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Matthew Olsen    

Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center; National Security Analyst for ABC News; Harvard Law School Lecturer

For more than a decade, Matt Olsen has been at the forefront of our nation’s national security efforts and has played a pivotal role in shaping our response to terrorism, cyber security, and surveillance. As the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Olsen has been at the center of the nation’s efforts to defend the country against a complex and expansive terrorism threat. In this role, Olsen was responsible for keeping senior leaders, including the president and the National Security Council, apprised of threats facing the country and for coordinating our efforts to identify and disrupt terrorist plots. He helped lead the counterterrorism community through several terror attacks, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the 2012 assault in Benghazi, Libya.

He now helps lead a cyber security technology firm, and with his unique experience and insightful analysis, Olsen provides an engaging and candid look at some of the most important and far-reaching challenges facing the country. He offers a discerning and compelling perspective on the security challenges facing the country and shares his insights on navigating crises and the role of leadership. He shares his views on evolving threats and developing hot spots around the world today and what American businesses should consider as they move forward, especially to protect against the increasingly complex challenge of cyber security.

Accolades from the Top. President Obama said, “Most Americans may not know Matt Olsen’s name, but every American is safer because of his service.” Congressman Mike Rogers, the former Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “There are no doubt many, many people alive in the United States and around the world today because of Matt Olsen’s service and persistent dedication.”

Olsen earned a reputation of being a straight shooter and was the first senior official in 2012 to call the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism. He was also among the senior officials who warned Congress that Americans joining al Qaeda were becoming an acute threat on U.S. soil.

Intelligence Expertise at the Department of Justice. Prior to his service at NCTC, Olsen was the general counsel and chief legal advisor at the National Security Agency and an official at the Department of Justice. Olsen was also tapped to lead the government’s review of detainees at Guantanamo. In these positions, he played a leading role in shaping the government’s efforts to enhance cyber security and to conduct intelligence operations against foreign terrorist targets, while maintaining adherence to the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties. For 12 years, Olsen served as a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia, prosecuting violent gang members, terrorists, and white-collar criminals. He became the first director of the United States Attorneys Office’s National Security Division in 2004, later rising to acting director. He also was special counsel to the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Academia and More. Olsen is a lecturer at Harvard Law School and a contributor for ABC News. He graduated from the University of Virginia and Harvard Law School.

Speech Topics


Cyber Attacks and our Nation’s Security

Cyber attacks have emerged as a leading threat to our national security. In the coming years, our adversaries will hone their skills and the scope and scale of the threats will escalate. Companies will need to develop a sophisticated understanding of the nature of these global challenges, the government’s role in defending cyber space, and the steps they can take to secure their networks and information. As a leading government official at NSA and the Justice Department, Olsen has worked on the inside on these challenges, and he now helps lead a cyber security technology firm. Olsen brings an astute understanding of the myriad threats to companies in cyber space and the government’s capabilities and limitations in this domain, as well as ways companies can enhance their cyber security.

The Dynamic Threat of Terrorism

With the rapid rise of new terrorist groups like the Islamic State, the ongoing threat from al-Qaeda, and the impact of homegrown terrorist cells, terrorism remains an urgent concern for the nation. The terrorism landscape is more complex than ever, as the recent attacks in Europe have demonstrated and as terrorist groups have multiplied and expanded. Networks of terrorist operatives pursue a range of lethal objectives both inside and outside of national borders and reach across continents from South Asia to the Middle East and from North Africa to Europe. Over the past few years, terrorists have attacked a natural gas installation in Algeria, killed U.S. government personnel in Libya, and bombed the Boston Marathon – all underscoring the dynamic and persistent threats to U.S. citizens and to our interests around the world. With his deep experience, Olsen shares his keen understanding of terrorism and the ways the government and the private sector can work together to counter these threats and enhance our security.

The Demands of Crisis Leadership

Over the course of his career in government, Olsen has served in leadership roles in tackling some of the most urgent and challenging security issues facing the nation. His work has included responding to cyber attacks on critical infrastructure networks, combating terrorist threats inside the United States, addressing the ongoing controversy over government surveillance, and reviewing the status of detainees at Guantanamo. Olsen has provided thoughtful and principled leadership on these issues, helping to forge effective responses and solutions that emphasize collaboration across organizations and overcoming bureaucratic silos, while balancing competing values and interests. He conveys his discerning views on leadership in demanding, high-performing organizations and his hard-earned lessons and insights on leadership in the midst of a crisis.

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