An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The Women of the Intel Mafia

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kelley Jeter
  • 7th Air Force, Public Affairs

Four colonels assigned to Osan Air Base and Camp Humphreys met up in March to take a picture and mark a moment that is unusual in their respective units. They are all women who currently lead intelligence units for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army in the Republic of Korea.

U.S. Air Force Col. Natalie Mock is the Chief of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Division at the 607th Air Operations Center, U.S. Air Force Col. Amanda Figueroa commands the 694th ISR Group, U.S. Air Force Col. Michele Olsen is the Director of ISR for 7th Air Force, and U.S. Army Col. Lisa Winegar commands the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade.

All four leaders are charged with providing the best intelligence they can for their respective commanders, about threats to the national safety of the Republic of Korea. They are all leaders of their organizations, ranging from 80 to more than 1,000 intelligence professionals, and all four are wives and mothers.

Women working in intelligence is not a particularly new thing, and neither is women achieving the rank of colonel. But having all women in charge at some of the most senior U.S. military intelligence positions in the Republic of Korea---all at the same time---was unexpected and something they all agree is an encouraging milestone.

Olsen, Mock and Figueroa are the lead figures of what has been dubbed the “Intel Mafia” at Osan Air Base. A term coined by U.S Air Force Col. Barry Leister at 7th Air Force in 2012, the moniker was intended to create a sense of identity and community among disparate intelligence professionals at Osan Air Base, who had previously been organized under a single unit.

“The Intel Mafia gives us a collective identity, that we are all working together towards the same requirements,” said Olsen. “Different organizations could end up being disjointed, but collectively we continue to come back together under a shared identity with a shared problem set; because at the end of the day we need to move out and get after understanding the adversary, and enhancing our knowledge, to inform planners and operators of how to stay one step ahead.”

Olsen graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and says she joined the Air Force “on a bet.”  She took the Air Force Officers Qualifying Test in college when a friend bet that she couldn’t beat his scores. When she did so well that she qualified for a scholarship, she saw it as a way to relieve the burden on her family, who were trying to send four kids to college.

Her initial intent was to do the required four years, then transition to something outside the Air Force, but along the way she learned to love it, and now really enjoys being a leader in Intelligence.

“My favorite thing is empowering and enabling those that are much, much smarter than me to run faster than I ever could,” said Olsen. “The position that I’m in now allows me to advocate for and gain the support of senior leaders to move faster, to get after problems.” She loves removing obstacles for those at the tactical level, so they can move quickly and think several steps ahead.

U.S. Air Force Col. Amanda Figueroa commands around 550 military members and civilians in her position at the 694th ISRG, and says: “I love being able to articulate a vision to my teammates, and see them get energized, and then achieve the goal.”

“They always amaze and surprise me with their ability to get things done,” said Figueroa. “Their ingenuity and their willingness to persevere through challenges just makes us so much better.”

A University of Wisconsin at Madison graduate of AFROTC, her wide-ranging career has included creating targets at Red Flag, working signals intelligence, human intelligence in Iraq, force protection intel, weapons school instructor, Legislative Liaison, special operations and many more areas.  

Figueroa also appreciates the ability of the Intel Mafia to work together and be able support one another.

“It’s really unique here how close we are; very few of my sister group commanders have their Air Operations Center and their Numbered Air Force closely located,” she said. Explaining how each of the intelligence units on base contribute to the overall mission, she said “None of us could succeed without the other. None of us could work in isolation and be good at our jobs.”

U.S. Air Force Col. Natalie Mock leads 90 intelligence professionals at the ISR Division in the 607th Air Operations Center. An Air Force brat who grew up in Europe and Colorado, she decided while in college ROTC that she wanted to be an Intel analyst.

“My father was enlisted in the Air Force; he was a C-130 aircrew member” and he spoke four languages, “but he told me he was a clerk typist,” said Mock. “It wasn’t until I chose and was selected for intel that my father informed me that he had always been an intel analyst, and while on the C-130s he was a Russian linguist.”

Mock loves the career field and all the wide-ranging specialties in which she has worked.

“I love that I have supported every domain: air, land, maritime, space, cyber, information operations, and special operations,” said Mock. “I love that every single job that I have had has been completely different.”

Leadership has also been a challenge she’s enjoyed. “It is very rewarding to be in a position where you can mentor and connect with all of the career field,” said Mock. “Because of my upbringing, I’ve always connected with the enlisted force and held high respect for what they do, and not everyone does, so I promote that,” adding that the young lieutenants and CGO’s she leads in the Air Force now are also extremely impressive.

Olsen pointed out that there are other intelligence members on Osan Air Base, working for the Space Force and other Air Force units, and they are also embraced as members of the Intel Mafia. The community’s informal name has definitely stuck, and to this day, many members are instantly identifiable on jersey Fridays when they sport their distinctive black-on-black designs.

In the spirit of reaching out to other intelligence professionals, they have also brought U.S. Army Col. Lisa Winegar in from Camp Humphreys to be an honorary member of the group.

Commanding a brigade of more than 1,500 soldiers and civilians, Winegar is the highest-ranking female Army intel officer on the peninsula. Her unit is responsible for multi-discipline, ground-based intelligence collection, processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED), Army aerial ISR collection and PED and other forms of collection and analysis.  The brigade also has a variety of programs that train other intelligence professionals throughout the Korean peninsula.

She commissioned out of Army ROTC at Texas Christian University in 2000, and notes how much the world and her career field has changed since then.

“Most of my career has been consumed by the counterinsurgency fight with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Winegar. However, in Korea, the “shift toward peer competition with readiness to fight and win during large scale combat operations, requires a shift in our intelligence posture. Our collectors and analysts need a deep and rich understanding of the operational environment.”

“In addition, the cyber domain is much more robust than when I started my career,” she said. “It requires collectors and analysts to develop a more technical skill set to leverage the vast quantities of data available to us.”

Regarding the challenges of her leadership position, Winegar echoes the theme of enjoying the everyday wins.

“When Soldiers have clear guidance and feel purpose in what they do, they can accomplish anything,” she said. “The Soldiers, civilians, KATUSAs, Korean nationals and contractors are committed to our mission…my job is to ensure they have the resourcing and tools they need to be successful.”

All of the women have spouses and children and have had to do that crucial balancing act of having families and a full-time military career. All have had to make the sacrifice of deployments, late nights at work, staying up all night with sick kids, and felt the pressure of trying to make it to sports or music practices, and keeping a date night with their spouse.

But Olsen says it can be done.

“You don’t have to choose between being a woman and a leader, a mom and a senior military officer,” she said. “I want young officers to know you CAN have it all.”