Chanel A. Duncan ’01 is a counterintelligence analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton in Virginia with the title “lead associate.”
Duncan joined the U.S. Army National Guard while attending Georgetown. “I enlisted in the Army for two reasons: I didn’t receive a generous financial aid package my sophomore year, so I couldn’t afford tuition. And I thought joining the service would be an honorable way to pay for college while serving my country. I was greatly affected by the events of September 11th, which happened just after I arrived at college. I could see the smoke at the Pentagon across the Potomac River from my room at Georgetown, and this left a huge impression on me.” Duncan majored in government and minored in French. “I have always been drawn to languages: I learned Spanish as a child from my Colombian babysitter, and, having grown up in Brooklyn, I became interested in Russian. I also spent a school year abroad in France while I was at Hotchkiss. I speak basic Spanish, Russian, and Dari, and I am fluent in French.”
After graduating from Georgetown, Duncan completed the Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. As a second lieutenant on a peacekeeping mission with the U.S. Army 29th Infantry Division, she served as the G2 (military intelligence) targeting officer in Kosovo for about a year. “I briefed the commander and the command staff during weekly meetings on high-priority targets and directed and coordinated the consolidation of intelligence used by search operations and raids. I also coordinated with the U.S. State Department to ensure individuals who posed a threat to national security were blacklisted from entrance into the U.S.” She was then assigned to the G2 battle captain where she authored weekly intelligence reports and briefed Commanding General Douglas Earhart and his staff. She informed operational decisions and ensured cohesion and information-sharing among staff at the Tactical Operations Center. Thanks to her French language skills, Duncan was often the liaison between the U.S. Army G2 and French general officers.
Upon returning to the States in 2007, Duncan became a consultant at Booz Allen on the Integrated Gaming System team, where she provided modeling, simulation, and analytical support for the Office of the Secretary of Defense for several strategic-level defense planning scenarios. Returning to Fort Huachuca, Duncan completed the Counterintelligence Special Agent Course, which was both challenging and rewarding. As a result of her training she was assigned to work as a counterintelligence analyst in support of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command. From this role, Duncan was eventually promoted to lead associate.
As a lead associate, Duncan volunteered for a six-month deployment to Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan in 2013. She served as the in-country “task lead and all-source analyst,” providing support to a joint Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Department of Treasury mission, the Afghan Threat Finance Cell. Before moving to her assignment, Duncan spent a few days in Kabul on the base with the DEA and Department of Homeland Security special agents. Driving around the streets of Kabul in an armored vehicle was eye-opening. The constant threat of danger, the stark poverty, and the lack of infrastructure made Duncan appreciate her life in the U.S. As a contractor, she was unable to carry a weapon, and being less than a mile away from a suicide bomb attack on the National Directorate of Security highlighted just how vulnerable she was. She says, “The events of that day made my decision to leave the safety and security of my home in Virginia for a warzone very real.”
While assigned to Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif, Duncan was responsible for identifying Taliban, al-Qaida, and other insurgent groups. She managed daily oversight of six Booz Allen analysts throughout Afghanistan. “They had to check in with me every day so that we could make sure they were safe. We were looking for financial connections to terrorism or to the drug industries.” Despite the living conditions, Duncan enjoyed her time in Afghanistan, learning about the culture and the food. “I lived in a small tent with nine other females with only sheets hung for privacy. I was able to make good friends of local Afghans who worked on the base. We hear about corruption and terrorism, but there are many hard-working, decent people there.”
Currently based in Arlington, Virginia, Duncan works for Booz in a variety of roles. “I am responsible for eight analysts and the delivery to clients of things like monthly status reports, intelligence information reports, threat summary reports, threat briefings, and command briefings. Analysts are responsible for the databases used by the intelligence community to identify threats and links to terrorism. A typical day for me might include meeting with Army G2 leadership at the Pentagon or FBI leadership and/or special agents.”
Technology has changed the world of intelligence. “We have incredible capabilities now that have transformed the business. As analysts, we always have more to learn, but improvements in technology and the invention of software like Palantir does much of the work we used to do by hand. Intelligence work has become more efficient.” Duncan says it is really gratifying to work for the safety of soldiers or other entities. “It is very cool when our investigation reveals a potential threat, so that we can ensure no harmful outcomes.” Duncan is now back in school in her spare time at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, working on an executive master’s in business administration. “This degree will provide me the flexibility to move into more senior leadership roles and to become more involved in the business side of things at Booz Allen or pursue marketing and business development in the commercial world.”
Duncan remains grateful for the opportunity to attend Hotchkiss. “I came to Hotchkiss through the Oliver Scholars Program, which prepares talented African-American and Latino students for success at independent schools and colleges. It was a culture shock, but the School prepared me well for my career. I remember Dave Wilson’s grammar drills and the dreaded red ink. I now instill a dread in others when I am doing the proofreading! Hotchkiss provides an incredible educational experience by giving individual attention.”