a member of the latter group. The proud owner of BrightStar Intelligence Group and BrightStar Investigations and the latest person featured in the Faces of Intel series, where he tells us about his time in the Army, his experience at Mercyhurst, and just why he went into business for himself.
Where are you originally from?
Craig Smith: The Buffalo, New York area.
What did you want to be when you were young?
CS: I wanted to be a soldier. My grandfather was in World War II and he was very influential to me. I grew up as an athlete and played three sports in high school, so I was a very outgoing person. The idea of being a soldier was always something that was inside me, so when I was 17, I enlisted in the Army. I did five years in the Army and did one tour in Iraq.
Where did you go after you finished your time with the Army?
CS: I wanted to be a history teacher, but I always loved politics, so I thought “What combines the two?” The answer was intelligence. I did a little research for a school that had an intelligence degree, and sure enough Mercyhurst popped up. I did the two-hour drive and got interviewed by [IIS Founder] Bob Heibel, which was a little intimidating because Mr. Heibel is so highly respected. He accepted me into the program, and that was a big turning point in my life.
Where did you go after that?
CS: I was then hired by a government contractor, but before you could say “Hey, he got the job,” I had to wait a year and a half for security clearance. So I have this year and a half to wait for the clearance to process, and I ended up getting my Masters degree from Canisius College in Buffalo. In the end, I actually ended up not taking the job because the security clearances took so long. I eventually took a job with a government contractor, and worked as a military transition counselor on Ft. Carson. In 2013, I got a job working with hackers in Denver as an Open Source Intelligence analyst, so I was able to get back into the intelligence community. Once I didn’t take that contracting position in DC, I kind of put myself outside of the intelligence community and once you’re outside it’s really hard to get back in. I wanted to get back in. I wanted to scratch and claw and get back in, so I finally got a job with a hacker company called One World Labs in 2013.
What was that experience like?
CS: That was actually my first time working with hackers so I didn’t even know what to think. It totally changed how I did – and currently do – intelligence. It totally changed my collection. It totally changed how I approach information. I learned a lot there, and I am thankful to Chris Roberts, the founder of One World Labs, for introducing me to the more hacker-savvy side of intelligence collection.
When you were at Mercyhurst, what was that experience like?
CS: It was one of the most difficult and rewarding programs all at the same time. It was very, very difficult. It was very challenging. Even though I almost got A’s in all of my intelligence classes, I look at RIAP [Research Intelligence Analysis Program] like it is the Navy Seals of Intelligence training. First year, freshman year, you’re pumping out a 50-page report in about seven weeks. A full-blast, full-blown intelligence report. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life, one of the most intense things I’ve ever done in my life, and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life.
Did you have any specific courses or professors that really stuck out to you while at Mercyhurst?
CS: Absolutely. The Intel program is like a brotherhood and it’s like you’re part of a family. Going through the Intelligence Program at Mercyhurst is such a life-changing experience for anybody that actually does it. I would say that [Assistant Professor] Dawn Wozneak had a big impact on me when I was there because she was my first instructor. She was my instructor for my first two classes and you have to understand that I had just gotten back from combat so I was a little rough around the edges. Dawn really worked with me and she was able to turn my zeal into productivity. She was able to turn all of my energy into intelligence productivity and that was huge. I think if I would had someone besides Dawn to start off with, I don’t know if I would have been as successful in the program or even finished the program. She really, really helped me.
When did you start your own company?
CS: I worked for One World Labs for a period and after that I worked for another company doing something not intelligence related and then I said, “That’s it, I’m starting my own company.” I just wanted a chance to be my own person in business. I started my own company and a few months after that, I started getting contracts with a major hacker firm on the east coast. I do a lot of intelligence operations for an ethical hacking firm on the east coast and I engage in national and international intelligence operations. I’ve had, so far, five major intelligence operations with this company. The name of my company is BrightStar Investigations, and it is located at www.brightstarinvestigations.com
What advice would you give to IIS students and people going into intelligence?
CS: When you go into the intelligence program at Mercyhurst you have to make it up in your mind before you walk through those doors that you’re not going to quit. That no matter what they give you, you’re going to do it. No matter how hard it is, no matter how late you have to stay up at night, you have to make your mind up before you walk through those doors that you’re not going to quit and that you’re going to graduate the program, and that other people have done it and you can do it too. If you don’t walk in there with that mindset, the program can be overwhelming. You have to make it up in your mind that you’re not going to quit until you’ve succeeded past that program. As a matter of fact, one of my little secrets to success is that I refused to buy any Mercyhurst paraphernalia from the bookstore – not a sweater, not a t-shirt, nothing from the bookstore until I graduated the program. My last week of my last month at that school was when I bought an item from the bookstore. You know why? Because I said to myself “I’m not going to buy anything from this school until I earn the degree.” And that’s what I did. You have to set it in your mind that you’re not going to quit and you’re not going to accept anything until you’ve completed the program.
Do you still wear your Mercyhurst jacket?
CS: I haven’t worn it in a few years, I’m thinking about buying myself something else. The more that Mercyhurst gets involved with its alumni, the more that I just remember what an awesome school it is and what an awesome program it is.