Welcome to the World of HUMINT, This is Not a Rehearsal: A Special Look at Colonel Chris Costa
By Jessica Stasiw
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In the field of intelligence, rehearsals are imperative in preparing for the main event. For Colonel Chris Costa, that is just the opposite of his preparation for his new role as the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum in our nation’s capital. On Thursday, April 12, I got to learn more about the inner workings of this hard-driving and impressive former intelligence officer during his introduction at the museum.
Col. Costa most recently served as the Special Assistant to President Donald Trump and Senior Director for Counterterrorism on the National Security Council (NSC). He was also assigned to United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as a Program Director in the Operations Directorate. According to his bio with the Spy Museum, in May 2013, Col. Costa was inducted into USSOCOM’s Commando Hall of Honor for extraordinary and enduring service to Special Operations Forces.
New Spy Museum Director: American Military University Alum
Col. Costa retired from the U.S. Army after 25 years of service and was the recipient of the Defense Superior Service Medal Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars for intelligence work in Afghanistan. He holds a B.A. from Norwich University, a M.A. in Strategic Intelligence from American Military University and a M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. While his education is extensive, he noted during the talk that a lot of self-learning went into his career development.
During his interview with Dr. Vince Houghton, Historian and Curator at the International Spy Museum, Col. Costa said that “in the field, I learned to adapt concepts from reading into the battlefield.” During the U.S. invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Noriega in December of 1989, he and his team spent days sorting friend from foe. They performed site exploitation while looking for battlefield information in order to glean more information about General Noriega. Col. Costa utilized some of his self-taught knowledge during this mission to collaborate with the CIA.
Hostage Recovery and Counter-Terrorism
For years, Col. Costa worked in U.S. hostage recovery operations around the world, intelligence at the tactical level, and as a battlefield intelligence collector. It wasn’t until his shift to the “civilian, big picture” side of the intelligence world as an Army Captain in Belgium that he looked further into “lethality of terrorism as a tool.”
While stationed in Belgium, he worked in intelligence and operations and had to sort out penetrations of NATO and the impact they had on the western alliance. It was through his work there, and in Kabul, Afghanistan, that the “magic of tradecraft” emerged front and center. Among the key takeaways following a successful event – rehearsals are imperative and the magic of tradecraft is “never improvise” but “be prepared all the time to improvise.”
During his time in Kabul, he worked closely with General David Barno, head of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan from 2003 – 2005. Col. Costa learned a lot about the implied level of control and the importance of understanding human behavior over human intelligence when working in special operations. These skills of a human intelligence officer were instrumental in his growth as an officer.
International Spy Museum’s Future
Now Col. Costa is bringing his extraordinary field knowledge inside to the International Spy Museum. As the new Executive Director, he will lead the museum into a new era of talking about intelligence holistically.
With the museum’s scheduled move to a larger space in L’Enfant Plaza in 2019, Col. Costa is looking to engage the nation’s youth in their inquisitive pursuit of knowledge of the intelligence sector. On behalf of the public, and the Intelligence Community at American Military University, we welcome Col. Costa into this exciting new frontier of growth and development.