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Transcript: David Cohen, Avril Haines talk with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS -

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID COHEN; AVRIL HAINES

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

Avril, David, welcome. It is great to have you both here. There has to be some joke about three deputy directors of the CIA walking into a bar, maybe in Moscow. But it's great to have you guys on the show.

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

AVRIL HAINES:

Thank you for having us.

DAVID COHEN:

Thank you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I want to let our listeners know that today's show is going to be a little bit different. Usually, I only ask questions. But today, I'm actually going to participate in the discussion as well, answering some of the questions. So I think what that means for you guys is that it's fair game for you guys to ask questions as well.

DAVID COHEN:

Great.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So we'll just take this kind of wherever it goes. Okay, let's jump right in. David, I want to start with you. And I know that every day it is different, but what does a typical day look like for the Deputy Director of the CIA?

DAVID COHEN:

Well, for me-- and I think it's probably different for each of you-- for me it began with reading the PDB, the President's Daily Brief, on the way into work. And then when I got there-- it took me about 25 minutes or so to get into the work in the morning-- I'd get there and I--

MICHAEL MORELL:

You read it in the car on the way?

DAVID COHEN:

I read it in the car on the way in. I would sometimes try and work out ahead of time. So that was a typical day. I would get up way too early and try to work out so I didn't turn into a big, fat mess. And then I would meet with my staff. I had some executive assistants. And I would meet with them and talk to them about what was in the PDB. And I had a briefer who could come and join in that conversation. I usually made it through the PDB, so I didn't get brief--

MICHAEL MORELL:

The briefer is not in a car with you?

DAVID COHEN:

Briefer is not in the car. And then the typical day would unfold with preparations for Deputy's Committee meetings, preparations for meetings with others in the intelligence community, and a fair amount of work inside the building. There was a lot of-- in fact, it's really important-- meeting with folks in the building who are working on various projects, whether it's analytics, or operators, or people in support, the S&T, or in the science and technology operation, or in the new digital innovation directorate to understand what they're doing, provide some direction, try and help them understand what Director Brennan, who was the Director when I was there -- and you guys as well -- was hoping to accomplish.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Avril, what was yours? What would you add to that?

AVRIL HAINES:

That's not dissimilar from mine. I would really work hard to try to build in a Starbucks break at some point during the day. I know that will come as a huge surprise to the two of you, but--

DAVID COHEN:

Multiple -- multiple Starbucks--

DAVID COHEN:

Multiple Starbucks breaks. No. But truly--

MICHAEL MORELL:

People should know that there is a Starbucks in CIA.

AVRIL HAINES:

There is.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And it is one of the highest grossing--

AVRIL HAINES:

It's-- (LAUGH)

MICHAEL MORELL:

--Starbucks in the nation.

AVRIL HAINES:

It was one of the reasons that I knew the CIA was the right place for me. I just want to make that clear. But I wonder, was it different for you, Michael? Was it?

MICHAEL MORELL:

No, it wasn't. I think people should appreciate, you know, David's point about preparing for meetings downtown. There's the preparation, which usually takes a good hour in your office talking to folks and thinking about what you want to say. And then going to that meeting, which takes 15 to 20 minutes to get there. And then in the meeting at the White House, a couple of hours at a time, maybe multiple sessions, maybe multiple Deputy's Committee meetings.

Maybe going to the Hill. And then coming back to the agency, driving all the way back to the agency, and then doing a debrief, right? So that is a huge amount of time. As important as the internal stuff is, the external stuff pulls you away from the internal stuff, I think. Right?

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah, I agree. I remember I used to get a card every day that would have my schedule on it so that I could keep track of what was going on. The question for me was always, "What font is the card on?" (LAUGHTER) If it's 10 point, like, how much scarier that is. How many things you could pack in during a day and how you felt as if every moment had to count. It's true. One of the things I learned from the job was how to prepare and how to read while you're in the car, and make calls, and make every moment but it's productive in that way.

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah. I thought one of the difficult things about the job, although it was exhilarating, was that virtually every minute was scheduled; you had something to do. There were few occasions where I sat at my desk and thought, "I've got a half hour of unscheduled time here where I can read the newspaper or even catch up on this stack of briefings that had been accumulating." It was great. It was a constant flow of really interesting stuff, but it was unrelenting.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, I had this habit of, if there was too much scheduled, I would say, "There's too much on the schedule." If there were any empty spots, I would say, "How come there's empty spots on the schedule?" I do think it was important to get out and walk around not only to the people who work directly for us, the heads of the directorates, the executive director, but actually just walk through the building, and pop into an office and see what people are doing, and show your face a little bit. I think that's really important. I assume that you both loved the job. We've talked about this before.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I'd really love to know why you think you loved it. What did you love most about it? Avril, let's start with you this time.

