The Central Intelligence Agency is once again mired in crisis. CIA Director John Brennan finds himself “deeply concerned.” The spy agency he runs suffers from an affliction that he says has “persisted despite repeated efforts by Agency leaders to address it.”
What is ailing this vital guardian of national security? The CIA’s upper echelon, Mr. Brennan said on Tuesday, does “not reflect the diversity of the Agency workforce or of the nation.”
Mr. Brennan was commenting on the “Director’s Diversity in Leadership Study,” an unclassified report released that day. The study comes to the “unequivocal conclusion,” he said in a statement, that there has been a major failure at the agency in the “crucial” area of diversity and inclusiveness.
The CIA director commissioned the study last year, convening a panel of experts to perform a comprehensive assessment of diversity in the agency’s workforce. The study is partly based on the results of an “Agency-wide instrument”—in non-spy-speak, “instrument” means questionnaire—developed in conjunction with research psychologists attached to the CIA’s Office of Medical Services. It also draws on hundreds of formal and informal interviews and 28 focus groups, including not only spies based at headquarters in Langley, Va., but also agents working incognito in a dozen undisclosed locations out in the cold.
The report is unsparing. Senior positions at the “highest levels of the CIA” are “consistently occupied by white male career officers.” While minority officers make up 23.9% of the CIA workforce, the higher echelons of the CIA don’t come close to that number. For example, the Senior Intelligence Service, the crème de la crème of the spy agency’s personnel, manages only a 10.8% minority composition. Spies with disabilities and LGBT spies, according to the report, are no better represented in the CIA’s upper leadership, though women are generally faring well.
What accounts for this state of inequity? Pulling no punches, and using words that must sting Mr. Brennan if not also President Obama, the report finds that “the senior leadership of the Agency is not committed to diversity.” The CIA has suffered from a “failure of leadership,” which has led to a “general lack of accountability in promoting diversity” and “the absence of an inclusive culture.”
The problem is not a new one for the agency, but matters have recently deteriorated, particularly in recruitment. Since 2008, says the report, “the percentage of minorities hired has declined to levels lower than what is necessary to sustain the level of minority representation in the current workforce.”
The CIA’s diversity panel offers several recommendations to arrest and reverse these trends.
For one thing, “all leaders, managers, and supervisors” in the CIA should be subject to “mandatory stand-alone diversity and inclusion training.” This must include such “well-established tools” as “unconscious bias training” so that all CIA officers can “learn how societal forces and their own experiences mold their daily decisions and perceptions.” If done with sufficient thoroughness, such training could inculcate the conviction in CIA managers and supervisors that developing a diverse workforce is a “core job function.”
The trouble is, however, that training alone may not suffice to rewire brains prone to “unconscious bias.” Additional steps are therefore necessary. Managers and supervisors, the panel says, “must be consistently evaluated on their success and failure” in fostering inclusivity. The CIA should introduce an agency-wide performance-measuring tool, which “must be utilized on a 360-degree basis”—that is, imposed on everyone without exception—“to drive and institutionalize accountability for inclusive behaviors.”
Changing the CIA’s culture in this way may take some time, perhaps several years. Yet an urgent crisis demands urgent action: “Immediate steps” must therefore be taken to fill senior leadership positions with minority officers, the study says. The steps would include a “series of conspicuous appointments at the highest levels of the CIA.” The goal—both “necessary and achievable”—should be a quota of “at least 30% minority representation at the GS-13 level and above.” Such measures will make it clear that “the Agency has entered a new era and is committed to a leadership structure that truly ‘looks like America.’ ”
At a time when global terrorism is resurgent, when the Middle East is burning, when Russian boots are marching, when China is ramping up its military and Iran is on the verge of going nuclear, is it really a good idea to ask the CIA to concentrate on achieving a 30% minority quota in the agency’s leadership ranks?
Mr. Brennan evidently thinks so. In his statement accompanying the study’s release, the CIA director said he has ordered that beginning Oct. 1 every member of his senior leadership team will be required “to attend diversity and inclusion training.” As of that date, these top CIA officials will also be “evaluated on their actions to create, maintain, and sustain a diverse and inclusive environment.”
One can only hope that it will not take a national-security disaster to remind Mr. Brennan that the CIA is first and foremost an espionage agency, with a “core job function” of gathering intelligence and killing terrorists.