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Former top DNI official Sue Gordon discusses circumstances of her departure from ODNI - Transcript

In this bonus episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell interviews former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon at the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy And International Security at George Mason University's Schar School Of Policy And Government. Morell and Gordon discuss the importance and evolution of the craft of intelligence, the effect of technological change, and the need to make unclassified intelligence available to a broader customer base. Gordon discusses her time in government – spanning seven presidencies – and the circumstances of her departure from the role of PDDNI last year.

Listen to this episode on ART19

Highlights 

  • On former DNI Dan Coats: "[O]ne of the things I think Dan did really well is he understood the ethos of the intelligence community. He embraced what we were, which is kind of relentlessly responsible. He said it, "Seek the truth. Speak the truth." And I think he carried that mantra."
  • On leaving her role of PDDNI: "I didn't want to be another source of rub between the president and the intelligence community... what was most important was that the president got intelligence. So on a personal level, that was a relatively easy call for that reason."
  • On controversies surrounding her departure: "I then became — and that event became... a nail for other people's hammers, where that event, depending on which side of the political spectrum you came on, I was either evil incarnate deep-state who clearly must be gotten rid of, or ... a great intelligence professional who had stood up and given truth to power. And the problem was, I didn't want to be anyone's agenda."
  • On her resignation messages: "So, these two iconic things were actually notes to both communicate to the president and as much to communicate hope and confidence to the intelligence community, because I didn't want them to think that just because I was moving on, that the relationship was broken."
  • On the intelligence community leadership speaking up: "I do think that what we've learned over time is, national security issues spill out into the public. They affect the public. I can't think of a time that the leadership hasn't spoken up, but I think they're going to have to be ready to speak up, because every once in a while you have to correct the record. You always have. And I suspect you always will."
  • On public testimony from intelligence leadership: "I do believe that the American people are involved in national security and you have to be able to have a conversation with the American people in 2020 and beyond. And so, however that's going to happen, I think intelligence is going to have to figure out how to do that well, whether that's open hearings or not."

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - SUE GORDON AND MICHAEL MORELL IN CONVERSATION AT THE MICHAEL V. HAYDEN CENTER FOR INTELLIGENCE, POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, SCHAR SCHOOL OF POLICY AND GOVERNMENT, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON, LEVI MAGYAR

MICHAEL MORELL:

So this is really special for me.

SUE GORDON:

Me, too.

MICHAEL MORELL:

We started the same year at CIA. We grew up together. We took classes together, training classes together. She was always better in the training class than I was. We played basketball together. When we first played basketball, I had no idea that she was a college basketball player.

And she is a bad-ass basketball player, let me tell you. But I've worked with her for a long time. I think the world of her. When she was named the number two in the National Security, in the IC, I could not have been prouder. And it's a great opportunity to be up here with you.

SUE GORDON:

Thanks.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So let's start by talking about the importance of intelligence. So we both started our career during the Cold War.

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Intelligence had a certain importance. And we had a decade where we weren't quite sure what was happening. And then 9/11 happens and--

SUE GORDON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

MICHAEL MORELL:

--there was a significance to that. And now we're in a different world--

SUE GORDON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM)

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right? There's great power conflict, rapid changes in technology. Talk about how important intelligence is today in specific terms, but also relative to history.

SUE GORDON:

Yes. Well, so thanks, General Hayden. Anytime I get to sit in a center that has your name and sit in front of you is a good day for me. And Tom, thank you so much for having me here at the Schar School. And Mike, you know. You know. Two bins for historical context.

So I think we're in what I'm going to call the third epic in threat environments. The first one is the Cold War, where the threat actors were nation-states. Soviet Union was the one that dominated. I know when Michael and I started, I was in an office of 780 people. Seven hundred and seventy-nine of them did the Soviet Union and one guy did China and he also did the rest of the world.

There were nation-states. Governments held the information. We built intelligence systems to go get the information that governments held, and specific collection systems. And our consumers were pretty much policymakers and war-fighters, disproportionately. And our analysis was also disproportionately political and military. First one.

The Berlin Wall falls down. Kind of wandering around that wilderness. But we were still applying Cold War collection systems to a proliferating world. We still were going after the information that governments held. We were still going after it with the same thing.