AVRIL HAINES:

I love the people. Honestly, I loved constantly feeling as if I was learning new things. It's when I feel most alive in any job. I loved the fact that when I came to work, no matter how long the day was, no matter how late it was, I felt as if I was contributing to something that mattered, in a sense. The comradery within the agency is really something quite special.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So it's a family.

AVRIL HAINES:

Totally. It's a remarkable experience.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Which I think flows in part from the fact that it's a secret intelligence organization and you can't go home and tell your family about what you're doing. You tend to group, right?

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah, I think that's true. But I also think it attracts people who are not interested in fame and glory, because you're clearly not going to get it at the CIA, right?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

AVRIL HAINES:

You're really interested in doing something that you think is worthwhile for the country. I think that there's a self-selecting mechanism there, in a way, and it brings people together. As you say, you can't talk to a lot of people about your job. You end up feeling as if you can share really only to people who understand it within the agency. That also creates a culture that's-- that's a strength and a weakness, in some respects, I think.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David?

DAVID COHEN:

I wholeheartedly agree with everything Avril said. Just to put a twist on it: I used to, when I would talk to people in the agency, and now and they would ask me, you know, "What did you enjoy about the agency?" the thing that I found sort of exhilarating was the honest dedication of the people working there. I had this experience multiple times when I was there, which I thought, "I wish people could see what was going on in this meeting," or could see how these people are going about mapping out this open they're going to undertake and the care with which it was done, the fidelity to law with which it was done.

For someone like me -- and I think Avril similarly had the opportunity to parachute into the agency after spending many, many years doing other things -- to see this veneer of mythology, both good and bad, sort of stripped away and the way that the people in the agency approach their job was I thought really affirming.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, I had that same thought a lot sitting in meetings. I would think there needs to be a MythBusters, right, that comes in and takes one of these meetings, because there are so many myths out there about CIA being rogue and not being competent. It would just blow all those away. I loved the job too. There wasn't a single day I didn't want to go to work in 33 years, for all the reasons that you guys said. I loved my daily intelligence briefing. I thought that was the most special hour where you can really dig into the substance--

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah, exactly.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--and ask questions to somebody who's really studied it, and do taskings, and get follow ups. I loved that. I loved traveling overseas to visit our officers. I loved sitting with first tour case officers and listening to them talk about the cases they were running. I thought that was all extraordinarily special. Was this the best job you ever had in government?

AVRIL HAINES:

You go first. Yeah.

DAVID COHEN:

So I had thought that my job at Treasury was the best job in government, and it's a fantastic job, until I showed up at the agency. Absolutely. The things about it that really were great is -- a little bit picking up on what Avril said -- it was an opportunity at age 52, whatever I was when I started, to learn an enormous amount about the world, about our government, but even more importantly about how the world operates and how we operate in the world.

That was an opportunity that I think few people have. I felt extraordinarily privileged just to have the opportunity to learn that. I think it's a great job if you can constantly be learning. It was consequential. What makes a job enjoyable is that you wake up in the morning and you think I'm going to do something today that makes a difference, hopefully for the good. I did think that in that job you had the opportunity to do good and you had that almost unique opportunity to do good every day.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And you had Deputy National Security Advisor, Deputy Director of the CIA.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah. I would take Deputy Director of the CIA pretty much any day over Deputy National Security Advisor in some respects. They're very different. The reason I say that is not-- I loved being Deputy National Security Advisor, too. When you're in the agencies, you actually feel as if you have the capacity to get things done. That's a heady feeling in some respects. You actually are taking policy and you're watching it be implemented, in a sense. You're taking action to try to--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do something.

AVRIL HAINES:

Exactly. In the interest of the United States government. You see how that translates, in a sense. When you're in the National Security Advisor position, in a way you're a glorified staffer for the President, which is a remarkable thing. One of the most incredible things about that job is that you get to be there for all of these incredibly important meetings with the President, and leaders, and kinds of things, and watch his decision-making process in a very intimate way.

