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Oct 22, 2021 /

How the ISF Began in Jim Snyder’s Words

A decade ago, the International Security Foundation incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit, separate from the U.S. Department of State. The idea for this novel nonprofit, established to support the funding for OSAC (and since, for other U.S. nonprofits that partner with the security industry) was the brainstorm and hard work of a few members on the OSAC Council’s Executive Working Group, who formed the first ISF Board of Directors:

  • Brad Brekke, Principal, The Brekke Group
  • Jim Hutton, Procter & Gamble, Retired
  • John McClurg, Sr. Vice President and CISO, BlackBerry, who as OSAC Co-Chair at the time
  • Jim Snyder, Executive Director, Domestic Security Partnership

Jim Snyder, a lawyer and, at the time, ConocoPhillips’ Chief Security Officer, took the lead on creating the nonprofit. (His incorporation papers to the IRS totaled 75 single-spaced pages.) He also served as the ISF’s first Executive Director.

We asked Jim Snyder to recall how the ISF got started:

“In 2010, as OSAC was approaching its 25th anniversary, it was becoming clear to OSAC’s Executive Working Group (EWG) that serious structural flaws were undermining its mission. My realization that the status quo was unacceptable was driven home mainly in four episodes.

In early 2010, Walied Shater, ConocoPhillips’ Middle East and North Africa Regional Security Director, and a few colleagues heard the faint rumblings of discontent against autocratic leaders in their region and were attempting to organize a regional OSAC conference. But all hotels were requiring prepayment of conference costs.

In April 2010, Walied asked if I would address the proposed OSAC conference as ConocoPhillips’ CSO and as an OSAC EWG member and, by the way, could I contribute $8,000 from the Global Security budget to make-up their fundraising shortfall?

Confident that Walied was more enamored of the cash than my speaking abilities, I agreed to both.

The conference was exceptionally good and included an unexpected presentation by an emissary from Muamar Ghedaffi, whose government would be overthrown less than a year later in the Arab Spring contagion.

The OSAC Doha Regional Conference remains one of OSAC’s most important events. It was troubling that the conference might not have taken place if funds in my budget hadn’t been available.

The case for reforming OSAC was reinforced during breakfast with five Regional Security Officers attending the Doha Conference. I asked how the EWG could assist them in their OSAC roles. They agreed that being able to provide refreshments would help attract private sector participation at Country Council meetings. I sensed there was more that wasn’t being said, so I asked, ‘By a show of hands, how many of you have used personal funds to pay for refreshments at Country Council meetings?’” Five hands were slowly raised.

My realization that OSAC needed reform was further buttressed by a subsequent encounter with Regional Security Officer Bill Gannon at a Shanghai conference he’d organized on intellectual property protection and its theft by the Chinese intelligence services. During a conference break, I learned from Bill that the host hotel was providing conference space and catering at no charge provided that an agreed upon guest room block was fully occupied.  I also learned that Bill had guaranteed the room block with his own credit card and was personally responsible for any unoccupied guest rooms.

The tipping point in my thinking came at an OSAC-ISMA conference in Jordan where I noticed that although many NGOs operated in the region only a handful were attending the conference.  I learned that most non-profits couldn’t afford the attendance fee necessary to pay for the conference.

Jim Snyder speaks at the Crisis Management Forum, an OSAC program funded by the ISF.

At the next OSAC EWG meeting, I pitched the concept of a 501c3 nonprofit funded by private- sector contributions that could execute contracts, pay for OSAC events, and ensure that all OSAC constituents, regardless of ability to pay, could attend OSAC events.

After extensive discussions with State Department lawyers, it was agreed that EWG members Brad Brekke, Jim Hutton, and John McClurg would comprise the Board of Directors of a nonprofit corporation to be formed in Texas where I lived. I would volunteer my services as incorporator, registered agent and executive director.

After several months of drafting, I filed the incorporation paperwork along with the required fee and on April 18, 2011, the Secretary of State declared the International Security Foundation to be a nonprofit corporation duly-formed under the laws of the State of Texas.

The far more daunting task of securing the ISF’s tax exempt status pursuant to Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) came next. On July 7, 2011, I submitted the DSP’s 75-page, single-spaced application. After extensive negotiations with a succession of IRS agents, the ISF’s application was approved on March 27, 2012. Conferral of 501(c)(3) status lent legitimacy to the ISF and immeasurably enhanced its fundraising ability.

By summer 2013, the Board and I were confident that the ISF was operationally and financially firmly established and a search for a full-time executive director was initiated.

The first ISF-funded OSAC event: The Nairobi Country Council meeting following the Westgate Mall terrorist attacks.

In September 2013, some 3.5 years after Walied’s call, the ISF hired Peggy O’Neill as Executive Director and also sponsored its first OSAC event, a meeting of the Nairobi Country Council held in the aftermath of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack. The Nairobi Country Council meeting was and remains an important milestone because it was the first time that our State Department colleagues did not have to personally pay for an OSAC event.

The ISF had permanently ushered in a new era for OSAC, which would be defined by expanded OSAC Regional Councils, OSAC Country Council meetings, OSAC conferences, and dozens of additional ISF sponsored OSAC engagements that all OSAC constituents, regardless of ability to pay, could attend.”

Thanks, Jim, John, Brett and Jim, for your vision, time, talents and selfless service to the security community in working together to establish the ISF.

Dig a little deeper into the challenges and opportunities of the ISF founding in Five Questions with Jim Snyder.

Don’t miss the ISF Virtual Reception on November 17, 2021 at 5 PM. Our free, global celebration of OSAC and the security community includes a conversation with our founding Board of Directors. Register today at register.isf4osac.org.

Interested in sponsoring the ISF Virtual Reception? Check out our sponsorship benefits and contact Siobhan Clune, ISF Director of Development, at siobhanclune@isf4osac.org.