Working as the General Counsel to the Minority Staff of the House Select Committee on Intelligence gives Michael Bahar ’02 the opportunity to contribute to our country’s national security mission on a daily basis. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Bahar knew he wanted to pursue a career in public service from an early age.
When Bahar first arrived at HLS in 1999, he explored a variety of opportunities available to students. He enrolled in the Prisoners Legal Assistance Project, became involved in the Ethics Law and Biotechnology Society (ELAB), directed the Parody, and served as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard College. Shortly after 9/11, during Bahar’s 3L year, security law issues rose to the top of the national agenda. Bahar chose national security law as a path to public service. “I was always interested in military service,” he says. “With events at the time, national security work seemed like the most tangible way to directly serve the public.”
Before he graduated from HLS, Bahar was commissioned into the United States Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). He began basic training the morning after he sat for the New York State bar exam. While waiting for his Active Duty service to begin, Bahar was a Litigation Associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison LLP in NY City for ten months. His first JAG Corps post was as a criminal prosecutor in Jacksonville, Florida. Bahar then deployed to the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa as the Navy lawyer for the USS Nassau Strike Group, where he advised on the law of naval operations and conducted anti-piracy operations. Bahar was later stationed twice at the Pentagon, first serving as Aide to the Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Navy and then as Deputy Legal Counsel to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, both times working administrative law issues. He was then stationed in Virginia Beach with Naval Special Warfare Development Group, during which time he found himself jumping out of planes and advising on cutting edge legal issues involving the use of force.
Bahar’s time with the SEALs was cut short by a call to work at the White House. Between 2010 and 2012, Bahar served as Deputy Legal Advisor to the White House’s National Security Staff. Bahar advised President Obama’s National Security team on a broad array of issues, including foreign relations law, presidential emergency and war powers, intelligence law, information safeguarding and security, ethics, and congressional oversight. He weighed in on the executive response to some of the most pressing events in recent years, including the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Dealing with such a wide range of issues gave Bahar broad expertise.
Less than two weeks after leaving the White House, Bahar deployed to Afghanistan. There, he advised a Special Operations Task Force, working closely with his Afghan counterparts to improve their special operations systems.
Bahar left Active Duty in 2012 for his current position as General Counsel to the Minority Staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He describes leaving Active Duty as a very difficult career decision, but he enjoys being in the Reserves. In his current position, Bahar provides legal advice to Democratic committee members charged with overseeing seventeen elements of the U.S. intelligence community. As in his previous positions, Bahar does not shy away from hot-button national security challenges. His committee has recently addressed terrorism in North Africa, cybersecurity issues in U.S.-China relations, and the leaks to the NSA programs.
Bahar recommends that HLS students interested in national security work consider joining the military. “It’s the best way to break into the field,” he argues, “because military duty will help you build much needed credibility and substantive expertise. “National security is a small, specialized field, and it’s based largely on trust,” Bahar says. Although entering such a tight-knit field can be difficult, Bahar encourages students to relentlessly pursue opportunities because “once you’re in, it is far easier to move within the field–the first national security job you find will not be your last.” And there are many personal and professional rewards. “Your work will always be fascinating, important and humbling,” Bahar remarks.
Written by OPIA’s Summer Fellow Samantha Sokol