You get to cheer the deputies and facilitate that policy making process in a way. It's a very different job. In some respects, being a staffer is more suited to my personality. I'm a bit of an introvert, and I'm not somebody who's very comfortable being out there constantly. At the agency, you're a leader of the agency. You need to be out there. You need to do things like ribbon cuttings and talking to the workforce and so on. That pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it was also--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Good for you.

AVRIL HAINES:

--a growing experience. Yes, I know.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Good for you. (LAUGH)

AVRIL HAINES:

Both of you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So let's shift to a discussion a bit about the agency's performance. I want to give our listeners a sense of how the agency's doing and serving the American people and serving the President. As you guys think about that, I'd love to hear about your prescription of the agency's performance before you got to the agency. You were at the White House, Avril, as a legal advisor at the NSC. David, you were at Treasury as an undersecretary. You saw the agency; used the agency's product, and then you went to the agency. How do you think about the agency's performance in general and then in that context? David, you're up.

DAVID COHEN:

Should I go first? Okay. When I was at Treasury, we were heavily dependent on the intelligence community to provide us information to fuel the sanctions programs that I helped to oversee. I had a very good impression, I thought, of the agency as the lead analytic core of the U.S. government in terms of giving us the information we needed for our sanctions programs to work. What I did not appreciate, and soon came to learn as soon as I got to the agency, was how little I knew about the agency and what the agency did from my perspective at the Treasury Department.

Which I thought it was a very healthy relationship. I got out to the agency and realized there was a vast amount of additional understanding, analysis, operational activity going on than I had appreciated when I was at Treasury. I think the agency by and large -- and we can get into more detail on this -- does a spectacular job in the areas where there is a focus in investment and policy interest. I had the privilege when I was at Treasury to be in one of those areas.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Avril?

AVRIL HAINES:

Just building on what David was saying: I-- and I'm really interested in your perspective on this, Michael, too. If you think the way I do, at least, watching policy makers at the National Security Council trying to absorb a huge range of issues. It's impossible for any one person to be an expert in all of these different issues. Not only are they expected to cover this huge range of issues, but they're also expected to do it at sort of a rapid-fire pace and to be making decisions about, frankly, what should they even spend their time on.

Which of these things are real crises? Which are not real crises? How should we prioritize these issues? Then what should we do about them? You recognize the premium that's put-on information, on information that both is accurate, that gives you a sense of what's actually happening in the moment, but also provides context for what's occurring. The one place that you can get that kind of information where you don't have an agency generally that's trying to spin you on essentially the policy outcome that they're interested in or the particular decision that they're interested in making, is from the intelligence community.

What I saw, both as a lawyer but then ultimately from the Deputy National Security Advisor position, is just how critical that was at so many different moments to provide context to be able to make the kinds of decisions that you need to make at the National Security Council. I think it's more important now than ever, in a sense, in that context.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I think all of that is right. I do think in terms of collection that our-- this is five years ago. I don't know what's happening today. In terms of collection, I think the record is mixed. I think there are issues where we knocked the ball out of the park.

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

If we could tell Americans, "Here's what we know about X, Y, or Z," they would say, "Oh my gosh. You guys are doing a fantastic job." Then I think there are some areas where there are some significant gaps.

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because the job is hard. Because we don't have all the resources we need. Because there's only 24 hours in the day. But there are some areas where, if I could tell the American people, you know, "We don't have access to this, this, or this," they'd say, "Wow. You're not doing your job." I do think on the collection side it's mixed. I'm not sure there's a lot that can be done about it.

AVRIL HAINES:

Did that change a lot over the period that you were in the agency?

MICHAEL MORELL:

No, I don't. I think during the existence of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, that's where the focus was. We were very good on that, and we were less good on other things. Then after 9/11 we were--

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--very good on CT. There were some holes in other places. Tom Donilan said once to me -- we were talking about a particular issue that was very, very important to him and very, very important to the President. He said, "The analysts have taken this as far as they can take it without new information, new clandestine information." He was both giving me a compliment but also saying, "Hey, there's more you need to do here." I think that's a pretty good way of looking at it.

