As a CIA officer for more than four decades, I had the honor of working for 15 agency directors and serving in senior agency positions, including as assistant director of Central Intelligence for Collection. Some of those CIA directors were highly successful; others, less so.
When I heard that Gina Haspel would succeed Director Mike Pompeo, I was delighted. I know Gina and I know her views on the agency’s needs to strengthen its capabilities in this volatile and dangerous world.
First, Gina understands the need for the CIA to “get back to basics” — to return to its core mission of conducting espionage against adversaries of the United States. Why? Because the CIA must provide exquisite intelligence to the president and his national security team, always maintaining an advantage against those who endeavor to harm our country. This requires the support of war-fighters to contain and destroy terrorists globally while maintaining capacity against “hard targets.”
This includes a revanchist Russia, which violates the borders of its neighbors, runs multifaceted covert operations and conducts cyber attacks against our country and our allies. Collection and analysis of intelligence on China remains a high priority to help counter its aggression into the East and South China Seas, as well as its unfair and illegal practices that threaten the United States’ economic security. In addition, “back to basics” means intensified collection against rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, both of which are developing capabilities to strike the U.S. homeland.
Second, under Gina’s leadership, the CIA will further realign its workforce by putting more capabilities and officers — including all-source analysts and technologists — in the field, rather than continuing to enlarge the headquarters. It is vital that the CIA get these officers close to their areas of responsibility where they can better understand the political landscape, gain fluency in languages and develop deep insight of cultures, which they will never get if based at Langley.
Gina Haspel understands this model: She has lived abroad, she has run large and small agency stations, and she has developed knowledge of languages and cultures. Pushing for a better balance between headquarters and the field and will make the CIA a far more dynamic, versatile agency than the more static model that was developed in the Cold War.
Third, Gina, as director, will bring back and rebuild the “CIA language schoolhouse.” When I first entered on duty during the Cold War decades ago, I was deeply impressed by the CIA’s emphasis on foreign-language knowledge. Officers of the clandestine service were expected to have fluency in countries where they served; they were rewarded financially for keeping their language skills up to date. As the agency moved to more tactical operations after 9/11, it began to focus heavily on immediate support to field officers and war-fighters. As a result, its language skills deteriorated. Gina recognizes this and, once confirmed, she will work hard to restore the eye-watering excellence the agency once enjoyed in language skills. A senior serving CIA officer told me this week, without prompting, that Gina will put significant stress on revitalizing the agency’s language capabilities.
Fourth, Gina will bring new energy to partnerships, within the intelligence community and with foreign intelligence services. She will strengthen relationships with Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats and with intelligence community agencies, especially the National Security Agency (NSA) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). She knows that, to be effective, the CIA must work within an integrated intelligence community. To keep the effort seamless, she knows that this also includes working with the FBI and law enforcement.
On working with foreign services, Gina knows the synergy produced by effective partnerships and that, although working with traditional allies is crucial, the CIA must go beyond our trusted “Five Eyes” partners (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom). To combat the threat of terrorism, in particular, the CIA must lead the way in dealing effectively with nontraditional services globally.
Finally, Gina will build upon the good work done by Director Pompeo and others, such as former directors Leon Panetta and Gen. Michael Hayden, in “on-boarding” the brightest, most skilled and diverse workforce this country can produce. She is determined to pursue this effort by pressing for an improved security clearance process. Improving the broken security clearance system will make us competitive with the private sector in securing the best and brightest coming out of U.S. universities.
As an old hand, I strongly agree with DNI Coats’ worldwide threat briefing that he recently presented to Congress — that the United States is at great risk and dangers continue to mount. The Senate has before it a remarkably well-qualified nominee. The country needs Gina as CIA director, and the Senate needs to act favorably on her nomination.
Charlie Allen served in a variety of posts with the CIA, starting in 1958 and ending as former assistant director of Central Intelligence for Collection from 1998 to 2005. He served as Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis from 2005 to 2009. He is now a principal of The Chertoff Group, a security and risk-management advisory firm.