Catherine Lotrionte ('93)
Catherine Lotrionte is Counsel to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board at the White House. Previously, she was Assistant General Counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency, where she was the primary legal advisor on international law. She also provided legal advice relating to foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities, covert action and international terrorism. Prior to serving at the CIA she served in the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ms. Lotrionte is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service where she teaches Intelligence Law, International Law & International Security, and International Law & U.S. Foreign Policy. Her recently published articles include The Just War Doctrine and Covert Responses to Terrorism; and two co-authored articles, Congress Goes to Court: Past, Present and Future of Legislative Standing and Information Warfare as International Coercion: Elements of a Legal Framework.
She received her M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University and her J.D. from NYU School of Law.
Interview with Alumnus/Alumna of the Month
Catherine Lotrionte ('93)
Counsel to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
What is your area of specialization and how did you come to practice in this area?
National Security Law and International Law. I started working in the area of National Security Law and International Law in 1996 when I started working at the Office of General Counsel at the CIA. I am now working as the Counsel to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board at the White House. This Board serves the President as an independent source of advice on the effectiveness of the work of the intelligence community including collection, analysis, counterintelligence, as well as the legality of foreign intelligence activities.
Describe recent legal developments in your area; where do you see this field of practice in 5 years?
Since 9/11 there have been significant changes in the legal landscape in the area of national security and intelligence. Specifically, in pursuit of international terrorists overseas the Administration has authorized a number of aggressive actions against terrorists. Such activities have gone beyond what past Administrations and Congresses have called for. As a result, for the attorneys working within the intelligence community and at the White House the legal issues have become much more complicated and challenging. In addition, the federal government has taken actions at home in the United States to prevent another terrorist attack from happening here. These activities also pose challenging legal questions for government attorneys. The balance between national security interests and the civil libertarian interests has become harder to keep in line. For government attorneys that only means a more challenging job. For the future, this area of the law will only get more challenging and fascinating as the United States continues its fight against terrorism, becomes engaged in conflicts overseas and seeks to follow the rule of law.
What role does political party affiliation play in your job?
My position as Counsel to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board is not a political position.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job comes from the fact that I know that my work has a direct impact on the decisions of the foreign policymakers of the United States. Being able to work directly for the President, advising him about foreign intelligence matters, is a unique position to have even in Washington, D.C. At the end of long days at the office I get a personal sense of fulfillment knowing that I can have a positive effect on some of the most difficult and important decisions that face the United States.
Who are your role models in the legal profession?
As I was leaving NYU School of Law School I had the opportunity to meet Ron Noble as I was seeking his advice on a job offer from the Department of Justice. Through that introduction and for years later I looked to Ron as a leader that I aspired to be like. Ron had achieved both personal satisfaction as well as professional success working in the federal government. To this day I look to him as a skilled teacher, a brilliant attorney, a mentor, a colleague and most importantly a loyal friend. Teachers who inspire their students and lawyers who give back to the community, whether by working in the government or in some other fashion, have been my role models.
What was your first job out of law school?
Department of Justice's Honors Program, U.S. Trustee's Office, Southern District of New York.
How do you balance work and life?
This is a difficult question. Everybody has a different subjective concept of what is the "correct" balance between work and life. The way that I try to balance a rigorous work schedule with outside interests is by teaching at Georgetown University. This allows me to "unplug" from the harried pace of the office, be engaged with young energetic students, teach the legal subjects that I feel passionately about and give back to the community.
If you could chose another profession to be in, what would it be?
Over the last 10 years I have developed an insatiable appetite for reading (non law books). No matter where I am, whether at home, traveling or at the office I am always reading a new book or newspaper. If I had a choice it would be to have as much time as I would like to read. The only profession that I can imagine that would lend itself to this would be in library science. I have thought about this and have concluded that I would have to be a librarian at a library that was not too busy so I could sit quietly and read.
What advice would you give to current students?
Never take a job for the money. Always seek to work in a field that you feel passionate about. Never compromise your integrity for anyone or for any money. And never say never.