DAVID COHEN:

I think -- just to sort of build on that a little bit -- coming from Treasury and having the opportunity to sit with economic policy makers, I think that point that the agency is very good in areas where it is invested and has a long-term investment but not so good in areas where, frankly, it's hard and we haven't invested describes economic analysis quite well. We do not do a great job, by and large, not in the sort of microeconomic, following the money. The agency and the intel community is pretty good at that. Understanding broader trends in economics in a way that is useful to economic policy makers I think that's an area where I think, both as a matter of collection analysis, the agency could do better.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So what do you guys think is the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the place? And maybe I'll go first here. I happen to believe that people and organizations' weaknesses flow from their strengths. It's actually a great way to think about people, right? I am a horrible listener. I'm in part a horrible listener because when I ask somebody a question, my mind is so analytic that I'm thinking about what the answer is, rather than listening to them.

That's a weakness that flows from a strength. I think the agency's great strength and great weakness is the same. I think its focus on mission: It's a great strength for the obvious reason. It's a weakness because we really don't want to talk about or do anything unless it has to do with mission. Trying to get somebody to go to a leadership training course, for example, or focus on anything like that is really, really hard at the agency because people are saying, "Don't take me away from the job. Don't take me away from the mission." That's the way I think about it.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah. It's interesting, because I started off as a lawyer in the government. It's the same issue in legal offices, generally. You get promoted because you're a really great lawyer, not because you're a good manager. There was never an effort to really promote leadership and management in the office. I saw a version of that I think at the agency. I agree, that's an issue.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And every director has tried to tackle that. Every director has--

AVRIL HAINES:

I know.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--some leadership initiative.

AVRIL HAINES:

It's a perennial--

MICHAEL MORELL:

It's a perennial problem.

AVRIL HAINES:

--issue. Exactly. You really have to change the culture--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes.

AVRIL HAINES:

--of the place in order to actually have an impact--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes.

AVRIL HAINES:

--on that. I think that's true of a few things like that. And I agree, it's also strength. It is true. David sort of alluded to this in his initial talk about the agency. It is also really impressive how focused people are on mission and how effective we are at being able to get things, like in a crisis, get out the door in an innovative, creative way to actually do something about the challenge.

I also think in many respects the value that I put on the table earlier of being an institution that's capable of providing analysis without having a dog in the policy fight is another great strength that the agency brings to the table that you just don't see from other places in the government and that I think is critical.

I also think -- in your sort of strengths are also weaknesses -- I think there's a weakness that comes with that, which is, in a sense, because there's so much value put on being objective and trying to provide that analysis without having a spin on it, in a sense, you also find that the agency can be isolated in ways that is not always healthy and integrating the agency's work, for example, into things below the Deputy's level is a challenge. I think also the agency's ability to pull from other agencies, essentially the economic piece that David mentioned but also other places--

MICHAEL MORELL:

The tendency toward insularity.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah, exactly. It isn't always a useful thing for the analysis, in a sense.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David? Quick thought?

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah. Just sort of on the same theme of strengths and weaknesses. I think the agency is very, very good at providing both collection and analysis on the critical issues of the day. Where I think the agency could do better -- and I think this is also a perennial that both I think directors and folks at the NSC have pressed the agency to do -- is to look over the horizon to understand challenges, really significant challenges that are coming but that have not yet fully ripened into a crisis to alert policy makers to that at a time when there can be policy changes that can avert a big problem down the road. Which is not to say the agency doesn't do any of that, but because of the intense focus on mission, and on the crisis of the day, and on providing--

MICHAEL MORELL:

On the inbox. Yeah.

DAVID COHEN:

The inbox. Right. Providing policy makers what they need to deal with a current crisis, that sometimes gets left behind.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah, agreed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Avril, David, let's shift to talk about some of the important issues of the day. A place I'd like to start is the challenge that Director Haspel faces in a very dangerous world with a lot of threats and a lot of challenges, so a tremendous amount of work to do. Operating in a political environment here in Washington that is probably the toughest that I've ever seen. How do you think about the challenges she is facing, how she's doing, David?

DAVID COHEN:

I think she has an extraordinarily hard job, in part -- I think there's no reason to sugarcoat this -- in part, because the President is not a serious consumer of intelligence, if he consumes it at all. The agency is geared to providing its analysis to the first customer, to the President, and having the President at least understand it and then make judgment. I think none of us are obviously inside right now, but all of the reporting -- and there's no reason to doubt this -- is that the President does not pay a great deal of attention to what the agency is producing.

