Well, you would have thought the free world had come to an end.
And not because trolls on Twitter had lots of inane comments about the officer herself or the sad decline of the Agency because it aspired to be an inclusive, diverse organization. (Without trolls and inane comments, there would be no Twitter.)
What was shocking — more exhausting than shocking, really — was the number of notable leaders who decided to weigh in with similar commentary.
Mike Pompeo — a former CIA director, no less — tweeted this spectacular non sequitur: “The collection of incredibly talented patriots serving at the CIA is what makes it the best spy agency in the world — and we must continue to recruit the best and brightest. We can’t afford to risk our national security to appease some liberal, woke agenda.”
His implication, of course, was that women such as the one in the video do not represent the best and brightest — even though she is definitionally one of the “talented patriots” he longs for. Not to be outdone, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted: “If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un . . . would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne.”
When reminded that Bourne was, um, fictional, Cruz clarified: “My point is that CIA agents should be bad-asses — not woke, fragile flowers.”
This is what systemic bias sounds like, for all those who don’t know or question its existence. It is the suggestion that there is only one look to excellence, only one kind of experience of value, and that any change of the status quo — or the Hollywood-fed stereotype — must mean a reduction in standards. It is also how power keeps power.
And it’s not just in intelligence that the battle is still being fought. In March, when the Air Force and the Army made long overdue changes in uniforms and personal (hair) standards, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson used his on-air time to opine, “So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military.” He does know that women have served in the military since its inception and in combat for decades, right? Our military’s record of achievement is their record of achievement.
As a woman, I am plenty familiar with the false choice between diversity or excellence; the seemingly legitimate argument of “merit-based” selection that advances the notion that if organizations increase diversity and expand inclusion, they sacrifice mission or quality. Nothing could be further from my experience during my more than 30 years in the intelligence community, no matter how many times it is stated or implied. In reality, the smart move is to choose both. Inclusion and excellence. Diversity and mission.
The new video isn’t my favorite, mind you. I don’t need — or even want — to know about her ability to simultaneously change diapers and console a crying toddler. These skills are not germane to the mission of intelligence. I want to hear her talk about why she joined, how passionate she is about the mission, and about how she knows that her work keeps America safe. On the other hand, the series isn’t designed for me.
But I do love that subject of the piece is both a mom and a badass career woman, a Latina and a decorated intelligence officer, a human (with all her frailties) and a professional (with all her responsibilities). For so long, the outside image and the inside leadership of the intelligence community was White, Ivy League, male. The visual of her walking down a corridor of past directors tells a story that is hard to ignore.
And while so much progress has been made since I joined the intelligence community in 1980, there is distance left to travel. Data from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence shows that the intelligence community, across the board, and the CIA, specifically, lag behind America, statistically, in diversity in the ranks and in leadership positions. But they are attending to it, and this video series is part of that effort.
These are remarkable times — we live in a world that is complex, fraught and dynamic. What got us here will not be enough to secure our future. Black-and-white thinking won’t get us there. Intelligence can be the hero of the moment as it has been so many times in the past, but only if it, too, changes and improves with the times. And that depends on the people who choose to serve.