Spy Stories: Nic McKinley’s Dangerous Missions

Nic McKinley is as close as it comes to Tom Clancy’s fictional hero Jack Ryan, the larger-than-life CIA analyst, field operative, US Marine, and sometimes stockbroker.

McKinley is a former CIA officer and US Air Force pararescueman, and a Harvard graduate who worked for East Coast investment banks. He also spent 17 years parachuting out of helicopters, dodging bullets, and coming face-to-face with terrorists.

“Any time you’re in those situations I have what I call my ‘Rules of Operation’. The first rule is to be cool. The second rule is to not get caught. And the third rule is that if you do get caught, you refer to Rule 1 and just be cool,” McKinley said. 

He now runs Dallas-based DeliverFund, the world’s only private intelligence agency focused on combatting human trafficking, one of his biggest passions and challenges. McKinley also coaches executives on leadership skills and consults on Hollywood movies working with A-list actors. While he won’t name names, Amazon invited McKinley to star in a video as the real-life Jack Ryan.

Nic McKinley, ex-CIA officer and pararescueman
Even McKinley (right) sees the resemblance to Jack Ryan (left) played by actor John Krasinski

Moving mountains

Rescuing people is in McKinley’s DNA. He grew up in northern Montana and spent his weekends as a ski patroller and volunteer for the search and rescue team.

By 18, he was a US Air Force pararescueman - PJs, as they are sometimes called - part of a special ops unit who parachuted into difficult places to offer medical treatment or recover combat staff. PJs also bring back NASA astronauts after water landings and move mountains - literally.

Spy Stories: Nic McKinley’s Dangerous Missions

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Nic McKinley is as close as it comes to Tom Clancy’s fictional hero Jack Ryan, the larger-than-life CIA analyst, field operative, US Marine, and sometimes stockbroker.

McKinley is a former CIA officer and US Air Force pararescueman, and a Harvard graduate who worked for East Coast investment banks. He also spent 17 years parachuting out of helicopters, dodging bullets, and coming face-to-face with terrorists.

“Any time you’re in those situations I have what I call my ‘Rules of Operation’. The first rule is to be cool. The second rule is to not get caught. And the third rule is that if you do get caught, you refer to Rule 1 and just be cool,” McKinley said. 

He now runs Dallas-based DeliverFund, the world’s only private intelligence agency focused on combatting human trafficking, one of his biggest passions and challenges. McKinley also coaches executives on leadership skills and consults on Hollywood movies working with A-list actors. While he won’t name names, Amazon invited McKinley to star in a video as the real-life Jack Ryan.

Nic McKinley, ex-CIA officer and pararescueman
Even McKinley (right) sees the resemblance to Jack Ryan (left) played by actor John Krasinski

Moving mountains

Rescuing people is in McKinley’s DNA. He grew up in northern Montana and spent his weekends as a ski patroller and volunteer for the search and rescue team.

By 18, he was a US Air Force pararescueman - PJs, as they are sometimes called - part of a special ops unit who parachuted into difficult places to offer medical treatment or recover combat staff. PJs also bring back NASA astronauts after water landings and move mountains - literally.

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Rescuing people is in McKinley’s DNA. He grew up in northern Montana and spent his weekends as a ski patroller and volunteer for the search and rescue team.

By 18, he was a US Air Force pararescueman - PJs, as they are sometimes called - part of a special ops unit who parachuted into difficult places to offer medical treatment or recover combat staff. PJs also bring back NASA astronauts after water landings and move mountains - literally.

“We had someone who had their arm trapped between two rocks on a cliff face because a massive boulder had shifted. We had to actually lift the boulder, and that was incredibly dangerous because the boulder was so heavy we had smoke coming out of the knots on the rope,” McKinley told SPYSCAPE. 

After a decade in the Air Force, McKinley studied management at Harvard and was working for an investment bank on the East Coast when the CIA made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. 

Nick McKinley, ex-CIA officer and pararescueman
McKinley teaches leadership skills to C-Suite executives and coaches A-list celebs

CIA undercover

The Agency offered McKinley a job working in ‘full-spectrum intelligence operations’, which meant gathering intelligence in Iraq and other war zones where he’d need to run seven-minute miles, move easily from machine guns to grenade launchers and pistols, and have a sub-2 second draw.

“That was our whole job, to come face to face with terrorists and figure out what they’re up to and either stop that or lead to the next piece so we could stop something bigger,” McKinley said, adding happily, “I felt my life was on the line at least weekly.”

His CIA unit specialized in high-risk, high-threat areas, the more hostile, the better. During one mission in Africa - he still can’t name the country - he was surrounded by dozens of foreign fighters who tried to pull him from his vehicle at gunpoint.

McKinley resolved the situation by finding common ground. He told the fighters that he couldn’t leave his vehicle because his commander would beat him. They appreciated his dilemma as they faced the brutal wrath of their own leaders. The fighters backed off and eventually allowed McKinley to drive on.

“It is quite easy to negotiate with your enemies - or people who may be your enemies - as long as you find common ground. Find ways that humanize you to them and them to you. It makes it easier to figure out what you want, and what you are doing together,“ he said. 

Nick McKinley, ex-CIA officer and pararescueman
McKinley runs the world’s only private intelligence agency focused on combatting human trafficking

DeliverFund operations

McKinley used to deploy on CIA operations eight to 10 months a year, every year, but he retired when he decided to remarry and have a child.

He’s now focused on training ex-intelligence officers and law enforcement how to use cyber operations to locate human traffickers who place ads online. It’s a crime he became interested in while working in Afghanistan and realizing no Western intelligence agency was set up to tackle it.

DeliverFund is staffed with former CIA, NSA, and Special Ops officers who aim to stop the trafficking of children and vulnerable adults - a criminal enterprise estimated to be worth $150bn. It’s one of his biggest challenges so far.

“The reality is, law enforcement could do those operations all day every day for the next 10 years and finally start to get to the bottom of it. It is a massive, massive problem,” McKinley said.

As for Jack Ryan, the fictional CIA analyst and skilled fighter with a Ph.D. in economics, McKinley admits there are some parallels.

“When you look at the Jack Ryan character I’d say parts of my life very much resemble that,” McKinley said. “I would be the fighter, shooter, athlete, operational facilitator.”

McKinley feels the character is really an amalgamation of two separate experts, however, one is a top CIA analyst, the other a skilled field operator.

“You can’t be a heart surgeon and a world-class attorney at the same time,” he said. “That’s why the whole Jack Ryan character - and also any character where someone speaks seven languages and is a world-class marksman, and is a world-class athlete - that just isn’t real because there isn’t enough time in the day for anyone to be an expert on everything.”

Maybe not, but McKinley comes close.

Nic McKinley has trained former NSA, CIA, and Special Operations officers as well as law enforcement agencies on counterterrorism and counter human trafficking operations. He has also coached C-Suite executives on leadership skills and consulted on Hollywood movies. To learn how Nic’s expertise can improve your business contact SPYEX.

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