I think that makes her job hard. I think she's done well -- I think we saw this recently in the context of the analysis regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi -- where she went up to the Hill, quite clearly delivered what was the CIA's analytic line to Congress when, frankly, Former Director Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mattis didn't. I think that--

MICHAEL MORELL:

She wavered initially on that. She--

DAVID COHEN:

Well, she didn't go--

MICHAEL MORELL:

She didn't go initially.

DAVID COHEN:

Yeah, it was--

MICHAEL MORELL:

I was a little worried--

DAVID COHEN:

--unclear why.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--about that moment. But she did go and she did, evidently, say exactly what the agency thought.

DAVID COHEN:

I thought that was an important moment in her directorship and to plant the agency's flag that she is able to present the truth to power in that fashion.

MICHAEL MORELL:

She seems to have made a decision to stay out of the public eye in a way that previous directors were trending to do more and more of. How do we think about that?

AVRIL HAINES:

I suspect that doesn't surprise any of us, knowing her. She's not somebody who I think relishes the spotlight in that kind of way. I'm very sympathetic to that because I feel the same way. I think that's probably a good choice for her right now. Although, she did just give a recent speech. I think it would be great to see more of those, because I think she is really a terrific face of the agency. I think she's somebody who can talk to folks around the country and explain what it is that the intelligence community does and the value that it brings and explain things that are not obvious to many people I think in this country.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I think it, not being out there, fits her personality. I'm not surprised from that perspective. And I'm also not surprised from a political perspective. If you're the Director of the CIA and you go out there and you get asked, "Is Iran living up to its commitments under the nuclear agreement?" the answer to that question is, "Yes." Right?

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah, exactly.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Your boss doesn't want to hear that. If you lean towards your boss and raise some questions about whether the Iranians are doing that, you put yourself at odds with your building. If you lean towards your building, you put yourself at odds with your boss. It's very dangerous to be out there. I think it probably makes sense for her to be a little quiet. It doesn't bring back a little myth of the nation's spymaster, too, I think a little bit.

DAVID COHEN:

I think that's right. I think she's in a terribly difficult spot because of the fact that the policy direction is, on a whole range of issues, obviously contrary to what the analytic line of the agency is. I do think it's important-- and granted, this is not Director Haspel's comfort zone-- it is important for the Director of the CIA to make an effort to be out in public and talk about what the agency does.

That doesn't mean that he or she needs to get deep into the analysis on particular issues; but talking about how this secret intelligence service goes about doing its work I think is one of the key requirements of a leader in the intelligence community.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Avril, a special question for you about women at CIA.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You were the first female Deputy Director. Gina's the first female Director. Gina just appointed the first female Head of Operations. Tell people why that's important; why that matters.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah. I will, but I want to say one thing about the two of you. Michael, I credit you with convincing me that I would be good for the agency coming into the job at the Deputy Director.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Having coffee at 5:30 in the morning.

AVRIL HAINES:

Indeed. (LAUGHTER) Exactly. At Starbucks. Yes. I credit both of you as being men that I've had the great, honestly, joy to serve with who make a special effort, frankly, to think about diversity in the context of your work and promoting people and trying to change the culture in a way that's productive for women. That's something I can't tell you how much it means to so many people around us that have benefited from that.

Because I look at my own career. And honestly, I have so many women who went before me to thank but also a lot of men that made space for that in that context. Anyway, I think it's critically important in ways that I didn't recognize, frankly, at the beginning of my career. Which is to say that I think I undervalued the degree to which seeing women in a variety of different styles and approaches to leadership meant to younger women who were coming up through the ranks and who can say to themselves, "That's somebody-- I could be that. I can be the Director of the CIA. I can do that."

And moreover, to see that whatever their particular style is is represented in leadership in some way. It has an impact. It has more an impact on me emotionally than I even give it credit for at times. Just watching Gina go through that process and take the mantle of being the Director of the CIA; seeing Beth be promoted in that way. I recognize the value that that has for women. One of the moments I had, similar to David's description of I wish somebody could be in this meeting and watching this, the absolutely astoundingly talented young women in the agency is just on a daily basis is just remarkable. You watch these-- right?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah.

AVRIL HAINES:

I know you've all seen it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Absolutely. I agree with you 100%. But I think before you, and Gina, and now Beth, they always wondered whether they could get to the top. And now they know they can. I think that must be terribly, terribly motivating for them.

