5 Questions for James Weston, OSAC RISC Chief
For James Weston, Chief of OSAC’s Research and Information Support Center (RISC) since 2013, serving one’s country is the family business. His late father, Lt. Colonel John Weston, was a career Air Force officer, who worked for the CIA following his military service. His mother was a career CIA employee, serving for 43 years in the Agency.
We asked James about the critical role RISC plays in supporting the OSAC global network.
Q: What does RISC do?
A: Most people are familiar with some aspect of OSAC. RISC handles the day-to-day interaction with the private sector. Our job is to make connections and have one-on-one conversations about the area or country [the constituent] is working in. We are analysts and program officers who answer questions and connect companies, organizations and individuals with U.S. interests to the appropriate Regional Security Officer. We take a lot of pride in the fact that RISC is one of the few government offices that doesn’t have a phone tree. When you call us, you get an actual person. As Chief, my job is to embrace and advance the OSAC mission and to keep adding quality people to our team. Doing more for the people and organizations who make up OSAC is what keeps me interested – trying to make something already great even better.
Q: How different was OSAC when you joined as RISC Chief five years ago?
A: We were doing good work with our Country and Regional Councils and Sector-specific Working Groups, but the biggest difference is that we were doing so much less. We had two Regional Councils (RC) when I started in 2013: The Latin America Regional Council and the Pan-Asia Regional Council. With ISF funding, we now have five. [Expanding this number] was something we needed to do for our constituency and something we were yearning to do. It took the creation and support of ISF to make it happen. Since, there’s no turning back or slowing down. Our RCs hit the ground running after ISF set them up. That’s all it took to get them running and for people to see the value.
Q: What was it like for RISC staff before ISF?
A: Before ISF was founded by the OSAC Council in 2011, when an OSAC constituent wanted to have a meeting in the States or abroad about an issue or gather like-minded professionals, my staff would have to find the space to meet. Then we needed to figure out coffee and the other basic needs of a professional gathering. Quite regularly, a meeting would hang in limbo because of location and meeting needs. ISF has reduced my staff’s time as meeting planners now. They can work on the issues and programming to address the needs of our constituents.
Q: What are a few OSAC initiatives funded by ISF?
A: People have told me that the breadth of what OSAC is doing feels like we are doing twice as much as we did before ISF. The RISC staff has always done a great job. Now, ISF has enabled us to do so much more. We now offer topical forums, including the annual International Travel Safety and Security Forum. Read about the 2018 Forum.
At the yearly ASIS Global Security Exchange, a who’s who in security with about 22,000 attendees, ISF funds the OSAC Reception. It’s a great opportunity to get out and meet our constituents and for people to meet us. We’ve added Sector-specific Working Groups like Energy Security Working Group and greatly increased the activity of the Faith-Based Organizations and International Development Working Groups, and last fall, we launched the exciting Women in Security group.
Q: Has OSAC role changed as the world changes?
A: In my first few months, five years ago, I remember talking with RISC staff about the value you could bring to the private sector. We said initially that we weren’t going to be in the “breaking news” role. Then the Westgate Mall attack happened, and [the terrorists] took hostages. It was a Saturday, and I remember talking got my analyst [for Africa] about what we should do to keep people informed. Now we are timelier and tell OSAC constituents what we know when we know it and follow up with more accurate information as it is available. This was what the private sector was looking for. We now use social media and put out information via Twitter (@OSACState). We try to continue this type of adjustment and stay responsive. I love to hear how OSAC can help and what we can do better. Peggy O’Neill, the first fulltime ISF Executive Director, has been with me from the beginning. I’ve learned so much from her about how nonprofits work. Similarly, the number of people on the OSAC who are security titans have been very generous to me with their time and assistance.
Fun Fact About James
“My father had retired from the Air Force before I came along, but I grew up going to the commissary every weekend in Northern Virginia. My father was a B17 aircraft commander in World War II, and we would go to air shows together. We both flew in a B17 in 2012, which was the last airplane he was ever in. I have two expensive hobbies: flying and golf. I took flying lessons for a couple of years, but I love golf. I went to Texas Christian University, which now is a big football school but was a great golf school when I was there. I was on the team for a year but realized that I was not good enough. After several beverages, my teammates and I would sit around and talk about who would turn pro after graduation. One guy from my tenure played on the PGA Tour. My personal wake-up call came when one of our All-American players didn’t last one summer as a pro before returning to Fort Worth to sell insurance. I figured if that guy couldn’t make it on the tour, I didn’t stand a chance.” – James Weston
[Editor’s note: Approachable, personable and easy-going, James was a delightful interview – until we asked about his handicap, which he declined to share.]
About James Weston
- Chief of OSAC’s Research and Information Support Center (RISC) for the Overseas Security in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security since April 2013.
- Leads three units: Outreach and Engagement; Global Security; and Research and Analysis; as well as major events and oversight of OSAC.gov.
- Prior to OSAC, was Chief of the Policy and Planning Division for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security where he managed all diplomatic security policy, standards and regulations development and Memoranda of Agreement and Understanding coordination.
- Named “One of the Most Influential People in Security” in 2016 by Security Magazine.
- Served as Executive Secretary for the Overseas Security Policy Board and on the Diplomatic Security (DS) Firearms Policy Review Board and was Bureau point of contact for the Benghazi Accountability Review Board recommendations.
- Additional roles in his lifelong career in federal government include: Chief of the Policy Analysis Staff and Special Assistant to the DS Deputy Executive Director; and Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
- B.A. in English with a Minor in History and Journalism from Texas Christian University and completed the prestigious National Security Executive Leadership Seminar at the Foreign Service Institute in March 2011.