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Transcript: Ellen McCarthy talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - ELLEN MCCARTHY
CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:
Ellen, welcome to the show. It's great to have you.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
It's great to be here, thank you so much.
MICHAEL MORELL:
I should remind our listeners that this is the second in what will be a series of interviews with the currently serving leadership of the intelligence community. Russ Travers from the National Counterterrorism Center was our first, and Ellen, we are very lucky to have you so early in this series. Perhaps the best place to start is to talk a bit about your career. You started your government career as an analyst in the Office of Naval Intelligence. How did you end up there? What was your first account? And do you remember some of the things that you worked on?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Oh, great. So I started at the Office of Naval Intelligence in the late '80s, but the way I actually got the job was I was a reporter and a circulation manager for the Capital newspaper in Annapolis--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Wow. So a journalist becoming an intelligence officer.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Uh-huh. And the publisher of the paper, Phil Merrill, took a special interest in me and served as a mentor to me, helped me apply and ultimately work through a graduate program at the University of Maryland. And then throughout the course of mentoring said, you know, "Have you thought about intelligence?" And I really hadn't. At that time I was working at the Institution for Defense Analysis, doing a project, actually it was my thesis as well as a project for IDA on depressed trajectory ballistic missiles as a countermeasure to SDI--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Wow, wow, wow.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
And through that and through this mentorship, the Office of Naval Intelligence became an opportunity. I'll tell you, I have had, you know, unlike you and your career probably, I was not this, you know, this high school student that thought, you know, "Someday I'm going to work in the intelligence community."

It actually just sounded like fun, and I thought, "Well, we'll do this for a couple of years and then I'll move back to Annapolis and I'll have my boat and my house and my golden retriever and I'll work at Naval Proceedings." That's really what my goal was. But every job and every opportunity tended to be more fun, so I stuck with it for a while, and here I am today.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Did you do Soviet things when you started?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So when I started --
MICHAEL MORELL:
Like everybody else did?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
--I was the Soviet submarine scrapping analyst, at then the Naval Technical Intelligence Center. So I followed Soviet scrapping of submarines. And I would be expected to report on it. At the time--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Because we needed an accurate count, so we needed to know how many they were bringing on as well as how many they were scrapping.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely. It was contributed to order of battle numbers. And through that I became more and more interested in the Soviet Navy and the Soviet submarine program. I worked Soviet submarine design for a while, and then I moved over to the operational side and started following Soviet submarine deployments, like everybody did back in those days.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Did you have your own submarine you followed?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I did. I had the Akula, it was very cool--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Wow. So I assume, Ellen, that this was a male-dominated business when you started?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely.
MICHAEL MORELL:
How did you navigate that?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
You know, it was a male-dominated business, but, you know, I think this is where ignorance is a little bit of bliss. I didn't really know any different. It was just the way it was. And I think it was also because I had some phenomenal bosses, who all happened to men, who continued to encourage me and develop me, mentor me.

Although we didn't have mentoring, that was not the term of art at the time. But I just had great bosses who kept working with me. So I really didn't know any better. I'll tell you, it was very interesting, I only realized later in my career, and it was the jump from GS-15 to senior executive.

Then did I realize that while I had great male bosses, it was the women who I worked with who really actively engaged on my behalf and helped me make that leap from GS-15 to senior executive. And that was an important lesson that I share with all those that I work with today.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And what advice would you give to a young woman today, you know, just starting in the intelligence community?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
It's still a pretty male-dominated business. It's much better than it was when I started. I think the Fran Townsends and the Joan Dempseys and the Tish Longs and the Sue Gordons have really, they've blazed a path for women to come in and to--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Gina Haspel now.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Gina Haspel, exactly. They've really blazed a path for women to come into this community and be looked at as somebody who could be the director of the CIA at some point. But, you know, the advice I give all of the women I work with is that it's not only important to be really good at what you do, but it's really important to have and maintain a very strong network.

And it has to be men and women. And it's time-consuming to do that, it's not easy, since most of us in the intelligence community are introverts. But it's just critically important to not only help you in your development, but as you look at making next steps to get people to actively engage on your behalf.
MICHAEL MORELL:
I think the men part of that men and women network is really important, because it's often men who are making decisions. So you want those in your network, right, whether you're male or female.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Ellen, you've had a very interesting and atypical career, I would say.

You served in several different IC organizations, and you served outside of government but in roles that supported the intelligence community. So I think that gives you a set of experiences, a breadth of experiences that many in the IC don't have. I mean, I served my entire career at CIA except for a short stint at NCTC. Given all of that, I'd love to hear how those experiences across the IC and in the private sector have informed how you think about your job now.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Well, Michael, thank you for that question. Because I have to believe that all of those experiences are exactly why I was selected to be the Assistant Secretary of State at INR. You know, when I started, just like you, you know, you went to one agency and that's where you spent your career.

So at the Office of Naval Intelligence, most of my counterparts, many of them are still there today. And it was funny, as I was making moves, my move from ONI was then I moved down to Norfolk to work for U.S. Fleet as an analyst. And a lot of people were very aghast at, "Why would you do that?" You know, "You'll never be able to come back once you leave." And I think that was the way it worked at the time.

But as I implied before, I was just doing this because I thought this was fun. And it was only as I got deeper and deeper and gained more experience that I realized that I have a passion for this community. But I really took opportunities, for the most part, because I thought they'd be fun. Which I know fun is highly underrated. But when you think about the amount of time we spend doing this.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Do you think you manage and lead differently because of the experiences you've had, particularly in the private sector?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I absolutely do. I think when you don't, you know, when you're pursuing something because you think it's fun or interesting, and when you realize that you always have options, you know, I've joked before I started as a waitress. But I'll tell you, I've used that thinking throughout every job I've had. "If this doesn't work out, I can always go back to waitressing."