The problem was, we just didn't have the installed base. So we were applying the same methodology. We were the same people trying to produce the same analysis, but we didn't have the same foundation. And so that's why you see those years after the fall of the Berlin Wall until 1999, we're still organized much the same as we were in the Cold War. We're now trying to apply those same theories about a very distributed world. And I think we could talk about the successes and failures.

9/11 happens. Now non nation-state individuals hold the information. Our consumers are, yes, policymakers and war-fighters, but they are allies, non-allies and state and local. So not only do you have to go get the information in a different place than it was, was held by individuals, and so you see the rise of cyber. Because it's their communications that you're trying to find the information. And you're trying to learn how to formalize this differently than the traditional means.

Now we're in a third epic of ubiquitous technology, digital connected and data abundance, where the world knows everything. We're not having to hunt for information anymore. And so all the threats are to and through information, and so we're in a third change.

But we're still dragging the Cold War organizational construct and the 9/11 construct, and we're trying to figure out how to fit this new world. So, world change, that's the historical context. One thing that has been constant is that intelligence is about colloquially knowing the truth, seeing beyond the horizon and allowing the leaders to act before events dictate. You agree that's--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

SUE GORDON:

That's what we've also done. That's what we're doing today. And I think you could imagine that that is a necessary craft all the way into the future. You can't imagine a future where that craft wouldn't be valuable. Do you agree? And intelligence isn't just about knowing more information.

It is about having a trade craft around being able to deal with fundamentally uncertain information with certainty. It is never opinion. It is always craft how you see and observe events and inductively draw a generalization, rather than having a theory and trying to prove it.

And there's nothing different about today from when we started or at any point in the future, except what? The environment in which you're trying to do that, and who has the information, and how you go after it, and pesky privacy laws and pesky digital connectedness, and what is truth today, and what the hell is the horizon that you're trying to see beyond, and who are the leaders that are making the decisions that you're trying to inform.

And if I look at it today, all of those things have changed, to include the leaders. Would we all agree that CEOs of companies are making decisions that are affecting global security? Should intelligence inform them? Right? So I think that's the most interesting thing to me in a world that has just exploded in terms of connectedness, in a world where the answers are known by kind of the ethos. You still want that clarity, but how do you go get it when most of your rules were designed physically?

MICHAEL MORELL:

So the world has changed.

SUE GORDON:

Yes. World's changed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the intelligence community, like every other--

SUE GORDON:

Same mission.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right?

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Is a little slow to adapt.

SUE GORDON:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, what do you--

SUE GORDON:

But still necessary.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--what do you think are the fundamental changes that we need to make as a community so that we are effective in the future?

SUE GORDON:

Three things. I'm going to prove I can give a short answer. One, we're going to have to figure out how to use unclassified information. So our history is collecting information as we decide to collect it, so it had a "have to have." And we had confidence in the data because we were essentially curating it.

Now we need to use open data, but we need to be able to use it with confidence. And one, you've got to use open data. And you've got to be able to use open data not as a "nice to have," but integrated with all the others. The second thing is we've got to get better at doing economic analysis.

Because a digitally-connected world is fundamentally an economically-driven world. And you can see it in so many things happening today, where alliances are being tested by economic realities. "Yes, I want to be partners with the United States, but China's offering me a deep-water port."

And we have a president that sees the world more economically than just geopolitically. And there are good reasons why the intelligence community is not as steeped in those things, in others, "Where's the information held," and whether we believe we can go after it. So, that's two. We've got to get more economic. And the third thing is, I believe we're going to have to write unclassified products.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because the customer base is changing.

SUE GORDON:

Because the customer base is changing. So my challenge is, is our business isn't secrecy. Our business is national security. And if the people who are affecting national security are either the populace-- they're being influenced-- or the private sector, they're making decisions that affect security.

How do we, the national security apparatus, give information to the decision-- and that is a big change. Right? That's not a casual change. That isn't giving our products to something else, because they're very different crafts. And so you can't be casual around it. So those are the three changes I think we're going to have to effect.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And you pushed these things when you were--

SUE GORDON:

I did.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--the deputy. And how far did you get, do you think?

SUE GORDON:

Boy--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And did--

SUE GORDON:

--using unclassified information, I think we got a long way there, but the systems just aren't in place for it to be able to be considered in the stream of analysis. And there's so much of it, that concurrently you're going to have to have some data analytics and processing. If you want to go with AI, you can. But you're going to have to do it.

