Shadow Warrior: John Grimes

sp2013 alumni3John Grimes remembers the days when intelligence was a “four-letter word” on many college campuses. Now, the career military intelligence officer is finding that undergraduates are eager to learn the fundamentals of modern intelligence community tradecraft in a new course that is set to debut in spring 2014.

Grimes, an assistant professor in the Department of Justice Sciences and director of intelligence analytics in UAB’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research, speaks from experience. Until February 2012, he was immersed in counterinsurgency targeting, biometrics, and antiarmor analysis as a top aide to the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. Grimes oversaw a staff of 180 intelligence analysts responsible for tracking bomb-makers and other high-value enemy combatants.

A New Order of Battle

His “spooks ’r’ us” career in the Army is now over, but Grimes hasn’t left the field entirely. Instead, he is using similar techniques to help catch cybercriminals by “pioneering the adaptation of intelligence community analytical methodologies to unclassified applications,” he says. “If you think of all things in cyberspace as dealing with ones and zeroes, my role is to round out the rest of the intelligence spectrum—the two through nine of an investigation, if you will,” Grimes says. “I focus on what a cyber-malefactor may do from a social and behavioral perspective before approaching the keyboard and then what happens when he or she pulls back.”

Students “working with me and others in our center” will have an opportunity to play a key role in these investigations, Grimes notes. “We’re looking for people with strong analytical skills in the social and behavioral sciences—people with backgrounds in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, for example,” he says.

Grimes, a Birmingham native, honed his own analytical skills at UAB in the 1970s, graduating in 1976 with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, political science, and mathematics. He earned a law degree at Samford University in 1981 and then was offered a job as a special agent in the FBI. Instead, he went into U.S. Army Intelligence, serving for 29 years, including two combat tours in Afghanistan.

Spy Fiction—and Fact

In the 1990s, wanting to give back to his alma mater, Grimes took a position as an adjunct instructor in justice sciences and coach of the university’s Mock Trial team. He quickly moved into a full-time faculty role and established the pre-law program at UAB. In 2006, he led the Mock Trial team to a national championship.

Building on the successful pre-law program as a template, Grimes is exploring the development of a master’s-level program in intelligence analytics at UAB. He hopes to follow that with a similar program at the undergraduate level. For now, undergraduates can get a taste of what’s to come in his new course, Introduction to the Intelligence Community.

One of the course’s key goals is to dispel common myths about spy tradecraft, Grimes says. “The one that bothers me most is the idea that the community has no ethics, the ‘license-to-kill’ myth,” he says. “It would surprise the public to know the level of legal oversight and scrutiny that intelligence operations must undergo.”

Another irksome detail: Television shows such as "CSI" give students the idea that high-tech gadgets can solve any case in less than an hour—with time remaining for commercials. The reality is that “intelligence work is very demanding and at times very tedious,” Grimes says. “It demands constant vigilance and an ability to sustain laserlike focus over long periods of time, but it can be intellectually rewarding, too.”

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