Nicole JeNaye is a director of customer success at Flashpoint. Nicole joined Flashpoint from Standard Chartered, a financial services company where as the director of cyber financial intelligence (CyFI), she spearheaded the launch of a new initiative to integrate cyber threat intelligence, anti-money laundering techniques, and global partnerships. That integration helped identify and mitigate hidden financial crime risks associated with the role of technology in money laundering.
Prior to that, Nicole spent more than 10 years working in the U.S. intelligence community. Her roles included senior intelligence analyst and advisor supporting Special Operations Command global missions, instructor of critical thinking and structured analytical techniques at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and signals intelligence targeter and Arabic linguist in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Nicole earned a Master of Business Administration in cybersecurity and a Master of Arts in security policy studies from George Washington University. She also holds the Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS), and GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC). She currently is working toward her Master of Science in information security engineering (MSISE) from the SANS Technical Institute.
Q: What sparked your interest in intelligence?
A: My interest in intelligence began while I was in college. I was taking pre-med courses and was planning to work for Doctors Without Borders. My goal was to make the world a better place, so I wanted to learn how decision makers choose where to send relief and resources. That’s when I discovered that intelligence drives decision making. I realized that the best way to make the most significant impact was to enter into the intelligence arena to help decision makers change the world for the better. That’s what led me to explore a career in intelligence, which began with joining the U.S. Marine Corps as a signals intelligence analyst and learning Arabic.
Q: Being a United States Marine is a unique experience. What is the most valuable lesson you learned in your time as an intelligence analyst?
A: One of the biggest lessons I learned during my career in intelligence is that I was mistaken; intelligence doesn’t actually drive decision making, decision makers do. Intelligence analysis is a craft like any other, and there is enormous value in refining that craft and producing the best quality analysis. However, the value of even the best intelligence is necessarily limited by the ability of the consumer to utilize it.
This may seem obvious, but I’ve personally witnessed quite a few intelligence failures that were, in fact, decision process failures. Intelligence does not exist in a vacuum where finding the right answer leads to the right outcome. The process of integrating that intelligence into the decision process is equally as critical as producing relevant, high-quality intelligence. In other words, I can buy a lot of books, but if those books go straight from the shipping box to my bookshelf, the only impact of all that knowledge is my bookshelves look great—which negates the purpose of a book.
Q: Why do you think decision failures occur even in intelligence-saturated environments?
A: In an ideal world, perfect knowledge would always lead to perfect decisions. However, we are only human and so are our brains. While I was developing a training program on critical thinking and intelligence analysis for the Department of Defense, I became fascinated with how the human brain works and the cognitive science, or the why behind how to think better. Understanding perceptual, cognitive and intellectual biases, the limitations of conscious processing, and how biology and survival mechanisms impact thought is enormously valuable in anticipating and mitigating errors in decision making.
I think it is important to remind ourselves that decision making is not just for executives and consumers of intelligence—an analyst makes dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of decisions in the process of doing analysis. This means even a small reduction in mistakes during decision making can add exponential value, but of course the reverse is also true. The process of improving one’s thinking takes time and work.
Q: Why did you decide to work at Flashpoint?
A: In my previous role, I developed a fusion cyber intelligence team focused specifically on identifying how illicit funds are earned or laundered through cyber-enabled means. The idea came from the challenges we faced in the intelligence community trying to break down the silos to identify and stop the sophisticated systems for moving money employed by organizations such as the Islamic State.
In talking with colleagues at other financial institutions, it was clear we needed more than just one cyber anti-money laundering program at one bank. Our opponents are crowdsourcing techniques and talent with an almost instantaneous time to market, so we must too if we’re to succeed. Flashpoint piqued my interest because of its reputation of being more of a partner than a vendor, acting not only as an intelligence provider but as clearinghouse of knowledge and a platform to help crowdsource the solutions to cybercrime. I saw it as an opportunity to help Flashpoint support our customers in building intelligence and process capabilities in a mesh of sorts, so we can together have an impact on the cyber threat landscape.
Q: How can companies continue to protect themselves from cyber and physical adversaries as threats become more sophisticated?
A: One of the biggest ways companies can continue to protect themselves is by engaging in intelligence sharing. It’s what Flashpoint is able to capture with the Business Risk Intelligence term—the fact that data is not intelligence, and intelligence must be actionable to be valuable. It is almost passé to note that information security professionals don’t need more bulk data feeds or stacks of paper to review. We all know we need to change the signal-to-noise ratio, another cliche, of course. But how? One step was to start Flashpoint Collaboration (FP Collab), because we saw an opportunity to create a platform to rapidly share important, immediately relevant intelligence among our customers. Today, FPCollab has grown into a secure, centralized group of Flashpoint customers from different industries and subject matter experts collaborating to provide timely insights and intelligence to facilitate more effective decisions around risk.
Q: Your experience spans multiple sectors including finance, the U.S. Military, and IT. How does your diverse background support your role at Flashpoint?
A: In order to bring value to our clients, we need to understand the 360-degree context of their responsibilities, business goals, and challenges—what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, what their pain points are, and how we can help. We work with a diverse group of customers, from governments to Fortune 500 financial institutions to small nonprofits, and each client is nuanced and unique. I try to leverage my experiences and education to really step into their world and develop empathy for the challenges they face, so we can help with and not add to those challenges.
Q: What do you find most interesting about your job?
A: The most interesting thing is understanding the complexity of the problems each client is facing and figuring out how to solve those problems. The most difficult-to-solve problems are the most fascinating to me. Every situation is a Rubik’s Cube, and I really enjoy the analytical process of delving into a complex problem and collaborating with others to figure out how best to solve it.
Q: What are your interests outside of work?
A: So many things! I’m really interested in the nexus of technology with the physical world in all its prismatic beauty, because there is infinite complexity to the collision of the digital and real worlds. I am also really passionate about the world and how we can make it a better place, particularly in the arena of education, and am involved in several initiatives to get young adults excited about and involved in technology. I read a lot, and love to learn new things, whether its how to code in C++ or how to make my own bitters. I also am working toward my Master’s Degree in information security engineering from the SANS institute, which is challenging but so rewarding and I love it! Other random bits: I enjoy cooking and baking, surfing, snowboarding, riding my motorcycle, traveling, and drinking really nice whiskey. Basically just like everyone else!
Q: What’s something a lot of people don’t know about you?
A: I grew up on a small farm in northern California, where we tried to live off the grid, so I know how to grow food, raise animals, and make everything from bread to tofu from scratch. I also had my own milking dairy goat herd, so I made fresh cheese, butter, yogurt and cheesecake. In other words, I’m a good person to know if there is ever a zombie or alien invasion!