Racing backwards

People at the CIA say the agency is becoming more white, male, and Jesus.

For those who have worked inside the agency, the backtracking on diversity represents a threat to the workforce and national security, according to Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst who helped track high-level terrorist targets like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The agency needs employees from different backgrounds and orientations to effectively recruit agents abroad. “What if you have to recruit someone who’s gay and that’s the only reason they’re talking to you?” she asked.

“This isn’t just about today’s diversity issue. It’s about tomorrow’s lack of diversity that will erode the agency,” Bakos told FP. “You can’t hire someone who’s typically white American to walk around Baghdad.”

Mind you, it took them a long time to figure that out.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order that prevented intelligence officers from losing their clearances on the basis of their sexuality, kicking off what was to be a long and hard-fought shift in agency culture.

In March 2013, John Brennan was appointed director under President Barack Obama, and the new CIA head moved to make diversity and employee rights a priority. Senior leaders competed for spots to speak at employee gay pride events and accompanied the director to diversity events and celebrations.

While embraced by many, Brennan’s policies drew the ire of right-wing publications like the National Review, which claimed his diversity and inclusion strategy was just a way to make the agency more “politically correct.”

Or to put it another way, was “just” a way to make the agency more open to people other than middle class white men. It’s really not self-evident that that goal is something to be disparaged as “politically correct.” It’s neither self-evident nor true that only middle class white men have useful talents and skills.

But for Brennan, the changes were a matter of building a better workforce, as well as national security. “I believe strongly that diversity and inclusion [are] what this country is all about,” Brennan said in a phone interview with FP. “I can think of no organization that can make a better business case for diversity and inclusion than the CIA. We have the responsibility of covering the globe, understanding all societies, cultures, and backgrounds.”

But that was then.

Things changed quickly with President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director, Mike Pompeo. A West Point graduate and former small-business owner, he never made a secret of his conservative social viewpoints during his time as a lawmaker. He has visited college campuses to talk about his disapproval of same-sex marriage, arguing that “the strength of these families having a father and a mother is the ideal condition for childbearing.” He has sponsored several pieces of legislation that would have weakened the rights of gay couples and supported organizations that champion those same beliefs.

Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California, pressed Pompeo during his confirmation hearing on whether he’d support the rights of his LGBTQ employees. He promised that he would treat all his employees in a way that is “appropriate and equal.”

But when he entered the building in late January, the former Republican lawmaker from Kansas publicly and privately snubbed calls for his commitment to diversity, according to multiple sources.

Plus also he’s a Jesus freak.

The concerns are not that Pompeo is religious but that his religious convictions are bleeding over into the CIA.

According to four sources familiar with the matter, Pompeo, who attends weekly Bible studies held in government buildings, referenced God and Christianity repeatedly in his first all-hands speech and in a recent trip report while traveling overseas. According to a profile by the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, Pompeo is working on starting a chaplaincy for the CIA campus like the military has.

The CIA did not dispute these events. “Director Pompeo is a man of faith,” the spokesperson said. “The idea that he should not practice his faith because he is Director of CIA is absurd.”

Oh stop that. The idea is not that he should not “practice his faith”; it’s that he should not practice it on the job.

Michael Weinstein, a former Air Force officer who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says he has been seeing increasing complaints from those inside the intelligence community. Weinstein’s foundation, which focuses on preventing religious pressure from creeping into the military, also has clients in the intelligence community, mostly from the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

According to Weinstein, agency employees don’t want to go public with their complaints because of fear of retribution or being labeled as “leakers.” They don’t typically file formal complaints within the government. But certain things are making them especially uncomfortable, such as officials signing off with the phrase “have a blessed day.”

That’s something “straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale,” Weinstein said.

The foundation’s intelligence community clients have doubled since the July 2016 Republican National Convention, Weinstein said. While he wouldn’t specify the number of intelligence community clients he works with, Weinstein said it was in the hundreds — the majority of them working out of Langley. “In the intelligence community, we see supervisors wanting to hold Bible studies during duty hours [and] inviting lower-ranking individuals to their homes for Bible studies,” Weinstein told FP.

Have a blessed day.

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