AVRIL HAINES:

I hope so.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, let me ask you a special question, which is about the modernization of the agency that Director Brennan put in place. Tell us what that was and tell us how well you thought it was working and how much of a difference you thought it was making when you left the building in January of 2017.

DAVID COHEN:

It was, in concept, actually quite simple. The idea was we have an agency with capability in a variety of different areas, whether it's in collection, in analysis, in support, in science and technology, and that the agency would do better, be more effective if we found a way to not operate in silos but to operate collaboratively. The idea was essentially to reorganize the agency so that the different capabilities, collection, analysis, support, technology, were combined and focused on particular mission sets, whether parts of the world or specific subject matters. It was controversial because it--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And there was-- just to let people know-- a couple of places where that was the case--

DAVID COHEN:

Exactly.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--before modernization. Counterterrorism being one. And those tended, in my view, to be the most effective organizations.

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So--

DAVID COHEN:

Right. It was building on that. The Counterterrorism Center combined all of these elements. That was the germ from which the modernization grew. It was disruptive. We were talking before about how the agency is very mission focused and doesn't like to do things other than put their head down and charge ahead. It required people to lift their head up and think about working at the agency in a different way.

But I think by and large -- obviously not uniformly -- people understood that collaborating, combining the capabilities of the agency in this way would make the agency more effective, both in terms of the core mission of what we're doing as well as helping to integrate with the rest of the intelligence community and the rest of the policy community. I think we had two years to put this in place. It was starting to gel. I'm happy to say that Director Pompeo, although I think was initially skeptical, by and large kept in place modernization. And Director Haspel has as well. Can I say one other thing about modernization to--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sure.

DAVID COHEN:

--pick up on your question, Avril, on women in the agency. One of the key elements beyond the reorganization was an emphasis on diversity and on insuring that the agency identified, and promoted, and invested in officers from very, very diverse backgrounds, both because it was effective for the agency-- we need officers who can operate anywhere in the world in various cultures with various languages; and the more that we have officers that come from diverse backgrounds, the better able we are to do that-- but also because it was the right thing to do.

I give enormous credit to Director Brennan for being very courageous and forthright in pressing diversity to a point where there were people who were uncomfortable with the extent to which he was doing it. But it was absolutely the right thing to do for the agency.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You're at the NSC as the Deputy National Security Advisor as they're digging into modernization. Are you seeing an impact into what they're bringing to the table?

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah. While I was there, we did the review that basically pulled together what it was that would be the plan for modernization, essentially.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

AVRIL HAINES:

And so I obviously knew what was happening and had seen the beginnings of it moving through. Before getting there at the NSC, another aspect of what I saw at least was when agency officers would go into conflict zones or into areas like that where you saw a microcosm of this conflation of the different, essentially, directorates that David mentioned, you'd see that extraordinary value of basically the interaction between the different places.

It really was-- you could see the younger generation getting very excited at the prospect of actually trying to bring that into headquarters and make that work in a way that was effective. When it came to being then, at NSC and watching this happen, one of the most obvious places from the NSC perspective of what was happening -- and sort of the impact of modernization -- was that you had somebody sitting at the table in the Deputy's discussions sometimes when the Deputy wasn't available, who actually could represent all of the different parts of the agency.

Because what would happen previously when the Deputy wasn't available, you'd have the lead of a directorate usually there, either analysis, or operations, instead of having somebody who actually represented all of these different directorates. And that really made an enormous difference because they could bring to bear, essentially, the expertise and the knowledge of all the different pieces of the agency when providing the perspective of the agency.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So my take -- and John talked to me before he did this. I was supportive. Everybody now knows that out there. I do think it is extraordinarily important to mitigate the downsides of any organizational structure. I think the downsides of this organizational structure are the tradecraft of the work, both operational and analytic. It doesn't mean that it has to suffer. It means you simply need to pay a lot more attention to it.

You didn't have to do that before because there was one person in charge of analysis and one person in charge of operations, and they could set a standard, and they could hold everybody to it. And now there's 10, 11, 12 people doing that. There is a risk to that, and you just have to mitigate it.

I want talk about John Brennan. We all worked for him. We all admire him greatly. We all know his record of public service. We all know that there are Americans -- this is literally -- there are Americans who are alive today who wouldn't be without John's work. John, since leaving government, has chosen to challenge the President quite directly. I just want to know how you guys think about that, a former senior intelligence official, career intelligent official really stepping -- I know he doesn't think about it this way. He doesn't think about it being political. But really stepping into the political arena. How do you think about that?

