Assistant Attorney General for National Security: Who Is John Carlin?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

John P. Carlin was confirmed as head of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) by the U.S. Senate on April 1, 2014. He had filled the post in an acting capacity since March 8, 2013, and was nominated to the position on a permanent basis by President Barack Obama on September 10, 2013.


Carlin was born in New York City in 1973 and grew up there. His father Roy is an attorney and his mother Patricia is a teacher and poet. Carlin attended Williams College with a junior year abroad at Oxford, earning a degree in English and political science in 1995. His college thesis was on Shakespeare as a political philosopher. After graduation, he spent a year as a program manager at Freedom House, an organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom throughout the world. He also ran the successful 1996 campaign of Gifford Miller for New York City Council. Carlin then enrolled at Harvard Law, earning his J.D. in 1999.


Carlin joined the Justice Department soon after law school as part of the Attorney General’s Honors Program, which brings top law school graduates into entry-level positions at DOJ. His first assignment was as a trial attorney in the tax division’s criminal enforcement department. Carlin remained in that post until the fall of 2001. The 9/11 attacks occurred shortly before Carlin took up a job in the U.S. Attorney’s office. It affected him deeply; during the attacks his brother-in-law was across the street from the Twin Towers and his father was riding the subway beneath the buildings.


Carlin’s initial work at the U.S. Attorney’s office involved prosecuting violent crime, fraud and public corruption. He was part of the team in 2006 that prosecuted Mitch Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribing Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-California).


In January 2007, Carlin was named national coordinator of the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Program in the DOJ’s Federal Computer Crime Unit. He stayed in that job only seven months before being named special counsel to Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert S. Mueller. He became Mueller’s deputy chief of staff in early 2009 and in July of that year was named his chief of staff and senior counsel.


Carlin moved back to Justice in July 2011 as deputy assistant attorney general and chief of staff to then-National Security Division head Jill Monaco. When Monaco moved to the White House as assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Carlin filled her job on an interim basis.


Carlin has a reputation of trying to stay out of the spotlight and of being tight-lipped around news organizations with the National Security Division refusing to release even basic information about Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court cases to the media.


Carlin is married to Sarah Newman, whom he met when both were at Williams. Newman is curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. They have a daughter, Sylvie.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

9/11 Attacks Helped Shape New Leader of Justice’s National Security Division (by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post)

Official Biography

John Carlin Speeches (C-Span)


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