In this new monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers. 

Matt Lembright serves as the director of federal applications at Censys, where he works with federal organizations to find exposed assets, threat actors, and accomplish missions with Censys’ datasets and products gained from its 24-hour scans of the entire internet. He served in the U.S. Army from 2009 – 2013, where he led the Army’s first Cyber Analysis Company within the service’s 780th Military Intelligence Brigade.

How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?


My career in the defense industry started when I commissioned as an Army Intelligence Officer from Mercyhurst University ROTC. This worked out well as I graduated from Mercyhurst’s intelligence studies program which gave me a fantastic appreciation for the relevance of ancient and recent intelligence practices, the relevance of history on current geopolitics, and the ability to present actionable intelligence to decision makers.

After commissioning, I built and led a multi-disciplinary intelligence team in Iraq to find insurgents – this was my first experience with a real-world “customer” where I quickly learned how important it was to live the life of the person consuming the products we produced.

Knowing exactly what tasks they had to perform and how accomplishing those tasks relied on our intelligence was critical to our success and a lesson I try to take with me, no matter the job.

What are some challenges you faced working through your career?

As Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

I have found the hardest one is to know yourself, not just personally, but as an organization and among allies. Knowing the adversary is already a motivator in the Military Intelligence world; and as humans I think we always find it easier to find faults in others versus finding faults in ourselves.

Knowing oneself requires humility, which many times can contradict mentalities in the intelligence and defense worlds where some view indecision or changing one’s mind as weak.

But the ability to pause, take a step back, and view your organization, operations, successes, and failures without bias is a liberating experience that many times can make you more efficient, more successful, and put you at a decisive advantage over the adversary.

The other thing I’ve learned is that when one faces challenges from others within an organization, the best way to help them adopt such practices is to practice them as individually and locally as possible – your success will become infectious.

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Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?

In Iraq, I had two senior officers who were problematic, to say the least. They were unprofessional, inappropriate, and did not contribute to success; however, there were one or two occasions when they made a salient point.

It was at that point I told myself that every experience is a learning opportunity either in what I could adopt or avoid completely, it is up to me to leverage those experiences to accomplish my mission and protect my Soldiers.

The other critical lesson I learned was that despite someone possibly being a bad mentor or influence, they still might have valid points – you should never dismiss someone entirely, lest you miss out on attaining valuable advice or intel that could prove critical to the mission or simply to your daily life.

I have also had many fantastic mentors who contrasted themselves from the bad ones by not trying to be my mentor, but by setting an example that I gravitated towards. Their mentorship was simply doing what they thought was right and answering my questions as a peer instead of a “mentee”; they wanted me to be myself, rather than attempt to mold me in their image.

All this having been said, I do believe I have had a sufficient, albeit eclectic, collection of mentors along the way. I think it’s up to the individual to decide who their mentors are organically, and for the mentors to simply do what they know is right and be available and welcoming to those curious enough to walk the same path.

How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
One saying I took from the Army is: “Set them up for success.” I try to put myself in their shoes, think about what I would or would not know, and give them enough information to become acquainted with whatever new experience they’re entering. I then seek to make myself available to offer resources along with the lessons I’ve learned treading similar paths as theirs, being careful to never tell them what they should or should not do. At its core, learning needs to be an individual experience so that the student can squeeze all of the knowledge from the event as possible; they might come to the same conclusion I could have given them, but then it would not have been earned. My goal is to share my experiences from which they can hopefully learn to facilitate their own individual journey.

What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?

 From my perspective, the data gatherers (developers, data scientists) and the data interpreters (analysts) are unsung yet critical. I think operators and some of the other “front line” roles, as well as executives get a lot of attention as they are the closest interaction most folks in the public have with the cyber and defense industries.

But in order for decision makers to make decisions that are successful enough to keep them employed and to appropriately prioritize their operators, they need not only be sufficient, but relevant and accurate data via intelligence to accomplish these goals.

Similarly, operators without prioritization based on solid data are incorrectly utilized, which can cause strategic defeat. I think we are now in an era where those who possess the most timely and relevant data are the ones who win.

How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?
The first step is for the industry to acknowledge the pivotal role cyber and general intelligence plays in contextualizing strategy and implementing changeful operations. This then prioritizes the sector of intelligence.

After that, I think a detailed examination of the routines and tasks of analysts must be conducted to understand where inefficiencies exist and where current tools can be applied or where improvements can be made, including investing in the analysts themselves.

Finally, as the analysts use their human brains to achieve intelligence successes, document them and see where some of the more routine tasks can be supplemented with AI/ML, via a methodical, well-documented process.

How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?

From my own limited viewpoint, I see the “doers” and those making an impact are the ones really leading the charge on diversity and inclusion.

Those who are laser focused on the mission simply do not have the time to trivialize such nuanced issues as race, orientation, religion, etc. What makes them successful leaders is an inherent, prioritized understanding that the talent needed to defend Democracy must come from everyone this great country has attracted.

I’m constantly encouraged to see how diversity is making us stronger and increasing the cost of our adversaries.

What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?

Keep an open mind and trust yourself. There will no doubt be people “telling you how it is”—but no one has a monopoly on wisdom or knowledge.

Our respective roles and duties in service to the greater mission at hand are too important to make up our minds and not question assumptions—just don’t let it get in the way of making decisions.

In remembering that truth is never 100%, we remember that we have to make decisions based on the best information we have at the time.

What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?

I view cyber, and cyber intelligence, as the shaping force behind how national defense is strategized—if that’s not already the recognized broader view.

Cyber is at the center of command and control for arguably every developed nation’s defense apparatus from front line units to supply chain; adversaries know this and are attempting to infiltrate at any and all levels to gain an advantage should kinetic conflicts emerge.

This says nothing of the civilian arena of critical infrastructure and key resources, and thus, I believe this is where the most work is to be done from a policy standpoint in the U.S., so the civilian sector fully understands their place as a target in cyber geopolitics and assumes the awesome responsibility of defending their environments as essential to the preservation of the Nation.

Who are the Force Multipliers in your community? Let us know at [email protected]