The following presumptuous “Memo” to Director-Designate Leon Panetta from an imaginary group of CIA staff, is a complete invention - a fiction, though grounded in reality.
We would like to welcome you to Langley and respectfully to offer a few thoughts we hope you might find of interest as you begin your work.
We’re a group of career analysts and officers who’ve met informally for several years to discuss the future of this unique branch of Government, unlike any other you may have seen in your many years of public service.
None of us have had the slightest involvement with, or knowledge of, those past procedures of interrogation and “extraordinary rendition” that have been much discussed recently in the public domain. Indeed, without belittling the legal and ethical issues raised by these activities, they have concerned only a miniscule fraction of the total staff of this Agency, which, for half a century, has been focused on momentous global questions of war and peace.
We’ve also noted the recent public discussion of whether the Director’s position should be reserved for an Intelligence professional. Some believe that no “outsider” is capable of mastering the multitude of esoteric tasks which the Agency must perform in protecting the national security, and that any such “outsider” will inevitably be met with stubborn, under-handed, bureaucratic resistance from subordinates.
We’ve all heard the organizational folklore of past Directors who were “met with knives” and disloyally undermined at every turn by Agency professionals. But in no case did this occur merely because the DCI came from outside the organization. A few Directors were widely considered unqualified for any high position in Government. And antagonism stemmed from staff perceptions of incompetence, willful ignorance or failures of leadership.
Your own record of distinguished public service is well-known, and you come to Langley with ample reserves of respect and good-will.
We believe you’ll find that, for all its Voodoo reputation and sometimes bizarre activities, this is an organization where fair treatment is the norm, where personal ability and dedication in the ranks is rewarded. A man at the top who displays those same qualities will find himself in command of a remarkable “can do” institution that will respond enthusiastically to his executive direction.
From the moment you occupy the Director’s suite, you will be watched at Headquarters with hopeful expectation, not in your role in high policy-making or your response to the kind of “sexy” scandals that make newspaper headlines, but in the far more humdrum, day-to-day administrative decisions that affect us all and ultimately make this diverse organization of multiple “cultures” work as a unified entity.
One great organizational irony of CIA is that because it presents a “secret” face to the external world, and, internally, is well-stocked with experts in human manipulation who are suspicious by nature, there is even greater need for executive “transparency”, for honest and open communication with staff in mundane matters of budget, people and processes.
Of course, security requires some measure of internal compartmentalized secrecy. And there will be many “extraordinary” instances when the matters that reach your desk can be shared with only a trusted few.
But as you begin to run an organization that is new and in some ways strange to you, it’s important for all of us to have a general understanding of what you want and why you want it. Downward signals should be clear and consistent. If no general explanations are provided, they will be readily invented by imaginative minds, and inadvertent information gaps will be quickly filled by uninformed cynics. Pointless hiding of the ordinary can offer disproportionate offense. That’s one way in which mundane errors can squander initial good-will and rapidly mount into crushing bureaucratic resistance.
Another is to arrive without some measure of – another irony – self-confident humility. The totality of modern intelligence work is enormously complex, even for professionals with some “insider” knowledge. We would like to feel that you come to the Agency with a willingness to learn about many obscure matters that are outside your past experience, just as we have complete confidence in your ability to quickly master whatever problems may confront you. The learning curve may be steep, but the hike is worth the effort and will be sincerely appreciated from below, just as false pretense of knowledge and expertise may trigger open derision.
The Director who welcomes initial instruction can also demand, without abrasive aggressiveness, the highest quality of staff support. We can and should be held fully accountable for assisting you to make the many decisions which are yours alone. Successful executives have displayed widely different styles in making these demands – from bombast to skillful inter-personal diplomacy – but what they have in common is the calm assertion of leadership.