CIA Director John Brennan told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos that the Snowden controversy hasn’t caused “any type of diminishment of interest in the agency” as the CIA continues to bring in monthly recruiting classes. Many recruits share Snowden’s youth and tech fluency. According to Brennan, that’s where the similarities stop. During his exclusive interview with Brennan, Ramos asked him whether the CIA should recruit more “resourceful and intelligent” people like Snowden.
“We need people who are technologically capable,” Brennan said. “But also who believe strongly in the national security of his country and want to do what they can to keep this country safe.” Brennan claims that the beliefs of young CIA operatives closely mirror that of his agency when it comes to Edward Snowden.
“I am very pleased to see that once they have a better understanding of what Mr. Snowden did, they agree with me and with others that it is just damaging to our national security,” Brennan said. “It is not something to be praised.”
When it comes to recruiting, Brennan is not concerned about the onslaught of seemingly damaging revelations made public over the last year. “I think [it’s] because a lot of things that are in the media and the news are really not reflective of the views of most Americans,” Brennan said. But he knows how crucial a younger demographic is to the CIA’s future.
“We need the millennials who have grown up with technology, who have grown up in a much different era than I did, who are very conversant and understand the role of social media and how that affects our world developments,” Brennan said. “These are the people that we need to populate our offices here.”
Polls suggest that the stories prompted by Snowden’s leaks have, at least in part, damaged the perception of the CIA and other federal intelligence agencies, particularly among young people.
In July 2013, a poll conducted by Pew Research found that adults 18 to 29 are more concerned than other age groups that anti-terror policies go too far in restricting civil liberties. The same research suggested the majority of young Americans also believed the leaks have served rather than harmed the public interest.
Greg Miller covers intelligence for The Washington Post. He reported with Barton Gellman on the intelligence “black budget” and other documents leaked by Snowden.
“The CIA had bumper crops of recruits, they had people lining up,” Miller said. “Now that’s cooling off a bit as we get further from the 9/11 attacks.”
Intelligence agencies have long wrestled with their identities in the eyes of the public, who often assume they resemble James Bond in theme and conduct.
“We actually don’t even recruit spies, to be perfectly honest,” said Ron Patrick, who heads recruitment efforts at the CIA. “That’s television. That’s movies. That’s the general theme about how people refer to what we do here. But it’s not at all what we do.”
There is also a public perception that the CIA lacks diversity in its ranks. While women make up 46 percent of their workforce, just 19 percent of female officers were promoted to the Senior Intelligence Service in 2012, according to The Washington Post. The CIA confirmed to Fusion that for the last two promotion cycles to the Senior Intelligence Service, 40 percent or more of those who were promoted were female.
“The CIA has had trouble with diversity starting at the top,” Miller said. “When Brennan leaves, people will look to the next administration to appoint a woman or someone who is not a white man.”
One of the more controversial programs at the CIA is their use of drones as an anti-terrorist tool.
Last summer, Pew found a 17-point gender gap between men and women in their approval of drone strikes. While 70 percent of men think its okay, just 53 percent of women feel the same.
Brennan recognizes that his agency and their tactics are controversial, but he also says they are keeping America safe.
“Can we do better? Yes. Do we need to do better? Yes,” Brennan said. “That’s why it’s important for organizations like the CIA to grow and thrive. Because everyday there’s another terrorist organization trying to kill innocent Americans.”