“I am an advocate of students seeking to serve the country in some capacity. There is no higher calling. I firmly believe that someday, someone will attempt to use weapons of mass destruction, including 'dirty' nuclear devices, on us. We need the best and brightest in government to help counter that threat — the kind of people that Bucknell has historically produced."
The first thing you have to understand about George Kessler ’57 is that he sees the world very differently than most people. As a lifelong National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst, how could he not?
After all, threat assessments and the proliferation of nuclear weapons were just two major issues in which he was involved. "I’m retired, but I watch the news; I see what’s happening in the Middle East and elsewhere, and I’m concerned. We’re five years after 9/11, and I don’t think Americans are focused enough on international terrorism. We live in extremely dangerous times," he warns.
Kessler’s "intelligence" career began at Bucknell, where he enrolled after serving a stint in the Marine Corps. It was in the Corps that he learned Arabic.
"I took pre-law courses at Bucknell and had every intention of going into that field when, in my junior year, I saw an announcement on a bulletin board from representatives of the National Security Agency," he says. "They had an interest in anyone with a background in Middle Eastern languages. I was offered a job. One week after graduation in 1957, I went to work at NSA."
Kessler is a straight-talking man with a whipsaw sense of humor.
But ask him to describe his more than 36 years of NSA service, and he says that all former NSA employees are sworn to secrecy. "When you retire or leave an intelligence agency, you sign a non-disclosure agreement. I can, however, say that I worked as an Arabic linguist for 14 years during my career."
"I loved going to work," Kessler says. "I hated to leave NSA. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I retired. The agency was the target of massive budget slashing; programs and people were cut, so I got out because a project that I was heavily committed to was cut."
Kessler’s "retirement" lasted 10 years.
"After September 11, I was called back as a senior linguist to help train newly hired linguists. I retired, for a second time, in May 2005." Kessler now lives with his wife of 52 years in Lewisburg, where he gardens and plays golf. "I also enjoy spending time with my four kids and six grandkids."
Meanwhile, Kessler has one last message: “I am an advocate of students seeking to serve the country in some capacity. There is no higher calling. I firmly believe that someday, someone will attempt to use weapons of mass destruction, including 'dirty' nuclear devices, on us. We need the best and brightest in government to help counter that threat — the kind of people that Bucknell has historically produced."
Posted Summer 2007
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