And that is hard culturally because of the inherent uncertainty in making analytic judgments. Will you allow a (UNINTEL)? Just so you understand intelligence analysis from an intelligence analyst. Raise your hand if you like doing jigsaw puzzles. Awesome. Keep them up.

Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles if you don't know the picture? Keep them up. Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles if you don't know the picture and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces? Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles if you don't know the picture, you only have a quarter of the pieces and the president wants to know what the picture is in five minutes because he needs to make a consequential decision?

MICHAEL MORELL:

So for the people in my class, I did not pay her to say this.

SUE GORDON:

Right. And so intelligence is about, "How do I construct something around that so that whatever quarter of the pieces I have, I can allow them to be considered legitimately." And so in a world where the world has all this information, I want more to be considered legitimately, well, you're going to have to use machines to do it.

But that is hard when analysts will tell you, "Well, I just know." Right? Or, just history, right? And so the big conundrum on our special intelligence is this notion that, "That's okay. Humans are always going to be in the loop." No. They're not. They can't.

Because if they have to be in the loop, they're not going to be able to see all the things that we're going to do. So, yes, include unclassified information. And then put that into the stream, that's a hard one to do. So, some there.

(OVERTALK)

SUE GORDON:

Economic, I think we're making good progress on economic. I think we are. I think this president has forced that. I think using economic pressure and trying to provide this president with the kind of intelligence, if he wanted to make the kind of decisions he wanted to do, has really advanced our craft in that.

And on the producing unclassified, I think there's some really good noble examples where we've seen the benefit, the 2016 ICA, which was unclassified. That was telling the people who were affected here, American citizens, "You're being influenced." Giving the power to someone else is a notable example. But that's still hard for us--

MICHAEL MORELL:

I also think there's a notable example. Go to the National and Geospatial Intelligence Agency's--

SUE GORDON:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--website, and you will see all sorts of unclassified analysis--

SUE GORDON:

Yes, it's unbelievable.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--out there. It's really cool. And that will actually allow you to do some of the analysis.

SUE GORDON:

It will. Just over the past five years-- and I give credit to my previous boss-- is this notion of (UNINTEL) open. And that is that this is a perfect example of government, is seeing that the government cannot collect it at great expense, could be used openly in areas like disaster relief and understanding the Alaskan tundra and so many things, where taking this historical set of data and making it available for scientists to use is really remarkable.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, so with this large number of national security issues out there--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--what can't we get wrong? What do we absolutely have to get right going forward from a national security perspective, the intelligence community?

SUE GORDON:

I'll go from a national perspective. We need two things going forward. We're going to have to figure out how we trust our communications and how we're able to ascertain what's true. Right? And so if then, the intelligence community is disproportionately expected to be able to operate those, we're going to have to be drivers of those, too.

But the world has figured out how to use the digital environment in order to advance whether our adversaries or our competitors' interests, they've figure out how to advance their interests in the relatively ungoverned, massively instantaneously zero-cost world of data and data manipulation. And--

(OVERTALK)

MICHAEL MORELL:

--so things are linked, right?

SUE GORDON:

Right. They are. So, what we must get right is trust in truth. What intelligence community needs to do is be on the driving side of how you ascertain that, without longing for a simpler time and only looking in the historic places for information, because the information is being held in many other places than where we historically look. And you still need intent.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Sue, you were-- I'm switching gears here a little bit-- you were the number two in the intelligence community during a very unique time, the presidency--

SUE GORDON:

Surprising time.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--of Donald Trump.

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right? And I want to ask you some questions that flow from that. So you were asked by the president to be the number two.

SUE GORDON:

Yes. I was his--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And--

SUE GORDON:

--appointee.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You were his appointee. And you knew a lot about him going into that.

SUE GORDON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

MICHAEL MORELL:

There were the never-Trumpers. There were the things he said about the intelligence community during the transition. There's a lot of stuff going on. Did you have to think about saying yes, or was it, "I'm a soldier, I'm going to salute and serve my country"? Talk to us about that.

SUE GORDON:

Yes, I don't think I had any hesitance at all. Right? I used to talk to a class and say, "If you took all the Cabinet officials standing around in an open field, Hunger Games-style, with all the departments and missions in the middle, everyone would race for intelligence." Right?

