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A strong, committed intelligence community is part of America's good fortune

A strong, committed intelligence community is part of America's good fortune
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When I was serving as the CIA’s chief of station in a South Asian war zone a few years ago, we were focused relentlessly on the mission as we headed into the holiday season. Our officers were out on the front lines, in harm’s way, meeting sources and collecting intelligence on which policymakers relied to make critical foreign policy decisions. Counterterrorism was our primary objective. We were “over there,” as the late Charles Krauthammer used to say, to detect and preempt threats to our nation so that American citizens would be safe “over here.” 

But as Thanksgiving approached, we allowed ourselves to take a pause to reflect together on the many blessings we enjoyed. Naturally, we were deeply thankful for the camaraderie we shared in public service to our nation. Committed to the ethos of inclusion, we relished every opportunity to rally our team of collectors, analysts and support officers to create a powerful unity of mission.

The Central Intelligence Agency is an elite service because of the extraordinarily diverse skills and backgrounds of its officers, every one of whom is expected to make an impact regardless of his or her level of experience or rank. Everyone’s input matters and can mean the difference between life and death, especially when planning a high-threat meeting with a terrorist source.  As much as diversity is our strength, a common sense of patriotic duty and mission is what binds us together. 

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We also were thankful for the freedoms we treasured as Americans. We all had experience serving in overseas locations, where the local population enjoyed nothing of the freedoms, liberties and democracy enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. The contrast was particularly stark for us when conducting our mission in failed states, where lawlessness and ethno-sectarian strife created a petri dish, which terrorists exploited to recruit followers.

Most of all, we were thankful to our families, especially our spouses who were sacrificing so much on our collective behalf. My wife was home alone, with the sacred duty of raising our sons without my help — no sick days, no breaks, no support from her husband.

I was particularly thankful to my grandfather, the first one of my family born in the United States. After serving in the Navy, while his brother served in the Army, during World War I, he excelled in college and earned a law degree. He blazed a trail that enabled all of us to enjoy our nation’s glorious freedom of opportunity; he founded our family law firm, which is still in practice today.

Too often we get so caught up in the pace of everyday life that we do not take time to reflect on how fortunate we truly are.

This Thanksgiving, my family and I will give special thanks to our military, intelligence officers  and diplomats, especially those serving in harm’s way on behalf of our grateful nation. I know firsthand how selfless, dedicated and extraordinarily proficient they are. 

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And it is also befitting, following a hard-fought presidential election, for Democrats and Republicans to put politics aside and thank members of the outgoing Trump administration for their service. My family and I will express our thanks in particular to CIA Director Gina Haspel, who led the agency with great distinction over the past four years, when our nation faced a dizzying array of national security threats — terrorism, proliferation, and aggression by Iran, China, North Korea and Russia.

Focused on the CIA mission to recruit spies, steal secrets and produce the best analysis possible, Haspel has left the public debate about national security to others while leading the brave, dedicated officers under her command.

Sometimes there is no hiding overt successes such as eliminating ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Qasim al-Raymi, and AQAP’s chief bomb maker, Ibrahim al-AsiriBut most of everything the CIA does — especially running spies behind enemy lines and producing source analysis on which the president and his team rely — happens in the shadows away from public scrutiny, albeit with strict oversight from the House and Senate intelligence committees. 

Intelligence, first and foremost, is about detecting indications and warnings to preempt threats before they are visited on our shores. Policymakers rely on the intelligence community to shine the spotlight accurately on the greatest threats to our national security, assess the options for dealing with those threats, and track how well policy measures achieve the mission.

As one of my mentors used to say, the secret to our success is the secret of our success. And for that we should all be thankful.

Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.