The Spy Who Tracked Down the Gold
Former CIA Agent—and Bentley Alumna—Joins Finance Faculty
Growing up in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, Liz Bethoney dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Instead, her life took a very different path, including an Economics-Finance degree from Bentley that led to a career in the U.S. intelligence community, where she found herself enmeshed in a world of illicit finance and international intrigue, tracking down drug dealers, terrorists and other “bad actors” as a CIA agent. Now, Bethoney has returned to her alma mater to teach a new course that draws upon her international crime-fighting career.
For Bethoney ’03, the transition to secret agent was hardly a straight line. “When I transferred to Bentley, I didn’t want anything to do with math,” she says. However, her first Economics course revealed a passion for statistical analysis, and by graduation, Bethoney had her sights set on a career in public service. Initially, she pictured herself as an analyst with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But soon after moving to Washington, D.C., she applied for a job with a much different federal entity: the Central Intelligence Agency.
“This was soon after 9/11,” Bethoney explains, “and the CIA had gone through a huge change where it was putting more emphasis on analysis. At the same time, the agency was realizing that to pursue the terrorists and other bad guys, you don’t actually follow them — you follow their money. So, the CIA was looking specifically for people who had the knowledge and skills to understand and investigate financial transactions.”
As patriotism surged following the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA was getting more than 3,000 job applications each month. Bethoney credits her Bentley background with helping her stand out from the pack: “I think they really liked my resume because of its strong financial component.”
For her first assignment, Bethoney joined the CIA’s Illicit Finance Group, where she analyzed how Iran was funding its nuclear weapons programs. Although she can’t discuss details of her work — like most things in the world of espionage, such information is strictly “need-to-know” — it’s clear that Bethoney excelled at her job: Shortly after completing her assignment and transferring to the U.S. Treasury Department, she became the first Treasury agent invited to join a special operations team with the U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration.
While at DEA, Bethoney was able to showcase her skills in the field, traveling to Central America, South America and Europe to interview informants, partner with local law enforcement and liaise with diplomats. “I wasn’t breaking down doors, and I wasn’t able to handle a gun,” Bethoney laughs, “but the work we were doing was pretty cool, and our successes were incredibly rewarding.” Among those successes: Rooting out and shutting down — after an arduous three-year investigation — a foreign bank facilitating illicit activities for myriad criminal networks around the globe.
Part of Bethoney’s role was to teach domestic and foreign colleagues how to identify and investigate financial crimes. Bethoney will do the same for Bentley students in her new Anti-Money Laundering Compliance and Risk Management course. “This isn’t a textbook class,” she explains, noting that the focus is on illicit financial activities in the real world. “Every time there’s a fine, sanction or enforcement action, tons of information becomes available through the press release or published findings. So, it’s really important to know how to read those tea leaves.”
Bethoney is excited to be teaching at her alma mater, sharing her passion for fighting financial crime with students and giving them a window into how financial analysis can be applied in law enforcement. Drawing heavily upon her U.S. intelligence background, all information shared in Bethoney’s classroom will be “need-to-know.”