America’s intelligence agencies have a serious and difficult mission: protecting our national security from a world of diverse and changing threats. These include nuclear, military, terrorist, and economic threats from nation-states and non-state actors. China is a rapidly growing intelligence, military, and cyber threat. Russia has exploited a power vacuum in the Middle East caused by President Obama’s failure to exercise leadership in the region. ISIS, which did not exist in 2009, is now a global threat and could be planning new terrorist attacks with chemical weapons and dirty bombs.
Protecting our nation from such threats requires extremely competent and capable individuals to conduct intelligence operations and write analysis in challenging security and legal environments. This means the intelligence profession needs officers who will speak truth to power, obey the law, and resist pressure to politicize analysis.
CIA Director John Brennan apparently believes otherwise and that advancing President Obama’s political and social agendas should be an important part of the CIA’s mission. This may be why Brennan recently announced his “Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2016–2019)” to make the CIA more diverse and politically correct. Brennan says in the introduction to this strategy:
Diversity at CIA is defined as the wide range of life experiences and backgrounds needed to ensure multiple perspectives that enable us to safeguard US national security. It encompasses the collection of individual attributes that together help Agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include but are not limited to characteristics such as national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, veteran’s status and family structures.
Brennan has mandated “diversity and inclusion performance objectives for all CIA managers and supervisors and ultimately [for] the entire workforce,” so that CIA personnel must weigh diversity and gender figures in making key assignments and senior-level promotions. Brennan’s plan also includes agency-wide “unconscious bias” training.
I support a fair and equitable workplace at CIA without any form of unlawful discrimination. But this as a dangerous development because Brennan is creating diversity quotas for hiring and promotions instead of promoting a work environment that prioritizes competence and achievement.
Brennan is doing this in response to President Obama’s efforts to create a more diverse federal work force. While there may be merit in this for many U.S. government jobs, hiring and promoting intelligence officers based on diversity quotas will not, as Brennan claims, better enable CIA to safeguard our national security. The CIA’s mission is too serious to be distracted by Obama’s social-engineering efforts meant to redress real and perceived injustices in our society.
It is not unjust to hire a white male with a Ph.D. from Harvard and a background in nuclear science to analyze the Iranian nuclear program over someone with weaker credentials who is a member of a racial or gender minority. Altering the rules so the latter candidate will win a competition for such a job is not in our national interest. Adding such considerations to CIA promotion rules will further complicate the agency’s management, which is already suffering from politicization and political correctness. This is why in the CIA Directorate of Intelligence, where I worked for 19 years, many highly qualified officers refuse to apply for management jobs — or they last in them for only a few years before returning to analyst positions.
As a former CIA officer, I believe one of the worst signs of how backward the agency’s personnel system has become under Director Brennan is that his diversity plan lists Maja Lehnus as the agency’s new “Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.” I was stunned when I read this. Ms. Lehnus served as director of the CIA Weapons Intelligence and Nonproliferation Center and the director of the National Intelligence Counterproliferation Center (NCTC). According to the NCTC website, Lehnus worked for 20 years in a wide range of CIA technical and management positions on counterproliferation and weapons of mass destruction.
At a time of growing WMD threats from North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, and ISIS, why is this brilliant WMD expert being moved from such a critical intelligence mission to a position overseeing diversity quotas?
There are two discernible reasons for this.
First, this is just the latest evidence that the Obama administration is not serious about protecting U.S. national security. We know this already, given its “leading from behind” and “strategic patience” approaches to foreign policy and constant leaks of sensitive intelligence to advance their political agenda. It therefore is not surprising that Obama would make diversity and political correctness at the CIA a higher priority than improving its analysis and operations. The fact that the administration would move one of the agency’s leading WMD experts from a senior job in her area of expertise to heading Brennan’s ludicrous diversity program is a clear sign of the CIA’s distorted priorities.
Second, there are many signs that the work of the CIA and other intelligence agencies has been thoroughly politicized by the Obama administration. CIA Director Brennan has been criticized for doctoring White House talking points on the 2011 terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate to favor the Obama administration misrepresentation of this attack. Brennan also has straddled the fence on the legality of the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation program, probably due to pressure from the White House and Senate Democrats.
In recent years, we’ve also seen strong evidence that the White House has exerted political pressure to conform intelligence analysis to meet its agenda. More than 50 U.S. intelligence analysts working with the U.S. Central Command filed complaints with the Pentagon inspector general last year, claiming that their analyses were manipulated by senior officials to downplay the threat from ISIS and the al-Nusra Front (the al-Qaeda branch in Syria). I witnessed similar politicization of analysis at CIA last August when I attended an unclassified briefing by a senior CIA WMD analyst on the nuclear deal with Iran; the official’s assessment sounded as if it had been directly drawn from White House talking points.
The United States urgently needs intelligence agencies that are effective and innovative, and that will speak truth to power. While many of the U.S. intelligence community’s problems predate this administration, they have gotten much worse since 2009. It is vital that the next president name strong and decisive leaders to top intelligence posts. Our next commander-in-chief must stand by their efforts to conduct major reforms that will reverse the nonsensical initiative of the Obama years and improve the ability of America’s intelligence agencies to counter the national-security threats facing our nation.
These reforms should promote fair hiring and promotion practices but should not undermine the CIA’s effectiveness with politically correct schemes that will only lower standards and create quotas. Due to the life-and-death nature of CIA’s mission, it is vital that its officers be hired and promoted on the basis of competence and achievement, not misguided social-engineering schemes.