Firas Sassi did not apply for a position with the eminent Mediterranean-based Think-Tank, The Institute for Prospective and Advanced Strategic and Security Studies (IPASSS). The chairman/rear admiral, (R) Kamel Akrout, former head of military intelligence and senior national security advisor to the late president of Tunisia, appointed Firas to this prominent role of distinction—an honor that is bestowed upon only the most skillful, trusted, and experienced defense professional, and one that Firas feels privileged to have attained.
Firas is the senior director of national security and geo-strategies for IPASSS, which operates in the fields of national security, strategic defense, and geopolitics. Since his appointment in 2020, he has provided invaluable guidance in defense capability development, led high-level capacity building initiatives, and worked on various intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems. A proven leader in the defense and security sector, Firas has also authored papers on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cyber-based tools for war.
As a recognized pacesetter and authority on security and global affairs, Firas holds another enviable distinction—he is a professor of international business, world issues, and political economy, as well as the creator of the Strategic Global Business Management graduate program. Now a full-time, tenured professor, Firas shares, “I was an international business student at Algonquin. After graduation, I built an import/export platform that impressed the college, so they invited me to join the faculty on a part-time basis. I initially declined, but they encouraged me to try one class. I did, and simply fell in love. It’s very rewarding to share my knowledge and to know I’m making an impact on countless others.”
The Top 100 Magazine wanted to learn more about Firas and his intriguing role at IPASSS, so we spoke with him about the company, his contributions, and how his efforts affect worldwide security.
Firas, tell us a little about your responsibilities for IPASSS.
I support the chairman and rear admiral, (R) Kamel Akrout. I develop strategic defense capabilities, counterterrorism, and peacekeeping efforts, which includes treaty and policy drafting, and various public engagement initiatives. IPASSS works with agencies, governments, militaries, and embassies to address complex global problems, then structure solutions. We then provide the necessary technologies, training, and tools to effect those solutions.
What led you from a professor of international business and political economy to senior director of national security and geostrategies for IPASSS?
When I graduated college, before I became a professor, I started an import/export technology company—Umami Trading. I created a platform to trade raw commodities, which attracted the attention of defense and security stakeholders. I was asked to assist a government with a special project and once I proved myself, more and more officials and militaries started to come. The rest is history.
You bring together both your roles in your work with AI in academics through Algonquin’s School of Business’s, Strategic Global Business Management graduate program. Can you give us a brief primer on this?
I lead the development of the SGBM program. Thanks to the leadership of our executive team, we cater to the needs of the job market and economic realities of the future. I am proud to say that we have successfully integrated courses in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning in business decision-making, analytics in management, social media, cybersecurity, and information management. These courses prepare today’s generation to be more astute, resilient, and adaptive. I am also hoping to lead an initiative that caters to what I refer to as “collective-intelligence,” where we combine the power of machines and faculty in a holistic, complementary manner. By automating certain administrative tasks that are repetitive, we empower faculty to focus on what matters most, and that is to teach.
You have multiple areas of focus in the realm of defense and security. Let’s start with geopolitics and power brokerage. Tell us just a little bit about this.
Let’s say you would like to resolve a conflict or a crisis, or facilitate bilateral and multilateral policy dialogues, negotiate peacemaking, provide diplomatic interventions, develop mutual defense treaties, or set up a multi-country intelligence apparatus. You will need access to, and coordination of, various value-driven and impact-oriented professionals. I assist our clients by providing ideas and/or connecting them to key individuals in the fields of academia, industry, security, defense, and diplomacy, who share common goals and mutual interests. These are extremely challenging and esoteric tasks, but when you work for Admiral (R) Kamel Akrout, it simply becomes easier. I have never met a person who demonstrates such humility, leadership, competence, vision, insight, and such love and compassion for his country.
How is AI and machine learning playing a role in national security and as tools of war, and how are you helping your clients in this regard?
Many of the globe’s major battles are clandestine and silent. Cyber and AI warfare is a devastating, sophisticated, relatively inexpensive, and a particularly effective technique of harming one’s enemies. As with all weapons, the use of AI-driven battle plans is escalating. This could evolve into a conventional war or even more devastating cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and economic production facilities. We assist our clients in addressing and developing advanced counter-AI and cyber capabilities in these fields.
Cyber defense and offense are becoming increasingly critical in warfare. Tell us about your work in this area.
Our work in this area is multifaceted and ranges from how to develop these capabilities to assisting with policy issues. We do not simply provide these capabilities; we focus on the architecture of deployment in a holistic and comprehensive manner. This includes how AI and cyber defense/offense influence privacy and ethics, how much power we delegate to the machine versus the human, what would be considered an act of war, what are the rules of engagement, uses of proportionate responses, and various ethical, legal, and regulatory considerations a government must take into account.
What do you enjoy most about your work or what drives you?
It’s the people I work with, the journey, the mission, the challenges, the successes, and the impact it makes. I find myself perfectly balanced (umami)—teaching caters to my heart and soul, and the other caters to my mind. I would like to give special thanks to my father and mother, who provided me with the foundation to succeed; Admiral Akrout for recognizing my brain trust; and Norman Hotchkiss, who had a huge influence on my life. I will forever be grateful to Jamie, Glen, Hafedh, Shamus, Nabil, Kerry, Emmanuel, Russell, Karim, Tawfik, Neziha, Emily, Robert, my students, and all the others who provided their support and got me going throughout my professional career. I dedicate this honor and award to them all.
What are your greatest professional accomplishments?
One is certainly being the right-hand man and confidante to my mentor and personal hero in the national security domain, Admiral (R) Kamel Akrout, a man of vision, leadership, competence, and unmatched strategic foresight. Also, to be one of the youngest professors hired at Algonquin College. Lastly, but not the least of these, is to be the creator of an innovative online export/import trading platform for petroleum, construction, and agricultural commodities that allows professionals to conduct and manage their entire trading transaction from a single user-friendly platform.
Firas completed the A.I. executive program at MIT and cyber-security and information management course at Harvard and holds a Master of International Trade degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He is the author of a national security and politics paper on future tools of warfare titled, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and Cyber Command as a Tool of War: The New Method in the Mediterranean Battlefield.
Sr. Director of National Security and Geo-Strategies: IPASSS Think Tank
Professor of International Business: Algonquin College
Websites: www.ipasss.org / www.algonquincollege.com
LinkedIn: Firas Sassi
Facebook: Firas Sassi
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