This week on “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell, in partnership with the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security, sits down with CIA operations director Dave Marlowe, and CIA analysis director Linda Weissgold about their careers at CIA and global hotspots. Marlowe and Weissgold talk about the skills and attributes CIA looks for when hiring officers, as well as their own career trajectories at the CIA. They also weigh in on current hotspots for the agency, including Ukraine, Iran and China.
- CIA isn’t what it looks like in movies: Marlowe says, “There’s fewer cocktails and tuxedos for sure. I can’t think of a spy movie I’ve seen that I thought was an honest depiction. We’re methodical, meticulous. We take our responsibility seriously. We’re deliberate and disciplined. There’s no flash. Very rarely flash anyway. And we’re playing a long, careful game. We’re not running something that can be accomplished in 90 minutes of a movie. We’re doing things that are over the long term. And if we’re leaving a splash, we’ve made a series of mistakes.”
- CIA doesn’t assess that Iran is making nuclear weapons: Weissgold says, “We do not assess right now that Iran is in the process of making a nuclear weapon. But what we do assess is that Iran is doing more and more to be ready to make a nuclear weapon.”
- Success as CIA analyst: Weissgold says, “I think what makes successful analysis, we rely on three privileged accesses. The first is access to the time, the thinking and the goals of our country’s leaders. That is what allows us to understand what they need and when they need it. The second is access to a vast range of information. We are all source analysts, so that includes unclassified and classified information. And that information really gives us this huge sandbox to develop insights, hopefully unique insights. And then it’s the access to CIA’s reputation. CIA’s reputation gets us a seat at the table.”
“INTELLIGENCE MATTERS” TRANSCRIPT: DAVE MARLOWE AND LINDA WEISSGOLD
PRODUCER: PAULINA SMOLINSKI
MICHAEL MORELL: It’s really special to be on stage with you guys. We were colleagues for so long. It’s not very often that a serving deputy director for analysis and a serving deputy director for operations speak publicly. And I don’t think they’ve ever Been together on a stage before. So this is really cool.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: Not that we can talk about.
MICHAEL MORELL: Not that you can talk about.
DAVE MARLOWE: We will see how it goes, it maybe the last time.
MICHAEL MORELL: So I want to break the conversation into three chunks. One, I want to talk about your careers. I think students will want to hear about that. I want to talk a little bit about some of the hot spots in the world today. And then I want to talk about the CIA going forward. But before we get into all that, let me ask each of you, Linda, what is the fundamental responsibility of an analyst at CIA? And, Dave, what’s the fundamental responsibility of an operations officer?
LINDA WEISSGOLD: First of all, thank you all for coming and for letting us have this opportunity. When I think about what is at the heart of CIA’s analytic mission, it really is about delivering objective analysis about the world to some of the most important people in it. So we are looking overseas. We’re following individuals and groups and trends beyond our borders that affect our national security. And I think it’s really important to highlight, as an analyst at CIA, you inform, you do not make policy. So that was part of why President Truman set up the CIA in 1947. We try to go beyond what’s happening to examine why it’s happening and then to talk about the implications of that. We try to give our leaders a decision advantage by pointing out leverage that they may have. And when it’s done right, I guess what I would say is we give those we serve, starting with the president, new ways to think about dangers and opportunities around the world. Whether that topic is an enduring one, an emerging one or one that’s way over the horizon.
DAVE MARLOWE: Thanks also for the opportunity to be here. Thanks, Michael, for hosting us. The fundamental job of an operations officer, as I see it, is that we go overseas in somebody else’s country and we understand them in their circumstances and in their world as they see themselves. And we’re an apolitical organization. I like to say that the difference between policy and intelligence is that policy is about how you want the world to be. Intelligence is about how it is. And our job is to go to other people’s countries, see them in their environment, see how they understand their problems, see how they see us, and understand what it is that’s in their minds and bring some piece of that back that’s useful for Linda’s folks to digest.
MICHAEL MORELL: One more question before we get to the career discussion. Movies, TV, series, paint CIA in certain ways what is it really like on a day to day basis to work at CIA? Dave, want to go first on this one?