Because there's a purity in intelligence. All you have to do is pursue the truth as hard as you can. All you have to do is present it as clearly as you can, so that good decisions can be made. And because you serve the Constitution, as hired by the president, my love of country covers you, you're going to work tirelessly to try and provide information to the president, regardless of who it is-- in my case, I think seven.

I don't know how many you served, but I served seven presidents. So that's a no-brainer, right? Career intelligence officer. The number two is the career intelligence officer. The number one, the DNI is typically-- Jim Clapper was an anomaly-- oftentimes a political appointee. Easy call, right? Because you're trying to give the best information for the best decisions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Second question is--

(OVERTALK)

MICHAEL MORELL:

--Dan Coats, who was the DNI--

SUE GORDON:

And by the way, I would say that anytime for most people your president asks you to do something, I think it's a pretty, pretty brazen person who says, "Yeah, I'd say no." Right? I think that's hard. But in intelligence, it was easy.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Dan Coats, DNI--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--number of times, walking in-- you said it was four-- but a number of times he spoke up publicly--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--and spoke truth to power.

SUE GORDON:

He did.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Did his job.

SUE GORDON:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Is that something that he had to consciously think about, "This is a moment where I need to speak out"? Or was it happenstance?

SUE GORDON:

No, I think one of the things that Dan did, one of Dan's tremendous qualities who answered his nation call several times. And one of the things I think Dan did really well is he understood the ethos of the intelligence community. He embraced what we were, which is kind of relentlessly responsible.

He said it, "Seek the truth. Speak the truth." And I think he carried that mantra. And so I think he did it well. I think he didn't try and cross into policy. I think that allowed him to say it. And the three or four times that he spoke publicly-- many more times than that in policy settings-- but three or four times publicly was when a statement was made that had one or two characteristics.

One is impugning the integrity of the intelligence community. You just can't stand for that. We could be wrong until the cows come home, but not wrong-motivated, wrong-headed. And then the second is misstating what we need to be true. Right? So you see the Putin examples and you see the things around election security. Those two things typically, I really do think it was only a handful of times that he made a public statement where he just needed to clarify what the intelligence or what the intelligence community said.

And he did it pretty non-pejoratively. He just came out and corrected the record. And I think what that did was two things. I think we have kept the intelligence, and I think the current leaders have kept the intelligence community, by and large, with their eyes in the boat. And the second is, just established that there are certain conversations that we aren't going to-- you aren't going to be able to say about the intelligence community.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes. And then the third question is your own experience those last couple of weeks--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right? And having gone through Benghazi, I know as well as anybody that it's not fun to be in the public domain with people saying things about you that aren't true, taken out of context.

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And I'm just wondering how that was for you, number one. And number two, what did you learn from that?

SUE GORDON:

So just in case you all don't spend your whole life looking at the career of Susan M. Gordon-- I don't know why; you might do something other than that-- but the day came in the summer where Dan Coats was no longer going to be the DNI. Statutes said that the principal deputy would become the acting DNI.

And that was the path we were on. And then in a tweet on the day that Dan's resignation was announced, it became clear that there was some question about whether I would be acting DNI. Over the course of two weeks, it became clear that I wasn't going to be acting DNI.

And so we had a problem. Because statute said I must be. And the president clearly no longer preferred that I step into that role. Two things; personal -- One, if you are the third child of a Naval officer and the man that appointed you decides that he doesn't want you to continue, one of the things you do is a cheery, "Aye aye," and you give room for something to happen. The second for me, it was, I didn't want to be another source of rub between the president and the intelligence community. Right?

It was a tough enough relationship that, imagine this, I'm going to fight it out, saying, "No, no, no, no. You must have her." Well, that would become another thing. And what was most important was that the president got intelligence. So on a personal level, that was a relatively easy call for that reason.

On the other half of the personal level, notwithstanding those discussions privately, I then became-- and that event became-- a hammer for other-- I mean, a nail for other people's hammers, where that event, depending on which side of the political spectrum you came on, I was either evil incarnate deep-state who clearly must be gotten rid of, or right--

MICHAEL MORELL:

A great intelligence--

SUE GORDON:

--oh, a--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--professional.

