5 Questions for Ellen Tannor, OSAC Executive Director
Welcome, Ellen Tannor, as OSAC Executive Director! We recently spoke with Ellen about her career in foreign service and her path to OSAC. (Spoiler alert: Working for OSAC always has been her dream.)
Q: How did your career path lead to OSAC?
Growing up in Texas, I didn’t know much about foreign service until I went to graduate school in Baltimore. I was fortunate to have a great introduction to the State Department and life in the Foreign Service . I wanted a non-traditional career, to travel, to see the world and have adventures. Twenty years, later, Being a Diplomatic Security Special Agent has not disappointed!
I started my foreign service career in the Chicago Field Office after basic agent training and loved it. Then I worked on Secretary Powell’s detail. One of the greatest highlights of my career was working side-by-side with him on the lead-up to the Iraq War. To be that close to the sun and to see such an incredible period in our history is amazing. I came from the private sector and used to have inspirational quotes from Colin Powell in my cubicle, and then I had the honor of working for him.
My overseas tours have been in different regions, my most recent assignment in Germany. Part of the reason for my assignments is that I am part of a tandem couple. My husband, Alston Richardson [Regional Director for Africa] is also a DSS Agent. We’ve had to take a lot of varied assignments that aren’t necessarily at the top of our wish list, but we took assignments that pushed us professionally – and we’re better for it.
That’s what led me to OSAC. I’ve worked with OSAC in various capacities. In Angola, my husband was the RSO for a very vibrant OSAC Country Chapter. I remember officially welcoming an OSAC Country Chapter at my embassy. Through OSAC, we got to know the private sector in a mutually beneficial relationship in a very challenging security environment. With full embassy support and robust private sector engagement, I saw OSAC at its very best.
Q: What do you feel is unique about OSAC’s contribution to global security?
OSAC has such an amazing reputation inside and outside the Department of State. I had a chance to work with other OSAC Executive Directors and always thought that one day, I would like to work at OSAC. This job is what I really, really wanted; It’s both humbling and thrilling.
James Weston, OSAC’s Deputy Executive Director, who served as Acting Executive Director, told me that, “OSAC is a small team, but we punch above our weight class.” That’s our core competency. OSAC has “commanding, convening power” to bring private and public sector together for common goals. In my opinion, we have no peer competitor, no one touches our global reach—not even close. We have decades of fomenting trusted relationships and expertise overseas working with host nation security officials and the public and private sector.
Q: As a former RSO, how would you say ISF funding most supports OSAC’s work?
One of the most powerful aspects of OSAC is that we are a free service, and we never charge dues. So that’s where the support from ISF really makes a difference. ISF funding helps keep our meetings completely free and accessible to all U.S.-based organizations operating abroad regardless of size– from the largest corporations to the smallest NGOs, faith-based groups and academic programs. The ISF minimizes financial barriers and helps keep our public-private partnership thriving all over the world.
Q: What kind of people work in the OSAC Program Office?
Our staff is clearly tech savvy and well versed in security issues. We’re an eclectic group and come from different industries – NGOs, academia, the public and private sector. It’s impressive how skilled and talented they are. This year, OSAC hired its first Communications specialist [Elizabeth Winter], and she’s taken us to the future by upgrading our communications platform and messaging opportunities. We also hired a new Partnership Lead who has a decade of working Western Hemisphere issues within the Department—especially important when 90% of our members have interest in Mexico.
OSAC is best when we have all the diverse companies, organizations and people at the table. We are going to take OSAC to the next level. Jason Kight [former Executive Director] put in long term strategic paths. My vision for OSAC is to be bigger, better, more diverse, more capable of bringing the targeted security information our members need faster and better. The goal, together, is to make OSAC shine even more.
Q: What’s your biggest impression returning to the United States?
I most recently came home from three years abroad, and a lot has happened in those three years. We were in Stuttgart, which is absolutely lovely, but nothing beats the convenience of the States. I missed the BBQ and TexMex – no one makes BBQ or margaritas quite like Texas.
I am most impressed with my kids’ ability to go from country to country and to be so adaptable. [Ellen and Alston have four children ranging in age from five to 14.] They are real-deal foreign service kids. They bought into the adventure and love it. You couldn’t convince them that Angola wasn’t Disneyland, they enjoyed it so much. Before COVID-19 in Germany, we did a lot of travelling through Europe. We’ve enjoyed every place as a family.
About Ellen Tannor
Ellen K. Tannor is a Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Supervisory Special Agent who began her foreign service career 19 years ago as an Agent in the DSS Chicago Field Office. On September 1, 2021, she joined OSAC on the heels of her service as the Security Advisor to the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) in Stuttgart, Germany. There, Ellen acted as a key interlocutor among DSS, EUCOM and U.S. Diplomatic missions across Europe, synchronizing planning, operations, and crisis response efforts.
Previously, Ellen was the Branch Chief for Counterintelligence Policy, focusing on mitigating threats by foreign intelligence services against U.S. diplomatic personnel. She served as the Congressional Affairs Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security; the Management Officer and acting Deputy Chief of Mission in Luanda, Angola; and on the International Organized Crime Task Force. She was the Regional Security Officer at U.S. Embassy Djibouti, and Assistant Regional Security Officer in Algiers as it normalized operations, following more than a decade of violent civil unrest. Ellen also served on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s security detail in the lead-up to the Iraq War from 2003-2004.
Ellen was selected as the Department of State’s 2017/2018 International Women’s Leadership Fellow, completing executive leadership training at Harvard Business School and INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau, France. She has also received multiple Department Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards.
She is married with four children and her husband, Alston Richardson, is also a Diplomatic Security Supervisory Special Agent. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Texas Wesleyan University and an MBA in International Business from the University of Baltimore.