Picture of Gail Helt

Gail Lynn Helt


Assistant Professor of Political Science


College of Arts and Sciences

Office Location:

Bristol Campus: 211a Bristol Hall

Office Phone:



"...And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular - but he must take it simply because his conscience tells him it is right." - Martin Luther King Jr., 1968


I came to King in 2014 after nearly a dozen years at the Central Intelligence Agency, where I worked on issues related to East Asian security, politics, and governance.  I had the privilege of traveling the world, and writing for and briefing the senior-most policymakers in the US Government. The opportunities I was given were amazing, and I appreciated every one -- but in reality I always wanted to teach, and I was never a city girl, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to move to northeastern TN and teach at King. 

I was recruited by the CIA out of a PhD program at the University of Arizona, where I was studying political science/international relations, with an emphasis on China.  I have a M.A. in political science  from Iowa State University, and a B.S in political science from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. 

I am the Coordinator of the Security and Intelligence Studies Program here at King, and also serve as the Director of the King Institute of Security and Intelligence Studies.  I am also the faculty adviser for KSI--a great  group of students interested in global events and security and intelligence-related issues. I teach classes in analysis, which are intended not only to teach higher level critical thinking skills that government agencies expect prospective employees to possess, but also to prepare students to succeed in graduate school. I also teach classes in intelligence ethics, counter-terrorism, and I will be teaching a new class in Chinese history and politics in the Spring 2016 semester.

My research interests center around democratization and liberalization, human rights (I know, shocking for a former CIA officer!), and political stability.  I also have a strong interest in Chinese history and politics, particularly how Western influence, and particularly Western religion, has impacted the development of China's politics. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, kayaking, and spending time with friends.


M.A., political science, Iowa State University

B.S., political science, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Recent Publications and Presentations

Democratization and Backsliding, Does the Path Matter? -- presented at the International Studies Association - Midwest regional conference, November 2014

Current research

Is China's Rise Bad for Democracy? -- submitted for presentation at the International Studies Association (ISA) - South regional conference, October 2015, and the ISA annual conference, Feb 2016  (with John Bebber)


Courses recently taught

PSCI 2010 LECT United States Government
PSCI 3250 LECT Politics and History of China
SAIS 2310 LECT Espionage and Intelligence
SAIS 2330 LECT International Terrorism
SAIS 2350 LECT Introduction to Intelligence Analysis
SAIS 3310 LECT Covert Action
SAIS 3350 LECT Advanced Intelligence Analysis
SAIS 3380 LECT Counterterrorism
SAIS 3390 LECT Intelligence Ethics
SAIS 3730 LECT American Foreign Policy
SAIS 4310 LECT Advanced Topics in Geopolitics
SAIS 4330 LECT Security Challenges in the 21st Century