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Cornelius F. Tate: strategy & tech for U.S. Secret Service

The President, Vice President and other world leaders are among those who rely on the agency's network of technology experts and their tools

Cornelius Tate says it was worth waiting for. From his first interview at the Little Rock, AR office of the United States Secret Service (USSS, Washington, DC), it took sixteen months of examinations, interviews and background checks before he joined the agency in 1986. In April 2012, Tate was appointed assistant director of the office of technical development and mission support.

He oversees four areas of technology- based protective countermeasures and IT resources. His area takes in the chief information officer (CIO) program, chief technology officer (CTO) program, technical security division (TSD), and information resources management division (IRMD).

"The CIO looks at strategic vision and policies of IT services and infrastructure inside the USSS, assuring that the agency is adhering to policies and mandates, and that it has a structured plan for new technology."

The Secret Service's protective mission is one example. "We have a close relationship with military areas that are responsible for White House communications. It is important that there is seamless communication among all participants.

"The CTO program ensures that emerging technologies are being introduced into our missions. If there is a new technology not currently available in the agency, we partner with department personnel from the science and technology directorate.

"The TSD is really specialized and gets into some unique applications. We use technology to have complete awareness of the environment in which the President, Vice President or other world leaders are operating, to detect and mitigate any kind of threat. We also use technology to assist agents conducting investigations.

"The IRMD is our IT shop. It provides basic communication and data services from enterprise-level applications to email to telephone service to mobile communications that agents use on the street."

Three people report directly to him, responsible for the four program areas. "Despite the hierarchy, I like to feel that we work together. I'm the person that has to bring it all together but I believe that if I'm the only person in the room expressing ideas or making decisions, we're probably in trouble," he says with a smile.

Tate was born in West Memphis, AR and went through high school as computer technology was gaining momentum. He went to the University of Mississippi (Oxford, MS) on a track scholarship. "During my time at Ole Miss, I bounced back and forth between electrical engineering and computer science but I felt most comfortable with computer science." He earned his BSCS in 1985.

Tate learned about the Secret Service from a former teammate who had graduated a couple of years ahead of him. "This was someone who knew that he wanted to be a secret service agent, and was hired," Tate remembers. "He explained that Congress had just authorized the agency to investigate computer fraud and that my degree would be perfect for that kind of responsibility."

A government path chosen
In May 1985 he met with the agent in charge of the Little Rock, AR office. "The more I thought about it, the more I realized this would be an opportunity to make a contribution. I became committed to government service."

While he waited for the hiring process to run its course, Tate spent almost a year with the Internal Revenue Service before being hired by the Secret Service in September 1986.

"Portable computing was brand new and very exciting; in fact, there were only a handful of us in the computer area. My first boss was a former high school football coach with a very practical, common sense side. He told me, 'I have no doubt that this computer stuff is the wave of the future but I recommend that you don't get caught up doing all computers. You need to learn the basics of investigating counterfeiting and credit card fraud, the stuff that agents do.' It was great advice."

The years have provided him with a series of challenging roles. He was a founding member of the Electronic Crime Special Agent Program (ECSAP), trained to conduct forensic analysis of computer systems at an expert level for evidentiary purposes in trial.

He was part of the intelligence division supporting Presidential and Vice Presidential travel and a member of the White House security branch overseeing the technology center to provide situational awareness of DC venues. He and his group worked with the executive office of the President to address and prevent cyber threats against www.whitehouse.gov.

Between 2000 and 2003, Tate was law enforcement liaison with the Computer Emergency Readiness Team/Coordination Center team at Carnegie Mellon University. He founded the critical systems protection initiative, which assesses the impact of technology on the Secret Service's physical protective mission and eliminates threats.

Next, Tate became the director of the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division, a 24/7 watch center. One of the center's missions is to share information between the private sector and the government about the latest cyber attacks. Tate also started the protective security advisor program, conducting security assessments of the nation's critical infrastructure, including chemical, oil, and electricity facilities.

In 2004, he was appointed special agent in charge of the information resources management division, and became CIO six months later. Two years later, he became special agent in charge of the technical security division. That assignment led to his current role in the office of technical development and mission support.

A few months into his new job, Tate wants to set the stage to upgrade the agency's IT infrastructure and protective measures. "I want to work toward a convergence of all of the shops within tech and better integrate them."

He believes not only in getting a good education but also using it wisely. "At the end of the day," summarizes Tate, "you go to college and you get a degree, whatever it may be. It's easy to look at that in the classic sense but where you take it can be mind-boggling. When I walked into my first computer class, there's no way that I could have visualized that the story would lead to what I'm doing."


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