Alumnus Brien Beattie’s pursuit of a master’s degree focusing on the Asia-Pacific set him apart for a career in economics and national security
When Brien Beattie ’08 first began exploring graduate school options in 2006, he knew he wanted to depart from delving into the most popular fields of study within international affairs at the time.
“I graduated from undergrad in 2002, so 9/11 happened during my senior year. So obviously, a lot of people at that time were focused on studying terrorism or the Middle East — that was the hot thing to do,” Beattie explained.
Beattie was working on Capitol Hill after college as a staffer for the U.S. House of Representatives, and because of opportunities that came to him on the Hill, his path led him to look even further east to gain expertise in the region he anticipated would be key in the future: the Asia-Pacific. In 2005, Beattie traveled to several cities in China as part of the U.S.-China Interparliamentary Exchange and got to participate in a similar staff delegation to South Korea in 2006.
“Those trips really opened my eyes to what was going on in that part of the world,” Beattie said. “It really cemented my focus on attending a graduate school where I could study what was going on in Asia.”
GPS was a standout, Beattie explained, because it was the only school that provided a focus on the Pacific region and required coursework in economics and quantitative methods.
“I was not a math or economics person, so I thought that would challenge me while also prepping me to study the Asia-Pacific,” he added.
Beattie noted that studying with professor Tai Ming Cheung and serving as his research assistant for a quarter was transformative for him, particularly Cheung’s study of China’s civil-military fusion and technology development strategy.
“He actually was gracious enough to let me present some of my research from his class during a two-week class to a bunch of IT analysts here in the D.C. area right before I graduated,” Beattie said. “One of the people in the class was a National Security Agency analyst, so I actually got a recruitment offer from that.”
After graduating in 2008 and while he participated in the extensive vetting process to join the NSA, Beattie took what he thought would be a temporary position back on Capitol Hill with the House Oversight Committee — and then the financial markets collapsed.
“The subprime market had already been collapsing, but then that September was when that really turned into a contagion in the financial markets, with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and AIG and all that going on,” Beattie explained. “So the chairman of the committee was tasked with doing a whole series of investigations of the root causes of the financial crisis. I ended up getting involved very heavily in that, and interestingly, my background in business economics, thanks to GPS, ended up becoming a lot more relevant than I thought it was going to be.”
Beattie decided to remain on Capitol Hill for the next couple of years as his work focused on the immediate after-effects of the financial collapse. He then transitioned back into positions focused more on national security and foreign policy, working with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), first at the Department of Defense and then the Department of Homeland Security.
In his current position as the deputy assistant secretary for economic security at the Department of Homeland Security, Beattie and his team lead the department’s work identifying and mitigating national security risks arising from foreign investment in U.S. businesses, as well as coordinating economic security policy touching on critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, and advanced technology protection.
“There are increasing concerns about the national security threats in an era of renewed great power competition, whether from the People’s Republic of China or Russia,” Beattie explained. “You have PRC telecom and technology companies with access to sensitive U.S. data, as well as nation-state threats to the security of critical telecommunications infrastructure, such as the subsea cables that carry 98% of the internet worldwide, including sensitive communications of both private sector and government customers.”
The decisions his office makes — such as evaluating the risks of multibillion dollar foreign investments and whether those deals should move forward — have a direct real-world impact Beattie said he finds very rewarding.
“These are consequential decisions that are reshaping the global business environment,” he said. “It’s so interesting and enjoyable to get a front-row seat to these policy conversations that are going on right now, and GPS played an essential role in preparing me to operate effectively in the modern policy context.”