CIA Study Finds Low Minority Representation in Agency's Senior Ranks

PHOTO: Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan speaks at a press conference in Washington, Dec. 11, 2014.ABC News
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan speaks at a press conference in Washington, Dec. 11, 2014.

A new internal CIA report has concluded that the agency has not done a good job of promoting minorities to its senior leadership ranks. Concerned by the report’s findings CIA Director John Brennan vowed to implement the report’s recommendations noting that a lack of diversity at the agency’s highest levels has not allowed it to optimize its capabilities at a crucial time in its history.

“Without diversity we’re not going to be able to do our job,” said Brennan.

“The record clearly suggests that the senior leadership of the agency is not committed to diversity,” said the yearlong study led by Vernon Jordan, a prominent African-American attorney. Commissioned by Brennan in January 2014, the Diversity in Leadership Study team also included former senior CIA officials and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The study included data from 28 focus groups, 200 interviews with senior leaders and a survey where 41.5 % of the CIA workforce responded to questions about overcoming barriers to advancement.

“The fact is there has been little progress over the past several decades in diversifying the leadership cadre and pipeline and in sustaining the hiring of diverse officers,” said the study.

The report found that minorities make up 23.9% of the agency’s entire workforce, but those percentages decreased in management positions with minorities making up only 10.8% of the agency’s Senior Intelligence Service (SIS) – the CIA’s highest ranking officials.

Speaking to reporters at the CIA’s headquarters Brennan said he was “frustrated” by the low percentage of minorities within the SIS. He supported the study’s recommendation that the number of minorities in senior leadership positions be increased to at least 30 percent.

The study also found what Brennan labeled a "surprising" and “significant” decline in minority recruitment numbers since 2008. He speculated that an improving economy and strong competition from the private sector might be playing a role in the decreasing recruitment of minorities into the CIA’s ranks.

“I’m determined to see those numbers improve,” said Brennan.

In strong language the report said “the agency does not recognize the value of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, nor consistently promote an inclusive, “speak-up” culture where all opinions are heard, valued, and taken into account.”

Brennan stressed that diversity is important to avoid “group think” among the CIA’s analysts and operators and that a lack of diversity in the top ranks “has not allowed us to optimize the capabilities we have.”

The study was critical of the agency’s current leaders, managers, and supervisors that it said “do not prioritize diversity in leadership.” It said that was exemplified by the CIA’s most senior positions which “with few notable exceptions – are consistently occupied by white male career officers.”

“This is not just another study,” said Brennan, who promised action to remove the impediments the report said prevented minority officers from rising through the ranks. “We need to fix that.”

That includes the establishment of a newly established “Training Center for Excellence” which he said would work to improve recruitment numbers and help promote officials to higher ranks.

Brennan said another impetus for change is the recent integration of the CIA’s operations and analysis divisions into mission centers. He said the sweeping reorganization he announced earlier this year would help eliminate the stove-piping that may prevented minority advancement in the past. He said the changes have already led to the creation of new management positions, some of which have been filled by minority candidates.

The CIA director said meeting the report's recommendations would not be like tuning on "a light switch." Instead, he described a multi-year effort working towards short-term and long-term goals that “shows we’re not kidding, this is real this time.”

Despite the presence of few role models in senior agency leadership positions, the survey found that minority officers are more likely to aspire to senior leadership positions than non-minority CIA employees.