SUE GORDON:

-- a great intelligence professional who had stood up and given truth to power. And the problem was, I didn't want to be anyone's agenda. And so for me, the most difficult time was to somehow keep my own bearing, be true to what I think the craft of intelligence is, which is to keep intelligence in the president's relationship and allow that to happen, while allowing people who have no idea who I am to say things about me that were completely ridiculous.

And so there's some really interesting moments when you try and-- when you're in extremis and you try and figure out who you are. And I would just tell you that when you find yourself in that circumstance, you've got to just navigate it for yourself. Because a lot of people will tell you what to do. You just have to do it.

So to me, it was, one, I knew how to handle the moment even though there's still an uncertainty that I have of why that was in anyone's best interest. The other piece was, then I became news and used for whatever side of the argument you wanted to be on. And for an intelligence officer that pretty much spends their life being a humble tenbender (PH), that was odd. It was odd. It was odd personally.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes. So when you gave the president your resignation letter--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--you also gave him a personal note.

SUE GORDON:

I did.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I'm not asking you what it said, but why--

SUE GORDON:

That's okay.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--did you do that?

SUE GORDON:

Well, they released it. So. The White House released the note. Yeah, so this is so great. One, I will just tell you all, anything you write, anything you said, is written and said. So, just be careful about what you put down. So my resignation letter, I wrote because I had three messages I wanted to send.

Number one is, I was honored to serve. You know what? When I did my confirmation hearing, my opening line was, "I love America. I love being part of the process that our founders envisioned." And I was honored to serve the president of the United States and lead the intelligence community.

So I wanted to send that message. The second was, I wanted to say, "I am letting you have your team." Because that's, to me, what it felt like for some reason. He had decided he wanted a different team. But the real message in that resignation letter was for the intelligence community that said, "Don't worry."

Because if you think of it, Dan's a political appointee. These guys come and go. My worry was the intelligence community would see a careerist go and think, "Oh my god, did we not get the memo?" And what I wanted to do in that note was to say, "Don't worry," One, "Mr. President, the intelligence community's still gotcha."

And the other was for the intelligence to say, is, "Don't worry. You're all you need to be. You didn't need me to be here in order to do it." So that was that. The handwritten note? It was so funny. I had decided it was time that I needed to deliver that letter.

I was down in my car to go down to the White House. And I remember thinking, "Oh my god, what if I can't get in to see the president? That would be rude if I just dropped off a typed letter. I should dash off a handwritten note, just to not be rude." My parents raised me up right. "Don't be rude."

And so in fact I didn't get in. And so the note to the president was just really intended to say, "You don't have to do this." Right? "If you decide that for some reason you don't want to -- I'm not resigning because I'm trying to get away. I'm giving you room and being respectful. If that's not what you want, don't do this."

So these two iconic things were actually notes to both communicate to the president and as much to communicate hope and confidence to the intelligence community, because I didn't want them to think that just because I was moving on, that the relationship was broken.

MICHAEL MORELL:

How do you think the intelligence community is doing standing up to the political pressure?

SUE GORDON:

I think it's hard. I think on the one hand, you can't judge anything by not seeing the intelligence community in the press. Because the intelligence community does its job not in the press. Right? I've got no data that there aren't the exact same assessments being made, briefings being given, involvement of the policy apparatus being (UNINTEL).

So on the one hand, I don't think you can overjudge because you don't see the same to-ing and fro-ing. I think one of the great things about the DNI's position, and especially the DNI carried out by Jim Clapper and Dan Coats, it was trying to be that over-watch, so that it took the heat, so the intelligence community could do the work.

And so I don't think it's surprising that you don't see Gina out there being really vocal, because that isn't where it is. But I do think that what we've learned over time is, national security issues spill out into the public. They affect the public. I can't think of a time that the leadership hasn't spoken up, but I think they're going to have to be ready to speak up, because every once in a while you have to correct the record. You always have. And I suspect you always will.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I'm wondering--

SUE GORDON:

I think it's harder. It's so much more partisan. Again, I say this all the time, it's not as different serving the president, because every president is the same because they're different, and every president wishes intelligence could say things that it can't, and every president is vexed by intelligence because we steal their decision space, but the environment in which that is playing out, both administration that feels under siege and hyper-partisanship on both sides, every action that the intelligence community thinks is just data, actually turns into agenda. And I don't think you can wish that away. I think you have to be ready to also make sure that you're clear about what you're saying.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And let me just ask you to put two recent data points--

SUE GORDON:

Sure.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--into that context. One is, the reluctance, the apparent reluctance of the intelligence community to do an open hearing for the worldwide threat testimony.

