CIA Director Brennan comments on agency’s progress 16 months into modernization effort
Calling it a tremendous advantage to fulfilling its various missions, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan shared his optimism for the agency’s adjustment to its recent modernization with more than 400 guests at a Leadership Dinner hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) Tuesday evening at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance announced July 20.
“I think the initial opposition to this in some quarters has dissipated as we have been able to explain what the purpose is,” Brennan said of his March 2015 announcement that stood up the agency’s fifth directorate, focused on digital innovation, and 10 mission centers. “And what I’ve said to our people is, we’re not trying to homogenize everybody to create a single intelligence officer. … There is great pride in being a case officer, an operations officer, great pride in being, what I think is the gold standard of analysis in being an analyst in the CIA. So we want to try to leverage that pride, but bring it together so that they are able to interact with one another in a manner that empowers both their capabilities and mission.”
The agency modernization was one of several topics Director Brennan covered in a wide-ranging conversation with moderator Dr. Jennifer Sims, nonresident senior fellow for national intelligence at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The discussion covered the recent unrest in Turkey, efforts by the U.S. and its allies to defeat ISIL, and monitoring the Iran nuclear deal, as well as encryption.
“The government wants encryption; the government wants strong encryption. We rely on that,” Brennan said. He reiterated an earlier call for a congressional commission in the next administration that would foster dialogue with government and industry. “I do think there needs to be a much more candid discussion and honest discussion publicly about the role of government in the digital domain. This is what is really, I think, going to affect our ability as a government, as an intelligence community, to keep this country safe,” he said.
Brennan also reflected on the agency’s detention and interrogation program, saying the agency was “ill prepared to do it,” and that individuals were held accountable for mistakes made. He added that he believed the agency would be able to meet its counterterrorism mission without future use of such a program. He also commented on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the program, which he said failed to take the agency’s total counterterrorism efforts at the time into account.
“If it was done in a more objective, non-partisan and fair fashion, it would have put those shortcomings into a better context,” he said. “I fervently believe that there was no agency more responsible for preventing a reoccurrence of 9/11 than the CIA. Unfortunately, that report I think misrepresented the totality of the worth of that program.”