Sitting in his IKEA-adorned apartment in Washington,D.C., the bald and goateed Robertson (“Rob”) Gile ’00 is funny and engaging as he talks about his life. He opens up about his elementary school years, high school and his time at Wheaton College. He points to Wheaton, where he graduated cum laude, as being pivotal in helping him focus and set his sights on the path that led to his career in national security and his new job as a foreign affairs officer.
But ask specific questions about the job where he spends most of his life and the room falls uncomfortably silent. The smile fades. The responses become evasive and vague.
Q: “So, in your job, do you have a specific geographic area that you are responsible for?”
A: (Nodding.) “Yeah.”
Q: “Can you tell me which area?”
A: “I prefer not to.”
Q: (Joking.) “Is it bigger than a bread box?”
Secrecy comes with the territory.
Gile works in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives. Basically, he helps develop and execute U.S. national security policy, with a focus on counterproliferation, or preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and the means to deliver them.
In the post-9/11 world, there is never a dull moment.
“There aren’t too many jobs where you are awakened by a phone call early on a holiday by someone who is telling you to get to the office because a major world event requires immediate attention,” he notes.
Gile, who majored in political science at Wheaton,wouldn’t have it any other way.
Public service runs in his family. His mother, Mary Stuart Gile, a former schoolteacher, is a state representative in his native New Hampshire. His father, Robert Gile, who served in the Navy, also has been a state representative there. But growing up, Rob Gile never imagined himself working for the government, though his parents always encouraged public service.
As a foreign affairs officer, he collaborates with his counterparts elsewhere in the government involved in securing the nation,including the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the U.S.Intelligence Community.
Among the many functions of his office, Gile works to develop strategies to disrupt the networks-or “black markets”-that proliferate weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). No small task, especially given the priority that President Barack Obama placed on such measures during a major foreign policy speech in Prague in April. “We must also build on our efforts to break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit,and use financial tools to disrupt this dangerous trade,” Obama said.
Gile’s office strives to implement the president’s words by working with other countries to improve control over and prevent the transfer of WMDs, ensuring that various United Nations Security Council resolutions are being enforced.
“The key challenge is that it is in the U.S.government’s interest to prevent weapons of mass destruction from proliferating,” says Gile. “That is complicated by a lot of things…” He stops, not willing to go into details or the politics that complicate issues. “The main challenge my office faces is coming up with the strategies and policies that address that problem by focusing on these areas.”
Gile says he spends a great deal of time on the phone andin meetings, working on time-sensitive issues, as well as focusing on broader,long-range challenges before they become bigger problems. He gets to see the process up close, including at working-level National Security Council meetings.
“These meetings are a forum for discussion and ideas. This is where direction is given from the White House and where policy planning begins. From these meetings, the participants go back to their home agencies to work on the agenda items that belong to them. The response might include a démarche to a foreign government on a topic we want to engage themon, or it might involve developing and coordinating strategy that the government can use to address a particular issue.
“You find yourself switching gears, from the tactical, or issue-specific, level to the strategic level…. You might be running all over the building, or to another agency. Because the counterproliferation field is so dynamic, no two days tend to be the same,” says Gile. “It’s an amazing place to work, especially given recent events.”
He considers the internships he had while at Wheaton to be critical in leading him to where he is today. He did research working for the U.S. Navy in Newport, R.I.
“That was defining because the internships helped me focus in terms of what I wanted to do,” he says. “I think it was working in that kind of environment. It was a real-world application of things I enjoyed doing. I always liked writing research papers. It was pretty laid back, but it was sufficient for me to get an appreciation for the national security field and realize that that was the career I wanted to pursue.”
Gile’s study abroad experience also played a key role. He took two courses in a renowned terrorism program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
But it was more than the internships and the foreign study that led him in the right direction and to success, he says. “It was more about the support and encouragement that I got from the Wheaton faculty.”
He points to three professors in particular: Associate Professor of History Anni Baker, Professor of Political Science Darlene Boroviak, and Professor of Russian Studies David Powell.
“I engaged with professionals in discussions and felt on level with them. That helped to build my confidence.”
Baker, whom Gile said he had great talks with about politics and international affairs, remembers him as one of her favorite students.
“Rob used to come into my office a few times a week at least. He’d come in and say, what’s up? And I’d say, nothing much, what’s up with you? We’d start talking about whatever was in the news and suddenly two hours would have gone by and I didn’t even notice. We did this all the time,” Baker said.