DAVE MARLOWE: There’s fewer cocktails and tuxedos for sure. I can’t think of a spy movie I’ve seen that I thought was an honest depiction. We’re methodical, meticulous. We take our responsibility seriously. We’re deliberate and disciplined. There’s no flash. Very rarely flash anyway. And we’re playing a long, careful game. We’re not running something that can be accomplished in 90 minutes of a movie. We’re doing things that are over the long term. And if we’re leaving a splash, we’ve made a series of mistakes. Our job is to do what we’re doing in the director of operations and not leave a trace that we’ve been there.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I’m not a big fan of spy movies because I find them really frustrating. Like Dave, I think I find that they’re very distorted. I once, when I was a briefer, after I’d been briefed, I once was overseas and a liaison partner of ours very seriously asked me if my job as the president’s briefer had been like- there was a series that had been done called The Briefer with Katherine Heigl, in which she would brief the president in the morning, jump on a plane, jump out of the plane, go kill someone. And he was asking me, was your job really like that? And I told him, absolutely.
But when you really do ask, what is our job like? For me working at CIA, it is a form of public service. And I think that’s a really important thing for people to remember. The place is filled with some of the most intelligent, most interesting, most determined people you are ever going to meet. And not once in my career. And as was mentioned, it’s been a long one. Not once has anyone ever asked me what my politics are. And I don’t ask other people because that’s not what we’re there for. We are all there united, I think, in one mission, which is the protection of the United States. And that makes it really special.
People cry when they leave the CIA. And so I think that’s something really important to think about. But if you get back to the movies, someday I still do want a computer where I can manipulate it in the air. And I notice that no one ever has to fill out like a travel voucher. There is a bureaucratic side to it. We are a government agency. I do think there’s a little bit of that. it’s a special place, but it’s one that takes you wanting to be there and everyone else around you wants to be there as well.
MICHAEL MORELL: So your careers. How did you each find your way to CIA? Linda wants to go first.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I always knew I wanted to do something international. I graduated from Georgetown School Foreign Service. I had lived overseas, but the CIA wasn’t actually on my radar. So I often joke that my coming to CIA was really about serendipity and a lack of a social life because I had a roommate at the time who worked for a congresswoman on the Hill, and this was the mid-eighties. And my roommate was very much into women in leadership. She worked for Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, and she had bought tickets to a seminar that was going on about women in leadership. And something came up and she couldn’t make it. And so she asked me, did I want to go, and I was free. I didn’t have much of a social life. So I said, sure. So I go to this session and it was a two day session. And over the night there was a hijacking in Athens. And all kinds of people were talking about giving up their tickets. They were on the news. They were talking about giving up their tickets to go to Athens. And I remember I came in and I said, are you kidding me? And she said, really? And I said, It’s not going to happen in the same place twice, right? Sure I would get on the next plane.
This was the mid eighties, she was already teaching women in leadership courses for the agency. And she said, I have some people you should talk to. And she directed me there. The second part of the story goes. So I called thinking that I was going to be having an informational interview more with the idea that back then we didn’t have the luxury of the website, which we’re going to mention several times tonight, as you know, CIA.gov. So I thought I was calling up to get an informational interview and the guy said, Oh, Jinx said you should call. He said, We’re having a test next weekend. I, again, wasn’t busy, so I showed up for the test and hadn’t filled out any paperwork. This would never happen today and apparently did really well on the test because they then started calling me, asking me to please fill out the paperwork. And here we have job offers for you. So it was total serendipity.
I will just add when I tell the story in our organization, one of the things I say is that be open to opportunities when they come. If you end up at CIA or whatever your careers might be, there’s going to be a lot of times when someone’s going to come to you and say, hey, would you do this? And it may not have been. For those of you who are planners, it may not have been on your five year plan. It may not have been what you were thinking. And what I say is that you are going to learn the most from those jobs that you probably weren’t thinking about. And you will get all kinds of experiences and it may set you on a totally different path. So be open to opportunities when they come.