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right? That's one. And the other is, the DNI and the director of CIA standing at the State of the Union and cheering during what were absolutely clearly political moments.

SUE GORDON:

So let's see--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do those two things trouble you?

SUE GORDON:

So what was the first one? Oh--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Worldwide Threat Testimony.

SUE GORDON:

No. I think the intelligence community hated open hearings, just in general. Always has. Because it's such a bad forum to be able to naturally articulate threat. Because the real grit and the foundation for much of its assessment lies in classified information.

And so it's an awkward forum to be compelling and complete, particularly when the environment, one, is of challenging those conclusions, right? It's a difficult setting, because you can state things openly but when you're challenged it is hard to defend openly.

And so it's just a tough thing. So, the intelligence community not wanting open hearings-- and again, I haven't been involved with the conversation -- but that doesn't surprise me. Because it's just a really tough one. And especially as partisan politics kicks up, the disadvantage and the chance for misspeak or the chance for misunderstanding just increases exponentially.

So I wouldn't put too much on that, although I would say-- back to where I started-- I do believe that the American people are involved in national security and you have to be able to have a conversation with the American people in 2020 and beyond. And so however that's going to happen, I think intelligence is going to have to figure out how to do that well, whether that's open hearings or not. On the State of the Union-- so just remember, it has not always been thus, that intelligence officers have also been Cabinet members, right? Not in every administration that's true. And so--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bill Clinton it was. George Bush it wasn't.

SUE GORDON:

It wasn't.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Obama--

SUE GORDON:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--it wasn't.

SUE GORDON:

Right. And so I would say that of Cabinet officials and of people trained in speaking publicly about their craft, the intelligence officers are still babes in the woods. Right? I will call us rubes in that regard, where we're just-- it's just not--

(OVERTALK)

SUE GORDON:

--you know, if you're an Air Force officer, you are trained. If you're in the military, you are trained in terms of being able to have open conversations about your stuff. That is just not where we've been. And so I think you still see us growing as intelligence officers, learning how to behave as part of the policy and political community.

So, if that was a misstep in terms of standing up and not-- I put it more in the category of being caught in a situation that's, like, "Oooh, I don't know how to play this. Do I stand up for the Tuskegee Airman? Do I not?" And so, having had no conversations about it and my want is to always find the least sinister conclusion, I would just say it's just another example of growth of intelligence into the public arena and having to navigate, openly, the world of policy, which historically you were able to put your stuff out there and then back gently away.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And then one more question about this environment. And you and I have talked about this.

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Which is--

SUE GORDON:

We've talked about almost everything--

(OVERTALK)

MICHAEL MORELL:

--which is, a lot of formers, including two right here--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right, writing, speaking--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--thinking we're helping you, right--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--the DNI and the intelligence community--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--how did you see that? Was it helpful? Or wasn't? You can be honest. We've talked about this before.

SUE GORDON:

So one, private citizens get to say what they want to say. So, period. Two, we in the intelligence community have long benefitted from surrogates explaining intelligence, which is a kind of particular thing, to the American people.

MICHAEL MORELL:

We were talking about the Snowden example--

(OVERTALK)

SUE GORDON:

Yes, the Snowden example's a great example where when Snowden happened and the press was just merciless basically, making it seem like he was the hero exposing massive misuse of the Constitution, which, nothing further from the truth, the intelligence community didn't know how to speak about it.

So we-- like Benghazi-- thought the answer was, "Don't give fire oxygen. Just say nothing." And so what that meant was, only one point of view was going out there. And so Mike Hayden jumped in. And if you go back in time, he basically showed our way out of that, refuted some of the most hyperbolic statements that over extrapolated-- were doing and brought it back to reality.

And so we have long benefited from-- particularly as more intelligence issues became open-- benefited from it. That said, in this environment that is hyper-political, that same intention to both protect our community-- right, because it was hurtful, some of the things that were being said, and we weren't fending off every challenge, you were trying to both protect the women and men in the intelligence community and talk about realities of geopolitics as you saw it-- but in this hyper-political environment, one of the effects that I saw was that it exacerbated a belief that the intelligence community was political and had a political view.

