ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Dr. Emile Nakhleh loves the outdoors. His backyard garden hosts everything from mint and basil to fruit trees and pine. He says gardening is his escape.

“Sometimes if I’m sitting in my study or sitting in my office, trying to write an article, if my mind kind of gets clogged up and I get writer’s block, I go to the yard,” said Dr. Nakhleh. “So I start working hard in the yard and my mind clears up.”

Nakhleh grew up in Nazareth in the Palestine region and moved to the United States for college, getting a B.A. in political science from Saint John’s University in Minnesota. He then moved to Washington D.C. where he got his master’s in political science from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in international relations from American University.

He eventually became a professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, teaching for years. It was there on the East Coast where he took up gardening to help clear his mind. When the CIA caught his interest, the hobby continued to become useful as he left academia behind.

As an analyst for the agency, he was tasked with researching how Islamic governments use religion to rule. Nakhleh was chosen to direct the first program analyzing political Islam and studying Muslim cultures.

“CIA wanted to establish expertise on what we call ‘political Islam.’ That is, people who use their religion for public policy goals,” said Nakhleh. “CIA wanted the U.S. government to develop expertise on Muslim societies, Muslim cultures, Muslim history.”

The job took him all over the world. He bounced from Egypt to Morocco, Indonesia and France, just to name a few.

“That experience gave me the opportunity to visit all these countries and interview so many hundreds of people, and to kind of get an idea, my analysts and I would go to all these places and try to learn what these cultures are,” said Nakhleh. “For the most part, we concluded that most Muslims are like most Christians and Jews. They want to live, they have kids to educate, they have mortgages to pay, they need to put food on the table.”

He says the travel he did for work and has since done for leisure has taught him a lot about world cultures and how different countries can work together.

“You find what brings the world together is much stronger and more powerful that what divides the world,” said Nakhleh. “You can’t really achieve better success or more success without working with others, without joining forces with others.”

After 16 years, Nakhleh retired from the CIA. His son’s job at Los Alamos National Lab brought him to New Mexico, and specifically, Albuquerque. That is when he took an interest in the University of New Mexico.

“The more I got to know people from UNM, the more impressed I became with their research, their different teaching programs,” said Nakhleh. “UNM is sort of uniquely situated as we move into the 21st Century.”

Now, he’s taking his CIA experience to the university’s Global and National Security Policy Institute. He’s working with leaders in security, along with area national labs, including Los Alamos, Sandia and the Air Force Research Lab.

This year, they launched the university’s first master’s program in global and national security, teaching Lobos about everything from preventing terrorist attacks to stopping hackers who threaten major computer systems, learning more about our nuclear energy facilities and even keeping our food sources safe.

“You do have a rich, diverse, student body. If we’re going to look at the next generation of workforce, if you will, of the federal government, and the next generation of leaders in national security, I really think UNM is uniquely situated at this time of its history to produce that generation of leaders,” said Nakhleh. “I’m humbled and gratified to be part of this effort at this time.”

Once students graduate from the program, the school says they will be ready to work in positions around the world, including right here in New Mexico. The deadline for students to sign up for the spring semester is Nov. 15.