DAVE MARLOWE: So I graduated from William and Mary in 1984, and my objective in college had been basically to get out alive. And so the summer after I graduated, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I talked to the parents of some friends who worked in various national security roles. I traveled through Europe and I came back with kind of a job description of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be doing something, working overseas out of the embassy, maybe something in national security, something that was results oriented and something that wasn’t in the spotlight, which kind of brought me into the director of operations. So I talked to some adults that I respected and laid out a path for myself, which was to go into the army, to go to the military. And I chose the army and got some kind of background experience that would make me more marketable than where I was at the time. So I enlisted so that I could pick my particular path. They taught me Arabic for about a year and a half in California. And then I went to school and I spent the next couple of years in the Army and ended up coming here in 1991, right after the Gulf War.
MICHAEL MORELL: So outside your current jobs, what’s the best assignment you ever had at CIA, Dave?
DAVE MARLOWE: I’m not going to say where, but I had a number of assignments in the Middle East and in some of those places, nobody spoke English at all. And if you can go live in a country that is sort of unadulterated by the Western experience, it’s something absolutely different from going to Europe, which is like America, but they don’t speak English. And it was just fantastic. I lived on local food. I lived in Arabic every day. I knew the names of all the different kinds of fish in the fish market and the fruits and vegetables and all that kind of stuff. I was part spy, part diplomat, part adventurer, part anthropologist, part sociologist. And just having an absolute blast.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I said, I’ve had a ton of amazing opportunities. I’ve actually followed you in several jobs. First I want to say why I’ve been at CIA so long, because it does get to what my favorite job has been. The CIA is about your capability, not your rank. And so one of my very first jobs was my account in the Middle East. I was working on Lebanon, and I had only been on the account for a very short period of time, a couple of months when the Sunni prime minister was assassinated. And my part of the account was I was following, among other things, the Sunnis who were considered the less important account. What amazed me at the time was that I was not asked to hand over my research to a more senior officer. It was me. I was front and center and I was hooked. I was hooked from the very beginning that it was about your capability. So I guess I would say you can’t be more front and center at CIA than being the president’s briefer. And I would say that was probably my favorite job, because it really was a tremendous honor to be the one to go in every morning to represent the work of the agency, whether that be the analytic work, the operational work, to be the one to kind of see history happening, how intelligence was really being used every day, how important it was and how relevant it was to make the timing window right. All of those kinds of things. It made me a better analyst. And so I guess what I really saw was how intelligence informs policy debate, and that would probably be my favorite job.
MICHAEL MORELL: Probably the two most important career related questions that we’re going to talk about tonight. Number one, what advice would you give to any student here who might be interested in a career as an analyst or an operations officer?
LINDA WEISSGOLD: This is where you are going to see the difference, one of the differences between the DO and the DA. I brought notes because I wanted to make sure that I gave you guys really good advice and didn’t forget anything. So first off-
DAVE MARLOWE: I’m just going to copy hers.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: So he stole the information and gave it to me. It was fine. So I’m really thrilled you’re asking about a career as an analyst, but I really would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the other directorates as well. And to really highlight the idea that at CIA, we are looking for people who do all kinds of things. We hire for almost every imaginable skill, graphic artists, accountants, engineers, logisticians, data scientists. So it’s about more than just our directorates. And again, if you don’t hear something from us, go to the website because there’s all kinds of opportunities. So first, if you’re currently a student and you have time before you graduate, I highly encourage you to participate in our student programs. It is the perfect opportunity for you to get a chance to look at us and for us to get a chance to look at you. Like I said, it was a black box when I joined. It was kind of a leap of faith. But this is something that gives you that opportunity to really understand what it would be like.
In the director of analysis, if you are a student intern or a graduate grad fellow, you are doing the exact work of an analyst. You’re writing for the president. You’re just getting more help in doing it. So we’re not going to ask you to make coffee or go make copies or anything like that. You are an analyst, so if you want to do that, you should try and get your resumes in by the end of this year for next summer. It does take some time. I also want to point out that we’re in the process of hopefully rolling out soon a bit of a change in how you apply. And so rather than being an application, it will be a resume based system. So I want to tell you it’s okay to have a beefy resume. Like two pages are good. And I know that may be counterintuitive for some jobs, but it really is a way for us to get to know you a little bit more. And particularly as a student, when you may not have as many job experiences. We’re going to be looking at some of the traits that you have. So it’ll help us understand the depth and the breadth and your skills. Just a couple more things. Don’t be afraid to show passion and enthusiasm for this choice.
