Director John Brennan discusses his vision for CIA’s future at INSA Leadership Dinner
On April 28, CIA Director John Brennan spoke at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Leadership Dinner. A full transcript will be available through INSA later this week, but INSA posted a summary on April 30:
Saying “it’s essential to our future as a country for CIA as well as the government to adapt to the changes of the 21st century,” Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan addressed the organizational and philosophical challenges facing his agency and the Intelligence Community before 500 guests at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance‘s Leadership Dinner April 28 at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner.
“Any organization, whether public or private sector, needs to be in a process of continuous improvement and adaptation – to the challenges, to the environment and to the opportunities,” Brennan said. “If CIA is going to rise to that, we need to recognize we need to change organizationally as well as how we think about our work.”
Brennan dedicated most of his remarks to outlining his comprehensive reorganization plan for CIA, which he initially announced March 6. The four “separate lines of effort” include the establishment of a Talent Development Center of Excellence to promote and improve workforce development of incoming and current CIA employees; a new Directorate of Digital Innovation to strengthen expertise and understanding of digital and cyber capabilities; modernizing business practices; and integrating the agency’s capabilities through a structure of 10 mission centers – six focused on regional areas and four on functional areas. “I want to embed in those mission centers all the great capabilities we have inside CIA,” Brennan said. The assistant directors who will lead these mission centers assume their new responsibilities today, April 30.
In his prepared remarks as well as a post-dinner discussion with former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Letitia Long, Brennan described the importance of the Directorate of Digital lnnovation – the agency’s first new directorate in roughly 50 years – to ensuring the agency’s relevance in today’s digital environment.
“Everywhere we go, everything we do, we leave some digital dust, and it really is difficult to operate clandestinely, much less covertly, when you’re leaving digital dust in your wake,” Brennan said. “…We need to understand that environment, and rather than fight against it, we need to be able to leverage it to its fullest potential.”
Not limited to intricate, high-end capabilities, the directorate also would help the agency leverage open source information, which Brennan called “something we need to make sure is integrated into our work and it is not an appendage.”
“Some things now are coming out in social media that our adversaries aren’t aware of, and it’s exposing them,” he said.
While social media is a relatively new phenomenon for the 68-year-old agency, many of its recent and incoming employees see it as part of their lives. Brennan credited millennials as “a driving factor” behind the agency’s readiness for such a cultural change.
“The individuals who come into the agency today have grown up in the era of technology,” Brennan said. “Their lives are mobile. And then when they come into the Agency they have to check their iPhones, Blackberrys, whatever else, and [we] say, ‘Ok, come into this cocoon.’ We need to make sure we operate the way the rest of the world operates in the 21st century. … The millennials are the ones who are driving a lot of the initiatives and changes that we need to be able to adapt within the intelligence business.”
Brennan also noted the government has an obligation to educate the American public about the ways the Intelligence Community’s activities in cyber space respect their privacy and civil liberties protections.
“CIA is asked to do very tough things. We’re asked to do very important things. We’re asked to do very dangerous things, and we’ve been asked to do very controversial things,” he said. “What I want to do is make sure all Americans understand just how integral CIA is to this country’s national security now and in the future.”