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In AGS’s first Zoom speaker event, Sue Gordon, former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, joined AGS Director Peter Feaver in a discussion about the current state of the US intelligence community.

AGS event summary by Kamran Kara-Pabani:

Director Gordon began her remarks with some background on her time in government, starting at the CIA after university as a Soviet weapons analyst and eventually rising to serve as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence until leaving government in August 2019. She then addressed the ongoing but advancing challenge of achieving gender-balance in the national security space.

Director Gordon then shifted to comment on the conditions of the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Created Post 9/11, it was designed to foster inter-agency collaboration. However, she noted, the DNI remained statutorily quite weak, with control of the Intelligence Community budget as its greatest lever of influence. As PDDNI, Director Gordon used the power of the budget to shift the IC from a Cold War posture to a counter terror posture, and now to a great power competition posture.

When asked why the DNI needs to be a politically appointed position rather than a career role, Director Gordon said that intelligence must be politically independent, but also useful to its stakeholders—often politicians. Though, Director Gordon also cautioned against political appointees only serving for a short period of time or remaining unconfirmed by the Senate. “Acting” officials may not be aware of the best way to go about achieving their goals and create unintended consequences, she said.

Discussion then turned to the covid-19 outbreak. Asked whether intelligence could have predicted it, Director Gordon said that it was likely that it was identified early but not given significant attention due to the amorphous nature of the threat. To conclude, Director Gordon noted the importance of the government clearly articulating pressing threats and having a unified, well-resourced approach to national security challenges before they develop into crises.