The cybersecurity industry is booming, and the City of Tulsa is positioned to cultivate a new district – the Tulsa Enterprise for Cyber Innovation, Talent and Entrepreneurship. With TU’s nationally recognized cybersecurity research and education, the TU community is leading the cyber district vision; however, engineering is not the only discipline thriving in cybersecurity. The arts and sciences are essential to successful cyber threat analysis, and two TU arts and sciences alumni are leading the charge.
Serving three White House administrations, Monte Hawkins (BA ’99) has a unique view of the ever-transforming world of counterterrorism. Currently serving as director of the National Vetting Center (NVC), Hawkins has been tasked with constructing and launching this new office, which was created in February 2018. “Its main goal is to consolidate the various ways that agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department check travelers and applicants for immigration benefits against classified information,” Hawkins said. “There was no entity that was helping streamline and centralize all these various processes.”
Unlike most menacing threats, cyber attacks can be triggered from anywhere in the world. But when the criminals behind the cyber threats try to cross our borders, Hawkins’ team casts a vetting net to enable identification and support investigations.
Serving in the National Security Council (NSC) for President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, Hawkins became a homeland security expert. His portfolio included biometrics, screening programs and the terrorist watchlist. He also helped draft an action report after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, popularly referred to as the Underwear Bomber, attempted to detonate plastics explosives while on a plane in 2009.
Once he became the NSC director of the Border and Transportation Security Office, “I had topics ranging from aviation security, maritime security, immigration, countering violent extremism, among others” Hawkins said. “It was a mix every day of some kind of new challenge and topic to tackle.”
Hawkins’ Time at TU
After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Hawkins’ interest in counterterrorism grew, and his TU honor’s program final project was focused on terrorism. “I was a sociology undergrad at Tulsa,” he said. “I had always been interested in criminal justice, and actually, when I was growing up, I wanted to be a FBI agent. The sociology program had the closest classes to criminology classes.”
TU’s personalized approach encouraged Hawkins to shed his shyness. “I felt freer to talk and engage with the professor and other students,” he explained. “The class sizes and ability to have direct engagement with the professors gave me a better education and more confidence in work and classroom settings.”
Sociology leads to many successful and varied careers. Walk in Monte’s footsteps here.
As one of the few people who has worked for three presidents, Hawkins has a unique perspective on the American political machinery. Although he has enough intriguing stories to fill a book, security clearance is essential before you crack the binding. One of his favorite anecdotes involves a funeral, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and his sense of humor.
At a funeral reception for a well-loved FBI agent, Mueller, former CIA Director John Brennan and Hawkins were slated to speak. Adding some levity to the occasion, Hawkins took a jab at the FBI and its struggle with modern technology. As the crowd laughed, Hawkins could hear Mueller whisper, “What is he saying?” When the usually serious Mueller got up to speak, he grinned and quipped, “I’m sorry Monte that we all can’t be nerds like you.”
As a proud arts and humanities TU alumnus and bonafide nerd, Hawkins has helped shaped American national security policy. Armed with classified information, his team is essential to identifying cyber-threat actors at the border.
After spending 12 years in counterterrorism, Ken Warlick (BA ’92) knows how to detect a threat. From serving as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army to directing unmanned aerial vehicle reconnaissance drones in Kosovo, his current job as fraud analytics manager at TD Bank may sound tame. But anyone considering digital bank fraud should think again.
While living in the Washington, D.C. area on Sept. 11, 2001, Warlick watched the news in horror. “When the second plane hit the tower before the Pentagon was hit, I knew what my calling was right there. I knew I had to get in the fight,” he said.
As a government contractor, Warlick has worked in both signals and human intelligence. “Think of what the National Security Agency does and think of what the CIA does,” he said. He gained experience in data analysis, which allowed him to eventually transition to fraud investigations work at Capital One Bank.
“I was looking at individual fraud cases and finding links among them to identify fraud rings. We call this ‘link analysis,’” Warlick explained. “It involves looking at login data, cyber-type information and devices to try to find links. A fraudster is going to use the same device to hack into a variety of customers’ accounts.”
Now at TD Bank, Warlick specializes in digital money transfers. “We have automated rules and models that look at all the transactions, and if they meet certain criteria, it generates an alert for a human to actually look at and determine whether it really is fraud,” he said. “My job is to keep track of all the rules.”
How many pages?
While at TU, Warlick studied political science. “The big thing I got out of the arts and sciences was critical thinking skills, and how to research properly,” he said. Warlick would spend hours writing 20-page research papers, and now, he does analytical writing. “It’s two or three pages of analytical writing with an executive summary. The very first sentence of the executive summary is your main point. The next three sentences are what supports your main point. If they are interested in the details, they will read the rest of the three pages,” he laughed. “Executives, in either the government or private sector, don’t have the time or patience to read long thesis papers.”
Despite the differences in length, it is all about the ability to communicate. “A lot of the cybersecurity realm is researching the dark web to learn what the heck is going on out there. What does the threat landscape look like?” he said. “Those online researching skills and learning how to describe a threat landscape are critical. Engineers know the nuts and bolts of engineering and coding, but an arts and sciences person looks at technical data and knows how to put it into layman’s terms.”
Interested in politics? Check out TU’s political science program.
By cultivating critical thinking, asking compelling questions, addressing complex problems with creative solutions, the arts and sciences are fundamental to cybersecurity. And just like Hawkins and Warlick, it will take TU alumni to advance the future of cybersecurity.