The people who will be interviewing you at CIA, they’re not professional recruiters. They are officers. And so for us, they are analysts who are on rotation trying to make sure that we are bringing in for the next generation the best and the brightest. So if you talk to them about patriotism and about really why you want to come, it’s not going to sound corny to them. It’s the same reasons that they came. So like I said, don’t be afraid to show that passion and enthusiasm. And then last thing I’ll just say is stop doing marijuana at least 90 days before you come. We do still follow the federal law guidelines. So while it may be legal in Maryland and other places, we follow federal law.
DAVE MARLOWE: The one piece of advice I give you by coming to the director of operations, and I’m sure this is true for for all the directors is if coming to the CIA is your plan B or your sort of fallback thing that you’re going to do if something else doesn’t work out, that is the wrong approach. For every 100 applicants that we receive, it’s a very small percentage that actually make it through to be hired, probably less than 5%. And the people who get through get through because they’re determined. And so if you apply now or this summer and you don’t get through the process, you’re sent a very nice no thank you letter. That doesn’t mean you should quit it. What it means is you should think about, is this what I really want to do? And if it is what you really want to do, then go out and build your resume and add some life experience.
So what life experience do you put on your resume? Well, I’ll tell you, we hire all kinds of people and the kinds of people that you would predict somebody who’s had military experience or business experience, or we would hire people who are out of law school. All those things are true. But we’ve also had I’m not sure if he’s still with us, a world famous rock and roll guitarist, professional athletes, ballet dancers, college professors, people that you would not imagine would end up working in the Directorate of Operations. And what they’ve all brought is not necessarily the things that are on their resume, but a determination, a determination to win and resilience. And that’s what we’re looking for in the director of operations. If you’re an officer, you have to be comfortable when you’ve kind of fallen back to Plan G because you’re already forming the elements of Plan L and Plan M because you’re going to have to adapt. And so really that’s the most important thing for us is determination and resilience. And then, of course, Linda will probably tell you as well, integrity. We’re entrusted with a great deal of responsibility that’s unique to us. And whether it’s me having tens of thousands of dollars in cash to hand to somebody in an alley for a very sort of minimal receipt or Linda sitting in front of the president and saying, this is the thing I know and this is a thing I don’t know. Integrity is absolutely paramount.
MICHAEL MORELL: So I’ll speak from experience. It’s great to have one of those former professional athletes on your intramural basketball team. Very, very helpful to winning. Dave, you answered the second question already, which is what do you look for in terms of a skill set? What about an analyst? What do you look for?
LINDA WEISSGOLD: A lot of them are things you’d expect: strong writing, strong briefing, intellectual curiosity, thoughtfulness and definitely integrity. What we do is high stakes, as Dave said, and it involves really sensitive information and telling policymakers things that they don’t want to hear. But that takes some courage. That integrity, it’s something we can’t teach. And so it’s something you need to show us when you before you get hired. Expertise is absolutely important. It’s the coin of the realm for the director of analysis.
Either show that you have some in a discipline, like you’re a kick ass economist or you are a military analyst or that you have some substantive expertise. Whether you are a quantum physicist or you have expertise in Latin America. Again, we’re looking for something that you can use to develop the insight that we provide. Language skills, of course, are a plus for the entire agency, as are overseas experiences. I would say diversity of thought is really important, diversity as a whole. We can’t afford to have groupthink. So I look for people who actually may have some outside of the box thinking or come from left field ideas. And then the last one, I’ll just say is humility. It’s really important. What we do is hard. We are not going to get it right all the time. We have to admit when we’re wrong, we have to think about when it’s time to actually reevaluate and adjust our analysis. And you’re not always the smartest person in the room, right? So you have to be open to the ideas. What we do is a lot of teamwork. So I often like to say that thinking may be a solitary skill, but analysis is not. We need people who are team players and have the humility to be open to ideas from others.
