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News | Dec. 13, 2016

Faces of Defense Intelligence: Timothy H. Pinkham

By Greg Elder

Editor's note: The Faces of Defense Intelligence series highlights the accomplishments of former military and civilian intelligence personnel who exemplified the Defense Intelligence Agency creed Excellence in Defense of the Nation.  


“In the intelligence business, if you can’t defend everything you say, don’t say it.” - Tim Pinkham


On 12 October 2005 Timothy Hull Pinkham was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. The guestbook for the ceremony repeatedly highlighted the “indelible mark” he left on everyone who worked with him, that he “was one of our best senior analysts and mentors,” and that he would always be “remembered as a respected, hard worker and inspiring intellectual.” Tim arrived at DIA as a naval lieutenant in 1971, transitioned to a DIA civilian position in 1975, and spent the next three decades making his contribution felt. Despite numerous accolades, including the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, he exemplified that sometimes the most important mark a person makes is the knowledge and know-how passed on others. On 14 December, DIA recognizes Tim Pinkham by inducting him as a DIA Torch Bearer for his significant contributions in strengthening Defense Intelligence, his indisputable mentorship, sustained impact and lasting contribution, and his extraordinary commitment to DIA, its mission, and its people.

Tim Pinkham entered DIA at a time of extreme tumult in the Middle East. The Arab–Israeli War was fought by Israel and neighboring states in 1967, inflaming regional hostilities. Several coups, attempted coups, and internal instability plagued several countries. Additionally, the first Trans World Airways (TWA) hijacking occurred in 1968, followed by a surge in hijackings and other terrorist attacks committed by Palestinian groups and Hizballah against Israel, and increasingly against U.S. interests. Pinkham set to work immediately developing an expertise on regional military equipment and capabilities, and translated his analysis into meaningful products for senior clients throughout the government. He became known as the “walking Jane’s Fighting Vehicle encyclopedia,” and was rapidly acknowledged throughout the Intelligence Community (IC) as an authoritative voice not just on the Iraq, Iran, Arab-Israeli conflict, and North Africa, but globally.

For two decades Tim worked as a Middle-East and North Africa analyst, honing his political-military analytic skills and producing more than one-hundred products. He was instrumental in providing thorough, impartial analysis through the Iran hostage crisis, the collapse of regimes throughout the region, major conflicts like the Yemeni revolution, and the ebbs and flow of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was a constant throughout, working in a subject matter – foundational capabilities analysis – that was often overlooked in importance by the steady stream of current intelligence requirements. However, to this date, when a conflict appears imminent, the foundational analysis on adversary capabilities is at the forefront of requirements. In 1982 he chaired a Ground Forces Analyst Working Group to develop a analytic guide and course to introduce junior analysts to the significance of military capabilities analysis. Drawing on the materials he developed, Tim then taught a ground forces capabilities analytic course four times per year to more than a thousand analysts over the course of the next decade. Many of those analysts rose to the next generation of leadership in DIA and across the Intelligence Community, sharing the foundations Tim taught them. The curriculum he developed was the precursor to the current and planned expansion of DIA’s military capabilities analysis training program. He also became the first Chairman of the Military Capabilities Career Development Panel, establishing training and requirements to grow a capable and innovative analytic workforce.

Employee perspectives: The impact of Timothy Pinkham

I was attending the Defense Intelligence School in 1983, now the National Intelligence University, and working on a thesis related to North Africa. That’s when I met Tim and interviewed him as an expert for the paper. Upon graduation, I was supposed to go to DIA to work the Asia problem-set, but Tim intervened and had me work for him from 1983-87. As a naval officer, one of my first projects was to conduct an assessment on whether a arms transfer in the Middle-East would alter the regional balance of power. My assessment was entirely out of line with the consensus at the time, and was apt to cause disputes in the policy world. Tim was aghast at my findings and grilled me….and grilled me….then grilled me some more on the rigor I used in my analysis. I’ve known seniors who, given the seriousness of the blowback likely to arise from the assessment, would not have published it or would have toned it down. But Tim was most concerned with getting it right. He fully understood the policy ramifications, but appreciated that our job was to make the call and clearly convey how we reached our conclusions. Once he was comfortable that I had done my due diligence, he stood by my analysis, which made its way to senior policymakers. Tim’s manner in handling that assessment made a real mark with me. We have an obligation to be rigorous and to provide unbiased, impartial analysis, and he understood that – he gave me the top cover I needed to do my job. Tim was thorough and precise, and had high expectations. For example, although I never took one of his courses, I felt as though I took instruction from him everyday. I once used “state-of-the-art” to describe a fielded weapon system. He told me to go back and look up the definition for “state-of-the-art,” which turned about to be far more advanced than what I was trying to convey. He stressed that words have meaning. The first six months working for him were tough but rewarding. On a much more personal note – my wife was diagnosed with cancer and also had a relapse during the 3 years I worked for Tim. Therefore, for more than a third of my tour she was subjected to or recovering from radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Tim was a very demanding boss when it came to analytic quality, but he also used every bit of his management prerogatives to make me as available as possible to support my wife. His kindness to my family is a major reason I have stayed at DIA. Through me and his other employees his management style has indirectly had a positive effect on thousands of DIA employees.

