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CIA Director: Diversity Initiative Needs to Battle 'Group Think' at Agency

WASHINGTON — At a hearing on ISIS and other threats to the homeland on Thursday, CIA Director John Brennan stressed the importance of a new diversity initiative at the agency “to make sure that our workforce reflects, in our attitudes, our backgrounds, our ethnicities and our perspectives, the nation we work so hard to defend.”

“This is both a moral and a mission imperative,” Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The CIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for 2016-2019, released in February, focuses on three key goals, according to the agency: “Weaving diversity and inclusion throughout the talent cycle” with a focus “on performance management, talent development, and learning to prepare employees and managers to fully benefit from a diverse and inclusive workplace”; “becoming an employer of choice… by recruiting in diverse communities across America and cultivating an inclusive culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to create an organization that is a model employer for the full diversity of America’s talent”; and “increasing diversity of leadership” by training “current leaders, managers, and supervisors to develop every officer’s potential to prepare a diverse bench of future Agency leaders.”

“I truly believe that the business case for diversity is stronger CIA than it is for any other organization in the U.S. government,” Brennan testified. “Diversity not only gives us the cultural understanding we need to operate in any corner of the globe, it also helps us avoid group think, ensuring we bring to bear a range of perspectives on the complex challenges that are inherent to intelligence work.”

The Director’s Advisory Group was initiated three years ago by then-Director David Petraeus to increase the number of women in leadership roles in the agency.

“And so, we have had implementation teams that have been working over the last three years to make sure that this, the objectives and goals of this study are being operationalized in our promotional and assignments panels and other types of programs that we have inside the agency,” Brennan said.

The director said he asked Vernon Jordan, a former advisor to President Clinton who sits on the CIA’s external advisory board, “to spearhead an effort on diversity and leadership in CIA that took a look at all of the different facets of the agency in terms of representation and leadership, our recruitment efforts, our training and development of officers, and why we have fallen short of even federal standards of what our diversity composition should look like.”

The result, Brennan said, was “a hard-hitting report” that resulted in the agency’s putting together “action teams” on the recommendations.

“I have a lead officer who is involved in it. I have made mandatory training for my senior leadership team,” he added. “In fact, just about three weeks ago, we had several hours of diversity and leadership training for the senior-most officers of the agency. They need to be heavily involved in it. We think we have fallen short over the past years, because we have been so driven by crises that we have not paid attention to some of these strategic imperatives that we need to.”

“And that’s why we need to have our leaders actively involved in these efforts from development, mentoring, sponsoring, to recruitment efforts. I go out to schools. I talk to various groups.”

Brennan said it’s ‘s “not just the numbers,” but ensuring “we have instituted some of the programs that are going to sustain these efforts.”

“It’s putting in place the foundational elements of this. I think then the numbers that we’re going to be looking at in terms of representation are going to increase over time, but I’m most interested in institutionalizing some of these changes, so it’s not just a study that is forgotten about,” he emphasized.

In the main part of Brennan’s testimony, he stressed that ISIS “has large cadre of western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West.”

“And the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West, including in refugee flows, smuggling routes and legitimate methods of travel,” he said. “Furthermore, as we have seen in Orlando, San Bernardino and elsewhere, ISIL is attempting to inspire attacks by sympathizers who have no direct links to the group.”

ISIS, the CIA director noted, is “gradually cultivating its global network of branches into a more interconnected global organization.”

“The branch in Libya is probably the most developed and the most dangerous. We assess that it is trying to increase its influence in Africa and to plot attacks in the region and in Europe. Meanwhile, ISIL’s Sinai branch in Egypt has established itself as the most active and capable terrorist group in all of Egypt. The branch focuses its attacks on Egyptian military and government targets, but has also targeted foreigners and tourists, as we saw with the downing of a Russian passenger jet last October,” Brennan continued.

“…In sum, ISIL remains a formidable adversary, but the United States and our global partners have succeeded in putting the group on the defensive, forcing it to devote more time and energy to try to hold territory and to protect its vital infrastructure inside of Syria and Iraq.”