Jim Olson

Jim Olson
Olson headshot photo

Book this Speaker

To learn more about Jim Olson or book them as a speaker, please contact us.


Born in LeMars, Iowa., James Olson received his B.A. in mathematics and economics and his J.D. in international law from the University of Iowa. Olson currently serves as a member of Iowa Bar.  In the U.S. Navy, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander, USNR.

Olson is a career officer in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency, serving mostly overseas in clandestine operations.  Previously, he served as Chief of Counterintelligence at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  Overseas assignments include the U.S.S.R., Austria, and Mexico. 

Olson speaks the following foreign languages: French, German, Russian, and Spanish.

He is a recipient of the Intelligence Medal of Merit, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, the Counterintelligence Excellence Medal, the Donovan Award, and several distinguished achievement awards.  He was awarded the Silver Star Award at the Bush School for excellence in teaching.    

He was assigned by the CIA to the George Bush School of Government and Public Service in College Station, Texas, as an officer-in-residence in December 1997.  He teaches courses on intelligence, counterintelligence, and national security. Olson is a frequent guest lecturer at other courses, conferences, and symposia.  In August 2000, he was appointed a permanent faculty member of the Bush School.  He is now currently serving as a Professor Emeritus of the Practice.

He has authored works such as, “The Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence,” “Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying,” and “To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence.”

His outside interests include church, tennis, bicycling, baseball (avid fan), foreign languages, history, literature.

Speaking Topics

A Different Kind of Career: Under Cover in the CIA
James Olson, former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence, will describe his undercover career in the CIA, including how he was recruited, the training he received, the risks he and his wife faced (she was also a CIA operative), and the effect of this undercover lifestyle on their marriage and children.  Mr. Olson will also discuss the role of the CIA in the current Global War on Terrorism and other current issues affecting the safety and security of American citizens.  Finally, Mr. Olson will take the audience on an actual espionage operation he and his wife carried out in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.  Time will be left at the end for Q&A.

Traitors I Have Known
James Olson, former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence, will discuss how our country’s security has been undermined by treachery from within.  He will do so in the context of four Americans he knew and worked with who passed secrets to the Russians in return for money, ego, or sex.  This topic will be relevant to anyone concerned about the insider threat and the need to protect sensitive information.  There will be time at the end for questions from the audience on any subject related to national security

Putin, Russia, and Ukraine
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, 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.

Speaking Topics

  • A Different Kind of Career: Under Cover in the CIA
  • Traitors I Have Known
  • Putin, Russia, and Ukraine