Getting to Know an IC Attorney
Sunita P. joined the ODNI Office of the General Counsel in 2015. Since she has been at ODNI, she has provided legal support to several ODNI components including the National Counterterrorism Center, the IC Chief Information Officer, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and, most recently, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
Sunita discussed her background and how she provides legal guidance as a lawyer in the IC in the Q & A below.
Q: What did you do before you joined ODNI?
A: I worked on some very interesting immigration, border screening and counterterrorism legal matters. I have some fascinating stories involving snakes in my courtroom and participating in hearings in federal correction centers when the electricity went out.
Q: Why did you choose to work for ODNI?
A: I met this awesome woman who worked at ODNI and wanted to be just like her! My “California heart” (I grew up in Cali right near the beach) loved her down to earth nature, fierce intellect, and sense of fashion. Additionally, I previously had the opportunity to work with IC elements on an initiative to protect the nation. I saw how dedicated IC officers were to the mission and wanted to delve more into that specific project from an IC perspective so I joined ODNI to support it directly.
Q: How long have you been at ODNI?
A: Four and a half years.
Q: What attracted you to ODNI specifically?
A: In the words of Mindy Kaling, “nothing gives you confidence like being a member of a small, weirdly specific, hard-to-find demographic.” I thought my background would fit in well with ODNI’s small, weirdly specific, hard-to-find-demographic.
Q: What is it you do for ODNI? (not your title, what do you do?)
A: I provide legal counsel to the ODNI. This means I tell people “no”, I tell people “yes”, and I tell people “it depends” on matters that usually make for really good movies.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your job?
A: I get to work with people across the U.S. Government on a daily basis on matters that affect society.
Q: What skills do you use in your job?
A: Being an attorney for the ODNI requires me to employ both hard and soft skills. Beyond the obvious skill of being able to interpret laws and regulations and forecast their impact on the client’s needs of today and tomorrow, I believe that soft skills are also essential to being able to help the client deal with some rather complicated, important and sometimes downright scary stuff that they have to handle on a day to day basis. I often wear my “counselor” hat and listen actively to client’s needs, am assertive (ok, some may call it annoying) with questions in order to obtain all necessary facts, collaborate with other members of the IC legal and non-legal communities (this isn’t difficult because I’m the opposite of Myers-Briggs ISFJ), and crack jokes at inappropriate times (this last one isn’t essential for the job). I also find that keeping apprised of technological developments in society is an essential skill, as technology is the veins that supports (and at times hinders) the IC’s business and mission.
Q: How do you keep things fresh and remain intellectually stimulated day-to-day?
A: Being intellectually stimulated is a side effect of doing the work itself so I don’t have to seek out ways to be intellectually stimulated. But, it also helps having colleagues that I can nerd out with and banter on legal dilemmas of the day. A whiteboard and multiple marker colors usually makes its way into these nerd out sessions. The other day, a group of us beatboxed on the topic of space, space law and what to do with “space trash” in the context of military and intelligence operations.
Q: Do you travel for your job?
A: Not much- but that’s because I have two little one’s at home that need me to make them chicken nuggets with tons of ketchup on a daily basis.
Q: What’s something people would be surprised to know about your job?
A: We get a lot of work done in meetings because no one has access to their phones while in the building!
Q: What do you do when you’re not at work?
A: I try to contrive ways to get myself on the Real Housewives reality tv show. Kidding. I have this parenting gig which involves taking care of my two boys, who will be ages 2 and 3 very soon. This means I spend my time cooking creative meals that my toddlers will eat (“cyclops” spaghetti and meatball anyone?), chasing them through puddles/dirt/grass/rocks/sand and having Bollywood and American pop dance parties in our living room. When I’m not taking care of the little ones, I try to participate in events hosted by my law school alma mater (Syracuse University) and in South Asian Bar Association events. I also love baking and cooking (adult-friendly food). Ask OGC- I’ve won a few cooking/baking contests!