“He was an excellent student when I knew him. The first class he ever took with me was my upper-level imperialism course. He was excellent-diligent, smart, enthusiastic.”
Boroviak volunteered to be Gile’s senior thesis advisor for the paper he wrote on domestic terrorism. “I was extremely impressed with how Rob threw himself into this project and with the sheer amount of hard work he was willing to do,” said Boroviak. “He was an amazing researcher and managed to ferret out resources that I did not know existed. It was fun working with him, and I learned a lot from him as a result of that thesis project. His thesis defense was a tour de force!”
Even the criticism Gile received was helpful.”Professor Powell once wrote on one of my papers ‘words, words, useless words,'” he notes. Returning to one of Powell’s classes to speak last fall, Gile lightheartedly told students: “If he’s tough on one of your papers, I’ll bet he wasn’t as tough as he was on mine.”
Gile learned to ditch the flowery language and go for shorter paragraphs. It must have worked because Powell invited him to present a paper on Russian politics at a Harvard symposium. And during his career, Gile has published commentary pieces on U.S. nuclear policy and missile defense, and authored case studies focused on low intensity conflict and stability operations.
A career right on target
Gile first arrived in Washington in January of 2001, a few days before the inauguration of George W. Bush, worked until 2003, left to go to graduate school, then returned in 2005.
Overall in the nine years since he graduated from Wheaton, he has built an impressive résumé working for Washington, D.C.,organizations that deal with various aspects of national security, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There, he was a research assistant to Michele Flournoy, currently the under secretary of Defense for Policy, the third highest-ranking position at the Pentagon; and for Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism. Gile did research for the book The Age of Sacred Terror, which Benjamin co-wrote. He also supported the development and execution of “Dark Winter,” a biological terrorism exercise conducted with partnering institutions that has been referenced in several books.
He has been a research associate at the National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction. With the Joint Staff, he was a Presidential Management Fellow in the Strategic Policyand Planning Division. Just prior to joining the Department of State, Gile worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury as an analyst in the Office ofTerrorism and Financial Intelligence. In 2008, he was recognized for his accomplishments as a counterproliferation professional and selected for a three-year term in a Department of Defense-sponsored group for emerging civilian and military leaders in the field.
“I’ve worked counterproliferation from so many different angles. It’s kind of weird now to look back and think, wow, all of this has happened,” says Gile, who has a master’s degree in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was awarded a two-year General Matthew Ridgway Fellowship in International Security.
“I’ve had an amazing experience in Washington,”he says. “The thing that I would tell people who are interested in national security, or even just working in Washington, is always just keep youreyes open for opportunity.”
Gile has been a master at watching out for opportunity, finding a new one every few years or so. Rather than staying at a job too long, he has continually sought to broaden and vary his experience and knowledge in the national security field. “Spotting opportunity to advance your career and expand your professional skill set is essential. Never shy away from a job because it is new or out of your comfort zone. Professional diversity is a valuable trait because it demonstrates flexibility. If you can handle jobs in different disciplines-even within the same general field-and do it well, you become an asset.”
For Gile, his jobs-requiring the ability to both speak up and keep quiet-have suited his personality. He was the outgoing athlete in high school and college (lacrosse at Wheaton), yet he is low-key and admittedly reluctant to talk about himself and his accomplishments.
Luckily, people like Daniel Chiu, who has known Gile for seven years, are more than happy to talk about him.
From 2002 to 2003 Gile worked for Chiu, then a senior associate for WMD studies at DFI International. “I conducted studies forthe Department of Defense on WMD strategy and policy with an emphasis on deterrence and nonproliferation. Rob was one of very few who had both an interest in and understanding of the issues related to my field. As a result,he was indispensable for my work and was a key contributor to studies on nuclear deterrence and proliferation,” says Chiu, who currently is principal director for strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.
“Rob is very strongly motivated by his interest in doing something to try and make the world safer, literally. His work plays a very important part in reducing the danger that WMDs will be used, particularly against the U.S.,” Chiu adds.
The interest is as natural as breathing for Gile. As someone who majored in political science, working in the field of national security has been fascinating, he says.
“It affords you the opportunity to make a contribution, however minor it might be or seem, to this country, which in and of itself is great,” he says. “But it also gives you a chance to see the government in a way that few people do. There aren’t too many occupations where a working-level person can say that something they wrote or worked on will have or had a direct impact on U.S. government policy toward an issue or will be read by the secretary of state, treasury officials, the national security advisor, the vice president, or even the president.”