In the period between earning his J.D. from NYU Law and returning as the new executive director of its Center on Law and Security (CLS), Zachary Goldman ’09 received a top-notch national security and foreign policy education at two different federal agencies.

Recalling his stint at the Department of Defense as special assistant to Admiral Michael Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Goldman said, “What I loved about it was the feeling that you’re in the middle of very important decisions being made.” Goldman was one of nine members of the Chairman’s Action Group, essentially a mini-think tank for Mullen that provided research and other support to help guide Mullen’s decision-making as he advised the president and the secretary of defense.

Zachary Goldman '09Among the issues Goldman grappled with were challenges in Afghanistan and Libya. His time at the Defense Department also coincided with the beginning of the Arab Spring. “To be involved in those discussions and decisions is fascinating for somebody like me who’s a national security and foreign policy junkie,” he said. “You also really feel like you’re in the middle of history, hopefully shaping the outcomes in a positive way or at least contributing to a process that is shaping these outcomes.”

Goldman spent the majority of his time in government in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, where he was a policy advisor on the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. Among a host of responsibilities, he contributed to government strategies on disrupting terrorist groups’ financial support networks and implementing sanctions against Iran.

After enumerating some of the issues involved with terrorist financing—use of charities as a cover, alternative payment systems outside of traditional banks—Goldman said, “The terrorist financing problem is a fascinating challenge because it involves dealing with a mix of private and public sector actors. How do you get banks to be more vigilant? How do you get less-regulated businesses than banks—money changers, for example—to adopt practices that make it harder for terrorist groups to move money? But you’re also dealing with governments. Some of them are very eager to tackle the problem, but don’t have the capabilities, so how do you think about helping them develop the capabilities? Some of them are not eager at all to tackle the problem, so how do you engender the political will to get them to do what’s necessary to address the issue?”

Goldman is enthusiastic about welcoming Dorit Beinisch, former president of the Supreme Court of Israel, as a CLS senior fellow. While Goldman is just beginning to flesh out the center’s future research agenda, he mentioned cybersecurity, comparative national security law, and intervention as some of the most salient current issues in the field of law and security. He also touched on use of force and how to deal with ungoverned or lightly governed regions and the threats they might present: “I think it’s going to become a particularly acute problem as we withdraw from Afghanistan over the next two and a half years—how to conceptualize the statutory authority that we have, the international legal authority that we have to use force, what the implications of those are on the institutional architecture of counterterrorism within the U.S. and in the U.S. government.”

As a student at NYU Law, Goldman focused on international law and national security law, and particularly enjoyed his classes with Professor Samuel Rascoff, CLS’s current faculty director; University Professor Joseph Weiler; Robert Howse, Lloyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law; Moshe Halbertal, Gruss Professor of Law; and Adjunct Professor S. Andrew Schaffer, deputy commissioner of legal matters for the New York City Police Department. He looks forward to drawing on both his educational and practical backgrounds in his new role.

“One of the things I’m most excited about and that I hope the center can do is to bridge the academic study of these national security issues and the practice of them,” said Goldman. “I have been fortunate to have some incredible government experience for somebody at my stage in my career, and I love thinking about the issues from an academic perspective. What’s unique and interesting about the center is that it can have its feet firmly planted in both worlds.”

Posted on June 15, 2012