Owens: A leader enabling highest-security-level research at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – As the first chief security and intelligence officer for Purdue University and the Purdue Applied Research Institute, Jermaine Owens is helping Purdue research move into a larger, highly classified role and transfer Purdue innovations into practical use in the vast U.S. defense arena.

Launched in 2021 as a nonprofit applied research arm of the university, PARI facilitates the transition of Purdue research into areas critical for the economic prosperity and security of the U.S. and the world. 

“PARI is one of the few organizations that is working hand in hand with our key stakeholders to help solve their issues,” Owens says. “Few universities are doing this successfully, let alone doing it at this level.”

Owens, who assumed his role with PARI in July 2022, is working to support the organization’s vision and meet its complex IT, intelligence and program security needs. All are critical to successfully connect Purdue research labs to defense-related, particularly classified,  governmental missions. 

“When we’re moving from basic to applied research, we’re working in a very different way, often on classified or secure projects, and that requires a new level of oversight,” Owens says.

To enhance existing security efforts, Owens is working with stakeholders and partners across campus to develop necessary protocol and procedures and to recruit and train a talented strategic operations team.

The work is familiar to Owens, who brings a wealth of diverse experience leading highly specialized and technical teams in both the military and the private sector. 

Before joining PARI, Owens was a principal strategic advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Security & Safety leadership at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where he was charged with enhancing that laboratory’s cloud infrastructure, modernizing its computing capabilities and strengthening holistic classified operations for the laboratory’s field intelligence element.

Before PNNL, he worked for Amazon Web Services as the head of Department of Defense security activities. While in this role, he and his team made it possible for AWS to compete in the “JEDI Cloud Wars,” a historic initiative for the federal government in partnership with the top cloud service providers to elevate the capabilities of U.S. warfighters and national security.  

 As a U.S. Marine, Owens served on multiple combat tours and, most notably, as a presidential security protective agent at the White House under President Barack Obama. He also served as a deputy detachment commander with the Diplomatic Security Service, managing a contingent of Marines serving as “Ambassadors in Blue” in U.S. embassies and chanceries around the world, protecting critical assets and personnel.  

 Following Owens’ military career at the Department of State, he became a special agent in the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency overseeing the implementation of robust security programs in more than 700 U.S. defense contractor facilities throughout the country. As a special agent, he helped to create the Insider Threat Program, now an official requirement by the government for any company bidding on or doing classified DOD work.

Looking five years down the road, Owens says he sees PARI providing a highly robust and critical service to the federal government. “We’re working to pave the road that our stakeholders will be driving down,” he says of U.S. defense representatives seeking Purdue’s research expertise. “I see the mission owners within the federal government — specifically in the military and the combatant commands —bringing their missions to rest here at Purdue.” 

Writer: Amy Raley, araley@purdue.edu 

Source: Jermaine Owens, owensjd@purdue.edu