While Christina Bell is in the midst of her first formal campaign, most of her recent career has involved international diplomacy.
The Center for Homeland Defense and Security alum (Master’s Program cohort 0703/0704) is currently serving as senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) advisor to U.S. Candidate for Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO) Ian Saunders.
In that role, Bell is working out of CBP’s Washington, DC, headquarters while traveling the globe to promote Saunders’ non-partisan, U.S. Government-sponsored, candidacy for the top job at the WCO. The WCO describes itself as an independent intergovernmental body representing 185 Customs administrations worldwide that process 98 percent of world trade. Its mission is to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of Customs administrations worldwide.
Bell was chosen as Saunders’ advisor because of her experience working with the WCO, having completed in August 2022 a five-year tour in Brussels, Belgium, as the CBP attaché within the U.S. mission to the European Union and the U.S. Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium, as well as a CBP liaison to the WCO.
Bell said Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the EU, and home of the WCO headquarters, has been called “the center of the Universe,” and she added that the WCO serves as a “mini-U.N. for Customs.”
During that time, Bell worked closely with the WCO and its stakeholders daily to help “set values and find partnerships with other like-minded countries” aimed at cultivating trusted trade partner programs as part of CBP’s overarching mission to help secure our nation by preventing terrorists from breaching our borders via international trade.
In her current role supporting the campaign, Bell is leveraging her skills and experience with much higher stakes. “I am honored to support Mr. Saunders in this campaign. He is a public servant of impeccable character and the kind of leader who listens first,” she said. “It’s easy to champion him personally, and all the U.S. contributions to the organization, which include thought leadership, subject matter expertise, and a number of donor programs.”
As the lead U.S. agency responsible for WCO engagement, CBP is charged with developing and representing our nation’s positions on customs matters, including active involvement in the drafting and approval of best practices, guidelines, and standards relating to international customs issues, border security practices, and modernization efforts. This work facilitates the cross-border movement of food, medicine, consumer products, and other legitimate goods while preventing dangerous people and contraband from infiltrating the supply chain.
Bell said when she arrived in Brussels in 2017, the country was still recovering from a series of devastating terrorist attacks on the airport and the metro, the latter near where she would end up living. Thankfully, she said, Belgium and its allies’ efforts to face these issues have been successful, although she also noted that challenges for the law enforcement community persist amid ever-increasing drug imports. Transnational criminal organizations are trafficking exponentially larger amounts of cocaine into Europe, while the United States grapples with these flows from similar networks (in addition to the increased flows of the deadly drug Fentanyl).
Brussels was Bell’s second European tour. She previously spent four years as the CBP advisor to U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, from 2010-14. While there, Bell set a strong foundation for a CBP/EUCOM partnership aimed at coordinating joint training and programs to secure Europe and the U.S., including joint training and initiatives in the Balkans, Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
Bell also served at CBP headquarters from 2014-17 as Deputy Executive Director for International Operations, leading six regionally aligned divisions spanning the globe in pursuit of partnerships, managing international programs, and serving as liaisons supporting CBP’s strategy of promoting the U.S. objectives on border security, counterterrorism, customs, immigration, and facilitation of legal trade and travel.
Bell said her experience in the CHDS Master’s program, from which she graduated in 2008, was invaluable. When she started the program, she said she “didn’t realize how green I was,” and she said “learning how our government really worked across the broader homeland and national security community was game-changing for me. As I work across agencies in my current assignment to execute this campaign, those lessons are at the front of my mind.”
She said the instruction that has had the most influence on her career was delivered by David Brannan and Anders Strindberg, who are renowned for their expertise in “unconventional threats,” and she added that she remains impressed by the caliber of CHDS faculty to this day including instructors such as Nadav Morag and Seth Jones. Bell noted that she had the opportunity to meet up with Strindberg twice in Stockholm and once in Belgium while she was on European assignments. “The [CHDS] investment continues to pay off for me,” she said.
Bell also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve. She began her journey with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve in 1992 and served two tours of duty in the Middle East.