Tracy Walder at TEDxKids@SMU
Former CIA Officer, FBI Special Agent, Educator, and Author
- One of few women to serve in both the Directorate of Operations at the CIA and as a Special Agent in the FBI
- Shares her incredible true story of working in special ops during the era of 9/11, including frequent meetings with President Bush, assuming aliases, and hunting terrorists worldwide
- Author of the memoir, The Unexpected Spy, which is developing into an ABC Network TV series
- Empowers audiences to embody a “why not” approach to life and shares her message: don’t try to change who you are to fit what you think the job wants you to be
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When Tracy Walder enrolled at the University of Southern California, she never thought that one day she would offer her pink beanbag chair in the Delta Gamma house to a CIA recruiter, or that she’d fly to the Middle East under an alias identity. Graduating with a history degree, she would spend the next four years as a covert operative for CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, assuming aliases, thwarting terrorist attacks, and debriefing terrorists at black sites.
Walder worked as Staff Operations Officer (SOO) for the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Weapons of Mass Destruction Group. Receiving many awards for her service from both the CIA and foreign intelligence offices, she travelled to war zones, black sites, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia, often the youngest person in the room and one of few females. After the CIA, she went on to become one of the few women to work on the operations side of both the CIA and FBI, serving as a Special Agent at the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office and specializing in Chinese counterintelligence operations. In a single year, Walder worked on cases involving cyber-crime, fraud, and even helped take down one of the most notorious foreign spies ever caught on American soil.
Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, Walder shares her riveting story with audiences, and according to Publishers Weekly “opens a window into life in two of America’s major intelligence agencies.” Using lessons-learned from her tenure in the CIA and FBI, along with insider anecdotes from meetings with President Bush in the 9/11 war room to hiding in the trunks of cars through the Middle East, she offers her unique perspective of a woman in the male-dominated field of special operations. A TED speaker, Walder expertly discusses a range of topics including national security, foreign policy, terrorism, counterintelligence, education, and the role of women in law enforcement and intelligence. With a career that continues to take her to unexpected places, she inspires audiences to embody a “why not” approach to life and shares her impactful message: don't try to change who you are to fit what you think the job wants you to be.
Walder’s book, The Unexpected Spy: My Secret Life Chasing Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists, candidly details her fascinating real-life story as a young woman in special operations, from hunting terrorists in the CIA to training for the FBI. Additionally, ABC network and studio, in conjunction with Calamity Jane and Timberman/Beverly production companies, is developing a TV series based on her book, called The Sorority Girl Who Saved Your Life.
Following her time at the CIA and FBI, Tracy enrolled in both a master's and a teaching credential program. Currently, she teaches history and a self-created course on espionage and foreign affairs at one of the largest all-girls schools in the U.S., empowering her students to take on similar career paths. Walder earned her degree in history from the University of Southern California and her Master's in education from Chapman University.
The Unexpected Spy: An Empowering Journey from Sorority to Special Operations. Based on her memoir, Walder shares her riveting life story of a young woman who went straight from her college sorority to the CIA and, later, the FBI. She offers her unique perspective as one of the few females working in these male-dominated fields – assuming aliases, thwarting terrorist attacks, and debriefing terrorists at black sites. Taking audiences behind-the-scenes of two of America’s major intelligence agencies during the era of 9/11, Walder details insider stories including watching al-Qaeda members with drones as President Bush looked over her shoulder, searching the world for Weapons of Mass Destruction, hiding in the trunks of cars throughout the Middle East, and interrogating suicide bombers. Keeping groups on the edge of their seats, she details her transition from special operations to educator, sharing her inspiring message: don't try to change who you are to fit what you think the job wants you to be.
The Latest Geopolitical Intel. Tracy Walder’s career as a CIA officer and, later, an FBI special agent, took her to foreign intelligence offices, warzones, and black sites across the globe. Walder was often one of the only women in the room for critical counterterrorism operations meetings and her sharp geopolitical acumen was crucial to mission success. In this talk, she analyzes the current geopolitical landscape from the viewpoint of a counterintelligence expert who has operated at the center of global conflict. Speaking to emerging security threats in China and the Middle East, as well as other hot-button topics around the world, Walder has the unique ability of explaining complex geopolitical issues in a way that audiences can easily grasp, while offering high-level insights on their potential impact on national security and foreign policy.
Why Not? Achieve Your Full Potential by Rethinking the Question: Why? Why do we have to have a reason for the path we choose in life? We often get so caught up in trying to answer the question “why?” that an opportunity passes us by. In this talk, former CIA officer and FBI agent, Tracy Walder, uses her own unique life experience to demonstrate how embracing the question “why not?” can lead to life-changing opportunities. Relying on gut instincts, she shares how she went from a history major at USC to the CIA counterterrorism center, from taking down a Chinese spy ring as a special agent in the FBI to becoming a history teacher at an all-girls school. Through using her own unconventional journey, Walder inspires audiences to embody this “why not” approach and not let the question of “why” dictate how they lead their lives.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Terrorism. Spending four years in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Weapons of Mass Destruction Group during the era of 9/11, Tracy Walder draws on her experience tracking terrorists worldwide, interrogating suicide bombers, and gathering life-saving intelligence to help audiences better understand the current threat landscape. With a candid insider’s perspective, she breaks down the issues of today, the players new and old who are keeping the intelligence community up at night, and what this means for the United States and international response.
Counterintelligence: Protecting America in the 21st Century. As a Special Agent in the FBI, Tracy Walder specialized in Chinese counterintelligence operations, where in a single year she worked on cases involving cyber-crime, fraud, and helped take down one of the most notorious foreign spies ever caught on American soil. In this talk, she takes audiences through the current security environment and how intelligence is really being used by the government. She also discusses Chinese espionage in particular, how they are engaging in cyber-attacks, and provides her insights on how organizations can protect themselves against the theft of intellectual property.
The Role of Women in Law Enforcement. As one of the few women to work on the operations side of both the CIA and FBI, Tracy Walder offers her unique perspective of a woman in the male-dominated field of law enforcement. In this speech, she draws on her experience to emphasize the importance of a female voice, recognizing the value of the female perspective in thinking differently and solving unique challenges. Using her own career path as an example, Walder also shares with audiences tips, tricks, and insights for women who want to break into any male-dominated industry and succeed.
The Power of Education. Throughout Tracy Walder’s unconventional journey from her college sorority to special operations, she always knew she was one day meant to enter the world of education. Following her time at the CIA and FBI, Tracy enrolled in both a master's and a teaching credential program, and currently teaches history at one of the largest all-girls schools in the U.S. In this talk, Walder discusses the important role that education has on shaping our future generations. Drawing from experiences in her own classroom, she encourages audiences to use the power of teaching to inspire today’s youth to make a difference and even change the world.
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