DAVE MARLOWE: Great. Can I just follow up and pick up on something that Linda said. I remember very well being in my late teens and early twenties and trying to figure out who I was. And I think it’s important that when you’re looking at a potential career at CIA, you know what motivates you and you’re not going to get paid as well as you can if you go into the private sector. And they’re going to be demands placed on you that normal people don’t have to deal with. Some of it has to do with your freedom of movement. You have to tell people when you’re going places, you can’t bring your phone into the office. There’s a lot that you surrender, including the potential for a fat paycheck when you come to work for CIA. And the folks who do it and do it well are genuinely motivated by patriotism and not the kind of patriotism that shows up on the 4th of July, the patriotism that drives you when things are difficult or mundane or scary or professionally challenging. And if that’s what drives you, then you probably have a place here. If you’re thinking, well, I can do this for a little bit and then make some money. This is not the place.
MICHAEL MORELL: Let’s turn to global hotspots in the world today, which we could talk about for hours. I want to do this a little bit differently than I would normally do this. What I’d like to do is just throw out an issue and just get each of you to respond fairly quickly, fairly briefly, on what you think is the most important thing that all of us should keep in mind with regard to that issue. Dave, I’m going to go to the operator. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
DAVE MARLOWE: I’ll tell you what this looks like to the Directorate of Operations. I’m not an analyst, so I can assess that issue at will. Putin was at his best moment the day before he invaded because he had all the course of power that he’s ever going to have. And his objectives were to squeeze things out of Ukraine, to threaten NATO and affect NATO unification and to show off to the world that Russia is powerful militarily, economically, diplomatically. He squandered every single bit of that. And so for the director of operations, we’re looking around the world for Russians who were are disgusted with that as we are because we’re open for business.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I would say that it’s important to note Putin has not given up on the expansive goals that he had for Ukraine. And actually, let me backup and just say I totally understand why you made the link, because actually everything we’re going to talk about, I think on hot spots, it’s all interconnected because the world is actually watching what we are doing and how we are reacting in Ukraine. China is watching that. And so I totally understand where you’re coming from.
Putin hasn’t given up. This isn’t going to end anytime soon. I think this could certainly drag on. It’s important. I think a lesson we all need to take. It’s really important to know what you’re fighting for. The Ukrainian soldiers know that, the Russian soldiers not so much. That interconnectedness, allowing a country to take territory just because they can, is likely to embolden others to do the same at a really high human cost.
MICHAEL MORELL: Now, China-Taiwan.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I was saying before about China-Taiwan, I guess the things to think about, as I was saying, Xi is certainly watching what’s going on. And he has not been shy about the idea that he wants to have control of Taiwan, even if that requires military movements to do so. I think one of the things it’s really important for us to think about, as China has graduated, if you will, from being a rising power to really being the largest, most important geopolitical issue for us. And it’s because I think really what we’re seeing is China in so many domains, more than the Cold War and Russia, is now a competitor. So whether we’re talking about militarily, economically, through technology, space, in just about every domain you can think of, China is a competitor with us now. And I think that that is something for us to think about when we think about China.
DAVE MARLOWE: I would just add that five, ten years ago everybody was being polite about the competition with China, and now it’s plain and it’s in the open. It’s the challenge of the next generation of intelligence officers.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: Can I just add one other thing, which is that we talked about languages. It sure wouldn’t hurt if you want to go learn Mandarin. The agency, and we’re not alone in this in the government, we are putting a lot more resources to working on China. And so we’ve created a new China mission center. We’re looking at China. China is now trying to be a global power. And so we’re looking at China and Africa, China and Latin America. Regardless of maybe your area of expertise, if you’re thinking regionally, if it is Latin America or Africa, it doesn’t hurt for you to also learn about China, because that’s something for us that we are all thinking about them globally.
MICHAEL MORELL: Iran’s behavior, whether it’s toward its own people, whether it’s toward its regional neighbors, whether it’s about nuclear weapons.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I think the thing I would say about Iran at this point, a couple of things. One, we do not believe we do not assess right now that Iran is in the process of making a nuclear weapon. But what we do assess is that Iran is doing more and more to be ready to make a nuclear weapon. So whether it be improving their enrichment capabilities, you know, they are exceeding all of the limits that were part of the JCPOA. And so I think that that’s an important thing for us to think about with Iran.
