Jim Olson

Professor, George Bush School of Government and Public Service

Expert on

  • Motivational
  • Ethics
  • Inspirational
  • Adversity 
  • Counterintelligence

Fee Range


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Professor Olson received his law degree from the University of Iowa in 1969. He is a Senior Lecturer at the Bush School, where he teaches courses on intelligence, national security, and international crisis management. He served for over 25 years in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency, mostly overseas in clandestine operations. In addition to several foreign assignments, he was Chief of Counterintelligence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Professor Olson has been awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, the Donovan Award, and several Distinguished Service Citations. He is the recipient of awards from the Bush School and the Association of Former Students for excellence in teaching. Professor Olson is the author of Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying, published by Potomac Books in 2006.


Imagine living a lie for 31 years. That’s what James Olson and his wife Meredith did while spying for the CIA. Spying for his country was the furthest thing from his mind when Olson, a farm boy from Iowa, received a mysterious phone call that changed his life forever. In his presentation, Olson takes you inside the real world of being a CIA spy. He describes the rigorous training they receive and the difficult dilemmas that they face in the field on a daily basis. Olson explains how the global war on terror affects everyone and that the country needs to know that the United States will be hit again within its borders. The United States needs spies to protect the country and its vital interests.


James Olson, former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence, takes the audience into the real world of spying by discussing several cases of Americans he knew personally who sold out our country for money, ego, or sex. The subtitle of his presentation could be “traitors I have known.” He emphasizes that America is the target of several foreign intelligence services, most notably the Russians, Chinese, and Cubans, who are aggressively stealing American secrets, intellectual property, and technology. America’s adversaries are also using cyber to hack into our classified data bases, financial sector, and electrical grid. Mr. Olson will leave time at the end of his presentation for questions from the audience.


James Olson, the former Chief of Soviet Operations at the CIA, spent his 31-year undercover career at the CIA focused on Russia.  He first started tracking Vladimir Putin when Putin was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB in East Germany in the 1980s.  Mr. Olson will share with the audience his knowledge of Putin and describe the many assassinations and atrocities for which Putin has been responsible, most recently in Ukraine, but also in Chechnya, Syria, Georgia, and elsewhere.  This is the story of a monster, a man with no respect for human life, international law, or national sovereignty.  Mr. Olson will draw on his personal operational experiences in Moscow to highlight how Putin and the KGB have operated.  He will leave time at the end for questions from the audience.