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah. From my perspective, I'm very supportive of him speaking out on these issues. Here's sort of my thinking on this: I think he sees the current situation as an aberration and really is deeply concerned about what's happening right now; concerned about some of the approaches that President Trump has taken and how it's affecting, among other things, the intelligence community and our national security. When it comes to--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And very concerned about where all of this is going.

AVRIL HAINES:

Exactly.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Not just where we are.

AVRIL HAINES:

Right. Exactly. And how this will affect the country's ability to survive in the future in a way that he imagines it can. I think in a moment such as that, it's hard to imagine anybody not wanting people with the experience that John Brennan has had speaking up. In other words, this is somebody who has spent decades in national security and intelligence, who has served multiple presidents of different parties, who's seen so many things that the average person has not seen, and he can provide context, and he has credibility, and he has the ability to analyze and tell you when something's wrong.

I want that voice in the public discourse. I want to hear what he has to say. I don't think that everybody has to agree with him. I certainly think you can judge for yourself whether or not what he has to say is something that you want to take onboard, but I would not want to silence that voice.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do you think, David, there's a cost to the agency at all?

DAVID COHEN:

I think that is a concern of people who are really close to the agency. But I think as a general matter, there is not a cost to the agency. He's a former director. He's a private citizen. As Avril said, he's someone who has spent a career in intelligence and national security and has a perspective and a special authority from his service that I think is valuable for him to bring into the public space.

It's not just that John has a minor policy difference with what the administration is doing from what a prior administration is doing. I think what John is doing is sounding the alarm that we are being governed today by a President, by an administration that is several deviations away from the norm; that there is a President who lacks the intellect, the ethics, the capability to run a country in a way that protects the country going forward.

And he has seen others in other countries behaving in this fashion and sees where that leads. I think it's important to recognize that it's not just John. You have former agency seniors, like John McLaughlin or Mike Hayden, who are also publicly critical of the direction that the administration has taken. Again, not because it's minor policy differences but because of a real, serious concern. You have former senior military officers, Stan McChrystal, Bill McRaven, people who have spent their life defending this country, who are deeply alarmed at what's happening. I think they have every right, and I would say an obligation, to speak out.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I agree with all of that. I agree with all of that. Where I end up is, I wonder how many minds are being changed, because people are so firmly pro-President or firmly anti-President. And boy, it's hard to move a person from one box to the other. There aren't a lot of people in between, right?

DAVID COHEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I just wonder -- I don't disagree with what John's doing -- how many minds end up being changed at the end of the day.

AVRIL HAINES:

But should that be the reason not to talk?

MICHAEL MORELL:

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

AVRIL HAINES:

I mean I don't--

MICHAEL MORELL:

I don't know.

AVRIL HAINES:

'Cause part of what I think is--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Just an observation.

AVRIL HAINES:

Yeah. Look, part of what David's saying too, which I subscribe to as well, is that all of these people that David mentioned are folks who are geared not to engage in political discussion or to criticize the President, frankly. Just by the virtue of their professional experience and the culture within which they grew up, and yet they're speaking out. I think it may not change people's minds who are core supporters of one side or the other, but I do think over time there's a moment at which people start to recognize, gee, something's different here. This is really kind of extraordinary. They may not listen at the moment that it's said, but there may come a tipping point at which those voices are—

MICHAEL MORELL:

Becomes more significant.

AVRIL HAINES:

I also think when those people speak up, it gives people the space within which to begin to have that discussion in a way that they haven't before. One of the key challenges I think we're facing right now is the country is so extraordinarily divided on so many issues. Politics is a clear one, but there are a lot of different divisions that we're dealing with. I believe, as I know you two do as well, that we are going to be stronger if we're united.

We're going to be more capable of promoting the interests of the United States and its citizens if we're united. I think that's something that if we can actually engage in a public discourse where we disagree and where we have views to express and so on that actually promotes being united, that's what we're trying to move for. These are the kind of people who can do that, who recognize both sides of arguments, who see the value in having different politics and different views, but nevertheless recognize once you've gotten to the aberration, essentially, that David described.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You guys, our time's up. You guys have been terrific. Thank you so much for joining us on the show.

AVRIL HAINES:

Thank you.

DAVID COHEN:

Thank you.

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