I think it’s important when we talk about Iran, to remember that Iran is a threat not just to U.S. interests, but to the interest of our allies in the region. And that is also something that we care about. We don’t just talk about U.S. national security interests. We talk about the interests of our allies as well. And then in the context of the current protests that are ongoing, I think it’s really important when you think about Iran to think through the fact that we talk about moderates and reformers and conservatives, but it’s all in the context of a conservative theocracy. So when you talk about a moderate in Iran, it’s not necessarily someone who is looking to have a democratic freedom of speech, all of those kinds of things. I remember President Bush used to ask me and when we would talk about Iran, he would say, it’s not a free and fair election. Can they stand up in the middle of a town square and say whatever they want to say as part of that? And he said, until they can do that, it’s not a free and fair election. And it still isn’t today.
MICHAEL MORELL: Dave, you had a lot of time in the Middle East. Your thoughts on this?
DAVE MARLOWE: Iran is fascinating. Back to what I said earlier about going to other people’s countries and understanding them as they understand themselves. You’ve got a theocracy with an apocalyptic vision. Is there a modern government. You’ve got echoes of their Persian past and then you’ve got the conflict between Shia and Sunni that sort of defines their relationship with their neighbors, whether their Sunni neighbors or mixed neighbors like they are in Iraq. It’s absolutely a fascinating human intelligence challenge to understand what’s happening there. And where are the levers and where are the opportunities for the US government?
MICHAEL MORELL: North Korea in its flurry of missile tests, Dave.
DAVE MARLOWE: I just think their petulant child having a tantrum. I’m sorry. ‘Look at me. We’re still here.’ t’s the most closed society on the planet. And even more so with the COVID lockdown, the image of the Russian diplomats working their way out on that old fashioned train railcar. It’s an extremely hard intelligence problem, not insurmountable.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I would just add, I totally agree. North Korea doesn’t like to be ignored and they will find ways to make sure that we’re paying attention. But back to that kind of interconnectedness, I think it’s really important to think about the idea that for North Korea, what China thinks and does is actually more important than what we do in some ways. They are very dependent upon China for a lot. And so sometimes when you work on an issue, it’s not just about knowing that issue. You need to know what’s going on in the region. You need to know what others and how others think about a country like North Korea.
MICHAEL MORELL: International terrorism in the aftermath of Afghanistan.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: So I’ll keep it short on that and just say the threat is not gone. And we have made tremendous strides in diminishing that threat. But it’s not over. And we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball, and we’re not going to.
DAVE MARLOWE: And as Zawahiri would tell you, you can’t hide.
MICHAEL MORELL: Excellent.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: We can find you.
MICHAEL MORELL: Let’s switch gears again and talk about the future of the organization. And it struck me when earlier on the first question I asked you, what’s the job of an analyst? What’s the job of an operations officer? Your answer was true 75 years ago. And it’s true today. So I want to start by actually asking you, what are the keys to successful analysis? What are the keys to successful operations? And how do you make sure in the future that those factors remain in place?
LINDA WEISSGOLD: How we do our jobs as CIA analysts I think is what sets us apart from whether it be the media or think tanks. They’re important. I don’t see them as competitors. It’s just we do our jobs very differently. And I think what makes successful analysis, we rely on three privileged accesses. The first is access to the time, the thinking and the goals of our country’s leaders. That is what allows us to understand what they need and when they need it. The second is access to a vast range of information. We are all source analysts, so that includes unclassified and classified information. And that information really gives us this huge sandbox to develop insights, hopefully unique insights. And then it’s the access to CIA’s reputation. CIA’s reputation gets us a seat at the table. It gets us a chance to be heard. But all of those are grants of trust. They are not grants of power. They are things that we have to be, I think, cognizant of all the time. And we have to be living up to that.
MICHAEL MORELL: What’s the reputation you’re talking about?
LINDA WEISSGOLD: So the reputation I’m talking about really comes from, I think, our tradecraft. And that’s that when we are going to, as I said earlier, we’re going to call it like we see it. We’re going to be objective. We’re going to be honest about telling people what we know, what we don’t know. But often when I talk about tradecraft, I boil it down to the idea, it’s about being able to tell our customers why we think what we think. And that’s really hard. If you guys try to unpack that as students and you’re thinking about this from a paper you’re writing, to actually go back in and be able to explain to a professor why you think that. And then I’ll add an extra twist to this. Several years later, when you’re sitting in front of Congress and you’re being grilled on why you thought what you thought for some inevitable investigation. To be able to do that, too. And that’s the kind of reputation I’m talking about. I think, you know, we have to be able to do that.