        -- Jim

When I entered DIA as a line analyst in October 1996, Tim was my Senior Intelligence Officer (SIO) and would be my analytic boss for the following nine years until he retired. What I appreciated most is that Tim invested his time in me and my colleagues to help us become the best analysts we could be. When I joined the division, I was expected to give Tim a presentation on my account within two months and demontrate a thorough understanding. You have to understand, Tim was acknowledged throughout the IC for his mastery of the Middle East, so this was quite a challenge. In the briefing, he pushed and pushed to find the breaking point, then he knew where to start the teaching process. This was a great instructional tool for junior analyts. He was very effective in using the Socratic method of discussion, not only trying to draw out more information from an analyst, but driving them to consider alternatives and to think outside the box. Tim would tell us that when he was in the Navy, he would stand the watch and mentally rehearse and memorize Latin declensions and conjugation – with that experience, he drilled us to know the foundational information on our accounts without having to look up the material. That solid foundational knowledge I learned from Tim gave me confidence and credibility as I interacted as a new, young female analyst with older, more experienced male foreign military officers. He set high standards. When I sent him a draft product his feedback was almost always “fine” or “good.” When I got a “fine,” that meant it was adequate, but a “good” meant it was truly good, while a “good” followed by an exclamation point was truly high praise. I respected him immensely. And with his mentorship and high standards came his care for his co-workers – Tim was always positive, enthusiastic, humorous, optimistic, and believed in striking the right work-life balance for himself and his people. That’s why, despite his retirement more than a decade ago, so many people in the agency still remember and think so highly of him. Tim left an indelible mark on DIA.

        -- Jennifer

His dedication to training the workforce and providing mentorship to the analytic workforce earned him the DIA Directors Award and prepared him for his rise to SIO of the Mediterranean Division in 1996. In short order Tim was asked to put his leadership and analytic skills to use as global events boiled over. In April 1996, fighting in Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hezbollah killed more than 100 civilians (the Qana Massacre); Israeli, UN and U.S. officials accused Hezbollah of using civilian refugees as human shields by opening fire from positions near the UN compound. In the following months, the Iraqi army deployed into forbidden locations resulting in U.S. Operation Desert Strike (coordinated cruise missile attacks against Iraqi air defense infrastructure), and a full-scale guerilla war erupted in Algeria. According to a former co-worker, Tim was “unflappable, always maintaining his calm but authoritative demeanor and good nature” during these events, leading DIA analytic production efforts, briefing senior policymakers, and helping coordinate interagency activities. He assisted in the formation of an interagency community of interest on the Middle East peace process, formed an analytic working group focusing on another regional hot spot, and led a multi-agency effort to draft a controversial assessment produced to help mitigate a potential conflict. In a short span, his division produced more than 250 assessments in support of a range of senior military leadership and policymakers. Notably, Tim was on the front line in analytic support leading up to the 1999-2000 Shepherdstown Peace Talks between Israel and Syria. In 2001, Mr. Pinkham quickly became involved in one of the most challenging accounts in the agency, assuming a leadership role in developing analysis for impending operations in the Middle East. This analysis provided a solid foundation for contingency planning in 2003 before the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also facilitated strong working relationships with military and interagency partners, and managed a continuous flow of unique and demanding analytic demands from a range of clients. As war neared with Iraq, Tim was a driving force on numerous national level assessments. His performance throughout this period was superb, and Director for Central Intelligence George Tenet awarded Tim the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts.

For the remainder of his career, Tim took on the role of SIO for DIA’s Middle East and North Africa Division, where he again instructed analysts in military order of battle analysis. As part of Tim’s legacy, DIA continues military capabilities analysis training for all incoming analysts.

It is sometimes difficult to quantify the impact of a person’s career. Sometimes a person is remembered for a seminal event they participated in, their heroism in combat, or a single groundbreaking article they published that changed the course of history. Although Tim proudly served in the Navy and ultimately wrote hundreds of articles, these are not what distinguished him. For three decades, Tim was the man behind the scenes for DIA covering a region rarely at peace. He never sought glory or recognition, but was counted on repeatedly to get the job done – to provide thoughtful, impartial analysis that often drove U.S. national security and operational decision-making. In addition, Tim’s greatest contribution – the development of an analytic workforce – is far more difficult to quantify but no less important. In his memory, DIA dedicated the Timothy Hull Pinkham Conference Room in 2008. Now DIA acknowledges his contributions by placing him in laudatory company as a DIA Torch Bearer. Timothy Hull Pinkham exemplified DIAs motto of Excellence in Defense of the Nation.