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Trump's counterterrorism pick is Joe Maguire of Tampa, now helping commando families

Al-Qaida was a focus when President George Bush created the National Counterterrorism Center in 2003. Bush got a tour two years later from Interim Director John Brennan. The center faces new challenges today as Joe Maguire of Tampa awaits confirmation as the new director. [AP (2005)]
Published Jul. 4, 2018

TAMPA — The intelligence leader who keeps tabs on terrorist threats and communicates them to the nation will be a retired vice admiral from Tampa, if President Donald Trump has his way.

For the past five years, former Navy SEAL Joe Maguire has served as president and chief executive of the Tampa-based Special Operations Warrior Foundation, helping raise tens of millions of dollars for wounded, ill and injured commandos and their survivors.

Now, Trump has nominated Maguire to run the National Counterterrorism Center, coordinating the fight against terrorism while overseeing an organization of about 1,000 people and a budget that's secret.

"He would tell the American people and other key leaders in our government, 'Here is what the threat looks like and here is how it is changing,'?" said Nicholas Rasmussen, who until six months ago ran the Counterterrorism Center.

If confirmed by the Senate, Maguire, 66, would serve under Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates — who heads one of the nation's 17 intelligence agencies — but would report directly to the president in his areas of responsibility.

Maguire, an affable native New Yorker who speaks with a strong Brooklyn accent, would bring a reputation for mental toughness to the job: His Navy SEAL class named him "Honor Man" after he managed to finish the demanding SEAL training regimen in 1977 despite a broken leg.

In e-mails to the Tampa Bay Times, top military leaders praised Maguire as the right person for the job as threats facing the United States are shifting. The Counterrorism Center was created in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when al-Qaida was the focus.

Maguire supporters include long-time friend William McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL admiral and former commander of Tampa-based Special Operations Command; Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has known Maguire for nearly 40 years; and retired Army general Doug Brown, another former SOCom commander who serves on the Special Operations Warrior Foundation board.

"He is smart, understands the requirements for intelligence, and is a team-builder who can pull all of these different agencies together to get the best intelligence picture for America," Brown said.

Elected leaders sang Maguire's praises, too, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who noted Maguire's earlier service with the Counterterrorism Center as deputy director for plans and operations and said he looks forward to reviewing the nomination as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn pointed to the work Maguire has done with the foundation in Tampa.

"In spite of no longer wearing a uniform," Buckhorn said, "Joe made sure that nobody was left behind, especially the children and families of those who paid the ultimate price."

• • •

Maguire retired as a vice admiral in 2010 after 36 years in uniform. Because his nomination is pending confirmation, he declined comment for this story. No date has yet been set for a confirmation hearing.

Maguire joined the Navy in 1974, finishing SEAL training three years later.

"We started with 149 people," he said in a 2015 interview. "We graduated with 24."

Maguire had a stress fracture, but his skills as a swimmer and his mental toughness enabled him to finish anyway, according to the Naval Special Warfare website, and earn the title Honor Man as "that man whose sheer force of example inspires his classmates to keep going when they're ready to quit."

Maguire served on SEAL teams from 1985 until 1995, taking time to earn a master's degree in intelligence from the Navy's Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and later to serve a security fellowship at Harvard University. In 2001, he began a three-year stint at SOCom's MacDill Air Force Base headquarters. In 2004 he became head of all Navy commandos and only the fifth SEAL to rise to the rank of a two-star admiral.

In 2007, Maguire received his third star and finished out his Navy career at the Counterterrorism Center.

Maguire retired in 2010 and went to work as a vice president for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton before taking the reigns of the Special Operations Warriors Foundation in 2013. He receives a compensation package of about $262,000 a year.

The foundation, which rates four out of four stars from the Charity Navigator watchdog organization, provides a $3,000 grant to wounded, ill and injured commandos and scholarships to children of commandos who have died.

The foundation helped 121 children graduate from college and was supporting 181 still attending a post-secondary institution, according to tax forms it filed for 2016. All told, the organization pledged to fund the education of nearly 700 children of commandos who have died.

In 2016, the organization took in slightly over $14 million, down from more than $17 million the previous year, according to the tax forms.

• • •

In his new role, Maguire would be facing challenges different from the last time he worked at the Counterterrorism Center.

Among its many missions, the center chairs interagency meetings on emerging threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad, produces analytic assessments, maintains the national repository of known and suspected terrorists, and issues warnings.

The center is now tracking jihadi organizations such as the Islamic State as well as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram in Africa. Risk from well-organized operations such as al-Qaida have diminished, said former director Rasmussen, but as the United States has pulled back troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is less intelligence being gathered.

In addition, new threats have arisen through the work of individuals like Omar Mateen, who killed 49 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.

"We are looking at a more diversified and some ways more challenging threat picture," Rasmussen said. "Joe will have to figure out how to do more, or least as much as before, but with fewer resources."

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman

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