DAVE MARLOWE: I think for operations officers, it’s the same kinds of traits. But in a different scenario. We really need to be humble and be dispassionate and objective. And if you think about what we do, so we say that we spy. But what we really do is we have relationships with people who spy, and we give them some kind of compensation in exchange for that. And so if we’re going to invite somebody into a relationship where they’re risking prison or death, when they’re betraying their tribe or their institution or their country because they believe in what they’re doing with us, we have to be very judicious about that. And we have to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
We have to be sure that we should be doing it in the first place, that we’re after something that can only be obtained through our unique function. So ultimately, it comes down to being honest with yourself and being honest about the situation you’re in. Am I doing this the right way? Should I be doing this? What part of this relationship is about me and what part of it is about the agent? It really requires a cold blooded, dispassionate objectivity. And it’s really not any different than when Linda’s folks are figuring out, what am I saying here to the president?
MICHAEL MORELL: When we go into a relationship with one of those individuals, their security is paramount.
DAVE MARLOWE: It’s our top priority. Absolutely. And if we fail on that, we’re failing fundamentally.
MICHAEL MORELL: Last question. The challenge is going forward. For each of your professions, each of your directorates, how do you think about what the big challenges are that you have to deal with successfully in order for the agency to continue to be successful?
DAVE MARLOWE: I would say two things. The first is that the world is a much more intrusive space. It used to be when I was a young officer, I could fly to a country, take a train across the border to another country, check into some hostel, scribble my name on the register or pay in cash, meet my guy and leave. And I was never there. And now, if you travel any place, you don’t have a reservation. You’re not using a credit card, you don’t have your smartphone with you. You haven’t been scanned in every imaginable way along your trip. That’s anomalous. So we have to actually raise our prioritization. So that we’re really expanding that risk on things that truly, truly matter. The other thing that I am concerned about and that we talk about regularly is all the relationships that we’ve built up over the past 20 years that allowed us to be effective in the counterterrorism effort. We absolutely need those if we are to work in a unified way against our principal adversary now. And that’s China.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: I would say we are swimming in data and information and technology is a great thing. It should help us. It also is going to increase the difficulty of us figuring out misinformation. And so part of our job is really going to be this idea of leveraging technology to our advantage and at the same time making sure that we are kind of sorting through what should we be believing and what shouldn’t we as we work through things.
MICHAEL MORELL: So the changes the director made, I don’t know, 18 months ago now, the media focused on the creation of the China Mission Center. But it kind of missed the creation of a chief technology officer, the creation of a new directorate focused on technology. So huge, huge emphasis seems to be on technology at the agency to help you do your job, to protect you and doing your job right. Could you just talk about that for 30 seconds each?
LINDA WEISSGOLD: Absolutely. Dave and I actually spent some time together in a meeting today on this very topic. And the idea being looking at things on, as you said, how can we- when I think about technology from the analyst’s point of view it is a topic that we study, right? So we’re looking at emerging technology, new weapons systems, all of those kinds of things. So set that aside. We’ve always been doing that. But looking at technology on how we can leverage and take advantage of what’s happening in open source. But at the same time, as I said earlier, this idea that we have to be able to explain to people why we think what we think, and if we don’t understand the algorithm that is being used by AI. I don’t think the president’s going to be very accepting if I were to go in and say, the black box just told me so. And I don’t know why it said that. So being able to really understand, again, applying our tradecraft in this brave new world of technology is, I think, something that’s really important for us to work at.
DAVE MARLOWE: I would say we’re users of technology on offense. We’re concerned about technology on defense, and we collect on technological issues. And then we have been, CIA has traditionally been a driver of innovative technologies. And we had a former director who was an Air Force general before he showed up. And we want to park a plane outside, which is the predecessor to the S.R. 71, as a visible demonstration of that fact.
LINDA WEISSGOLD: Can I plug the website again one more time? Because there’s a great, there’s a lot of really cool information on there for our 75th anniversary. And one of them is a list of technology that probably wouldn’t exist if CIA hadn’t invented it. So you can thank us for the battery in your cell phone, that kind of small lithium battery. That was us. And there’s a whole long list of the other kinds of inventions that came out of CIA.