A Career in Service

Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Dawn Eilenberger ’79 says Muhlenberg provided an educational foundation for her 35 years in government.

By: Jeremy Fuchs ’14  Thursday, April 4, 2019 01:49 PM

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Even when she was growing up in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Dawn Eilenberger ’79 felt drawn to the law. “I always liked politics, and I thought that, with a law degree, there would be a lot of different jobs I could do,” she says. When she asked a family friend who was a judge, “Where should I go to undergrad if I want to be a lawyer?” he recommended Muhlenberg. Between the judge’s endorsement (he was James Marsh ’50 P’84) and her visit to campus, Eilenberger was sold on the College.

Eilenberger, who graduated with a double major in history and political science, went straight to the University of Virginia School of Law—where she says she felt better prepared than many of her classmates—before embarking on a 35-year career in government.

As a summer intern in the Central Intelligence Agency during law school, Eilenberger was immediately drawn in by the varied nature of the legal work at the agency: It's not all secret stuff and Homeland-esque investigations. She went on to work in the CIA Office of General Counsel, offering legal guidance on operational missions. She served in its administrative law division, dealing with appropriations and ethics. She was the CIA’s director of equal employment, as well as the director of finance.

"I'm one of those people who, after getting comfortable in a job, asks, okay, what's the next challenge?" Eilenberger says of her multiple roles.

In 2005, Eilenberger moved on to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which collects and analyzes intelligence imagery from satellites, airborne platforms and other sources. She worked in numerous capacities there, serving as its director of international affairs and its inspector general. Roles throughout her career involved dealing with Congress and sitting in on meetings of the National Security Council.

She made the leap to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2014; its former leader, James Clapper, recruited her to manage policy and strategy. She served as the deputy director of national intelligence from April 2017 until her retirement last September. "It was a really great job to end my career on, because it focused on integrating the intelligence community’s activities and ensuring we could share information with all of our intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security and international partners,” she says. “The job let me draw on everything I learned over the course of my career.”

In retirement, she's looking forward to pursuing more scholarly endeavors, including perhaps writing a history article on the intelligence community. Now that she’s no longer traveling as frequently, she hopes to engage more with Muhlenberg students and alumni.

Eilenberger looks back on her time at the College fondly. Not only was she able to play field hockey, basketball and softball—“I couldn’t have done that at a large school. I’m not that talented,” she jokes—she also built a strong foundation for her illustrious intelligence career.

"The educational background at Muhlenberg gives you diverse skills so that you’re not pigeon-holed into one career field," she says. "I got to do a lot of very different jobs."