Senior Advisor on National Security

Job Description

When President Obama took office in 2009, one of his first official acts was to sign executive orders to ban torture, end the CIA’s secret detention system, and close Guantanamo. Standing behind him in the Oval Office were members of the retired military leaders group organized by Human Rights First, which had pressed for that outcome. The executive orders signaled a clear recommitment to upholding the rule of law that had eroded in the wake of 9/11. Since then, however, closing Guantanamo, ending indefinite detention, and ensuring fair trials of terrorism suspects in Article III courts has gotten more difficult. At the same time, the Obama Administration has dramatically escalated targeted killing by drones, while providing only limited public information about the program. These current policies are supported both legally and politically by an armed conflict paradigm for counterterrorism operations adopted after 9/11. Twelve years on, the continuation of this approach raises the specter that military detention, trial, and targeted killing will become permanent features of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, to the detriment of human rights norms and protections.

With the killing of Osama bin Laden and the planned end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, however, there are indications that the Obama Administration is beginning to think about a post-war future. In a recent speech delivered just before leaving his post as Pentagon General Counsel, Jeh Johnson spoke about foreseeing the effective destruction of al Qaeda as an organization: “At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an ‘armed conflict’ against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals …for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible....” Johnson went on to say, “’War’ must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs....In its 12th year, we must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the ‘new normal.’”

Human Rights First seeks an experienced leader and manager with expertise in national security, counterterrorism and/or defense policy to serve as Senior Advisor on National Security. He/she will lead our efforts to shift the United States off the war footing on which it’s current counterterrorism efforts rest and end the law of war rationale which undergirds policies regarding military detention, custody, trial, and targeting.

The ideal candidate will have the savvy and credibility to articulate an effective post-war counterterrorism approach that respects the rule of law and human rights, navigate the complex political landscape of counterterrorism policy, and identify and establish relationships to mobilize key players in the field of national security as well as other potential champions of this approach.

Job Posting Date:  January 22, 2013

Job Closing Date:  February 08, 2013

Job Duties

The Senior Advisor on National Security will be responsible for designing and overseeing legal and policy analysis; policy recommendations for executive branch and congressional decision makers; advocacy strategies to advance those recommendations, including investigative reporting and other research projects and the identification, cultivation, and mobilization of national security messengers; and written and video communication with national security thought leaders, policy makers, the media, experts, and popular audiences.

Leadership and Strategic Direction

  • Lead and direct Human Rights First’s initiative to end the law of war paradigm undergirding U.S. policies on military detention, custody, trial, and targeted killing.
  • Develop a comprehensive strategy and work plan, including specific projects and activities, based on an analysis of opportunities where Human Rights First can make a unique, recognizable, and meaningful impact.
  • Define and develop a strong public profile for this initiative, including the production of news-generating reports and materials and the development of strategies aimed at educating and engaging the U.S. policy and decision makers, national security experts, and the public with respect to these issues, in close consultation with Human Rights First’s Communications department.
  • Cultivate and manage strategic relationships, coalitions, and partnerships to mobilize national security leaders to advance our objectives, including with U.S. federal agencies, Congress, national security think tanks and policy centers, national security scholars, and other experts.

Research, Policy Analysis, and Advocacy

  • Lead program efforts to make significant, regular, and substantial contributions to the debates on this initiative through written products that generate media and public attention; specific and practical policy recommendations; and communicating sophisticated and pragmatic legal and policy analysis to a wide range of audiences, as appropriate, including senior decision makers, the media, and both professional and popular audiences.
  • Serve as a public spokesperson for Human Rights First on issues related to ending the law of war paradigm to a variety of professional and general audiences, including the press.
  • Serve as an advocate for Human Rights First with all branches of the federal government, the media, and professional and other public audiences, in close consultation with the Senior Advocacy Strategist and Law and Security program staff.

Job Requirements

  • Advanced degree in law, national security policy, international affairs, political science, human rights, or other relevant discipline.
  • Significant knowledge of and experience on national security and counterterrorism policy, including work to address human rights concerns relating to those policies.
  • Knowledge of and experience in U.S. government and legislative policy development and decision making, and in the workings of one or more branches of the federal government, in relation to national security, counterterrorism, and human rights.
  • Strong professional profile, credibility, and experience in making or influencing government policies and practices in the areas of national security and human rights.
  • Excellent communication skills; demonstrated abilities to translate highly technical material for a variety of audiences and effectively write and edit the written work of others.
  • Proven ability to work efficiently and effectively under pressure; to work successfully across organization lines and with a diverse team of colleagues; to work in a variety of U.S. settings (including governmental, legal, advocacy, and the media).
  • Strong leadership, strategic, organizational and analytical skills; good judgment; a high degree of initiative; and the desire and ability to thrive and multitask in a demanding, fast-paced, professional environment.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Experience working with the press to achieve advocacy goals.
  • Strong public speaking skills.


Human Rights First offers a competitive salary with a comprehensive benefits package.  The ideal candidate would be able to start immediately.

How To Apply

Please complete the online application found at our website under ABOUT US / JOB OPPORTUNITIES links.

You will be requested to provide:

  • Resume (upload)
  • Cover letter (secondary upload*)
  • Writing sample (secondary upload*)
  • Names and contact details for three (3) references (enter online)

* After completing the initial application and uploading your resume, please select VIEW PROFILE and UPLOAD ATTACHMENT to upload additional documents. You can also log into your profile from the top of the Job Opportunities page. When logged into your profile, you can upload cover letter, writing sample, and any other relevant documents by selecting UPLOAD ATTACHMENT at the top of the page.

Applicants will receive a confirmation email with their username and password once they’ve created a profile. Please keep this information to access your application and make changes at any time.

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis.  Only selected applicants will be contacted for phone or in-person interviews. NO PHONE CALLS, PLEASE.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington DC. We build respect for human rights and the rule of law to help ensure the dignity to which everyone is entitled and to stem intolerance, tyranny, and violence.

Human Rights First is committed to recruiting, retaining, developing, and promoting staff across all programs and departments from a diversity of backgrounds, including members of racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTI people, people with disabilities, people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, people of all nationalities, and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. We believe that a diverse staff and an inclusive work environment that welcomes a range of perspectives help make our advocacy work stronger and more effective.