And so what weirdly happened is it imputed, not to you but imputed to us, that we were all partisan, that if these recent leaders had a view, that it must be that that was a pervasive view of the intelligence community, which we would all tell you, we all have views but they don't affect the work we do. And the second thing it did was it took away people we could turn to have a voice when we needed a voice.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Fascinating.

SUE GORDON:

And three, I think it's part of the reason why I don't have a job, is because I had worked with all these men, supported them. And so that must mean that I am what they are. So, I don't know how that nets out, but I do think that that's-- I don't think you could do anything about it. But the one thing I would say to my former colleagues is, "Thank you for defending our integrity. And you didn't have to worry about our ability to do our job. We knew how to do our job."

MICHAEL MORELL:

One more question before we go to questions from the audience. And that is, you have a lot of students here who are thinking about careers in intelligence.

SUE GORDON:

Yes, yes, you--

MICHAEL MORELL:

What--

SUE GORDON:

--should do it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--what advice would you give them?

SUE GORDON:

One, you should do it. No, seriously. I was asked in another forum, because I think there's just this kind of pervasive, "Oh my god, it's all such a mess, what are we going to do?" You're the people that are going to find our way forward.

Being able to see with clarity what's happening and then figure out how to present that in a way that's useful, it is more necessary now than ever and more elusive now than ever. There is less installed base. There is more to be figured out. There are more pieces of data that can help you.

And there are more domains in which national security is going-- that it's going to be affected, that if you want to have impact going forward, this is exactly the right time to go into it. I think this is an incredibly exciting time if you're as optimistic a human as I am, and to step into this craft because it's so necessary and so elusive. Don't we all want to be pioneers at some level? It's no fun if all the answers are already known. This is a time where very few answers are known. You could be it. So--

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's great.

SUE GORDON:

--leap into the fray. The second one is, this is a technical world. In 2020 and beyond, everyone must be technically competent. This digital environment demands that you understand how technology works. I'm not saying everyone has to be a technologist, but you must not leave that to somebody else.

That has to be part of economics and politics and government and international law. Just looking alone at data rights and privacy, if you don't understand how it is technically instantiated, I don't know how you're going to understand the way through it from a legal or policy construct. And yet, we must, because privacy has to be protected but we have to be able to communicate.

And so both those things. One, do it, because we need it and it's interesting as all get out. And two, make sure you are not technically adverse. And if you are a technologist in this room, for goodness sake, get yourself into social sciences classes, because things-- the same national and international interests are being affected technically. So it's just not what the technology could do, but how it is going to be used that's going to make a difference.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, so we've got two microphones. So, we'll go back and forth between the microphones.

(AUDIENCE QUEWTIONS)

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I get to ask one more question.

SUE GORDON:

Yes, sir?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Which is--

SUE GORDON:

Quick!

MICHAEL MORELL:

--which is, when I wake up in the morning--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--the world looks pretty bleak to me.

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The world and our own politics here. But you are so optimistic--

SUE GORDON:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--whenever I talk to you. Why?

SUE GORDON:

I think it is because as I see the world, we're focusing on a conversation about this moment, about whether this moment is good or bad, whether this country is well-read or not, whether these decisions are well-grounded or not, and with institutions that are looking at some of those things, saying, "You're doing it wrong."

And while I think those are both interesting issues, what I think is much more interesting is this world is changing in a way that we can't long for a simpler time. And that it's a world that just needs to be solved just like it has been solved so many times before, just like it was solved in 1947 and just like it was solved in 2001, that there's a piece of me that instead of being focused on this-- and I agree, this is daunting, I'm a casualty of this-- but what I see in the middle of that is a really changed world with different forces acting on it, where our system is much better positioned to both find a structure that works because we're open and competitive, because we have discourse and we have the ability to have universities where we have different views of how to do it, that if that's all we have to solve, well we've solved that over and over again.

And this doesn't seem so daunting to me, because that is something that we have seen before, even if, with all my hubris of all my years, I can say it's different than I've ever seen. But we have seen different before, so I tend to be optimistic about solving that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I hope you've all got a glimpse into why I so loved working with this person for as long as I did. Sue, thank you very much.

SUE GORDON:

Thanks, Michael. Thank you all. Come to work! Do it! What you're doing is good. What you're doing is good. Thank you so much.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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