Which means that you're willing to take on a little more risk. You're willing to try new things. You're not so worried about how this decision is going to impact the next opportunity. And that's been the way I've operated throughout. So I'll tell you, I have taken jobs that have sounded fun and interesting. When I went to the Coast Guard all my friends in Navy said, "Why would you want to go to the Coast Guard? They don't shoot anything."

But this was post-Cold War, and in those days the Coast Guard was shooting more things than the Navy was. And, you know, I found that the time there, helping them get membership in the intelligence community, was clearly going to set me up to do some other things, I think at senior levels. So all of these opportunities, I started as an analyst but moved more into the management side of intelligence.

So I learned about people and human capital and contracts and acquisitions and the budget and the budget process, the Hill. And then, having gone out into the private sector and run two nonprofits, all affiliated with the IC, I mean, I really gained a perspective of how the IC runs, what are value is, what the private sector's value is. And so I come into State INR, which is the oldest all source intelligence entity in the intelligence community. I don't know if a lot of people realize that.

You know, we predate your own CIA in terms of it being an all-source intelligence agency. And we've been doing this for an awfully long time. I have to believe it is my experience in management, people, dollars, requirements, that will really assist me in, you know, potentially making some new investments in INR that will really help it get ready to look at a future threat.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Ellen, you've already made the transition to INR. What is its mission, and can you give us an example of how it executes that mission?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So at its very core, INR's mission is to support the Secretary of State and all the senior policymakers within the State Department. We also have a corollary mission to ensure that the intelligence community is focused on foreign policy issues, on collections that are related to foreign policy, and working with the IC in certain operations, ensuring that they're in line with foreign policy. But at its heart, we are an all source intelligence agency whose job it is to inform, in a timely manner, the Secretary of State and his cadre of foreign policymakers.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And do you see on a regular basis how what your folks do benefit diplomacy?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Oh, I see my folks benefit diplomacy every day in terms of articulating the value that INR has to State. You know, part of our value is that we are embedded with the policymaker. The people of INR, for the most part, have been working their region or their functional area for an average of 17 years. So they truly are experts in their particular area.

But they're also embedded with the policymaker, so they are actually sitting in the regional and functional bureaus every day. They're developing relationships with the secretaries and the assistant secretaries and the desk officers. And they truly have a very mutual benefit relationship in that our analysts very much understand the needs and the wants of the policymaker--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right. So they know where the policymakers are in their thinking. They know what they know. More importantly, they know what they don't know and what they need, and that's really powerful.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
It's very powerful, and we're also small. So we're much smaller than the other all source agencies by, you know, a factor of five. But that also makes us more agile, and it also gives us a much more strategic perspective. So whereas, you know, I was the Akula analyst at the Office of Naval Intelligence at one point, at INR I have analysts that are looking at six countries at one time. So they take a much more strategic perspective on things.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So you've said they focus on the Secretary and the senior policymakers at State, but they do write for the President, correct?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And how do you make that decision? When does it make sense for INR to sit back and write for the President?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Well, it works a couple of ways in terms of providing articles to the President's Daily Brief. I'll tell you, we are very incentivized to work on the President's Daily Brief for a couple of reasons, one, because the President is our ultimate customer. But second, because the Secretary of State is also an avid consumer of the PDB.

And so it really is important to include intelligence that is going to be, you know, not only targeted to the President but targeted to the Secretary and to things that matter to him. So the way in which articles are submitted is, you know, we work with the IC, in terms of identifying articles that will go in. Either we're asked or we provide, you know, recommendations. But they're always tied to things that matter to the Secretary.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And importantly you also see what everybody else writes for the President, and you have an opportunity to comment, and you have an opportunity to say, "Hey, we have a different view." Is that right?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
We have, absolutely. We're embedded with the PDB staff. In fact, the Secretary's briefer is a State Department employee. You know, we're very proud of our participation in the PDB. In fact, per capita, so per number of analysts, INR is the number one producer of the PDB.
MICHAEL MORELL:
That's great, that's great.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So we are very much embedded in the process.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And that dissent, that dissent process, that opportunity for other analysts in the community to say, "Hey, I disagree with that," that's important, right?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
It's critically important, and it's something that INR is pretty proud of. That's part of our history. It's part of our ethos. We are the dissenters, you know, going back to World War II and the OSS days. And I think it's because we do have this unique perspective. We are so aligned with the foreign policymaker. We do come in, and we're very free to say, "We really think this," or write a lot of the time.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Ellen, when looking at what your analysts do and what analysts in various other IC organizations do, particularly the CIA, is there a distinction or not?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I think there absolutely is a distinction between INR and other all source analysts in the IC, CIA especially. We work most closely with CIA, in terms of the policy realm. So again, our difference is the trust we have with the policymaker. Again, it's because we're so closely aligned to them, throughout our career. So we're not just coming and going. You know, we're not doing two, three year rotations in State. We're absolutely embedded with them. It's also the makeup of the staff. Our staff is composed of both civil service officers and Foreign Service officers.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that, yeah.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
And I think that also adds, you know, a different flavor. So we'll have Foreign Service officers who will come in for two year rotations, and they really bring in this unique perspective.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So they've been serving overseas.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
They've been serving overseas--
MICHAEL MORELL:
They've been in a region for a long time, and they come back--
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
And they come in.
MICHAEL MORELL:
--and spend a couple years with you.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
And they'll run a group of analysts or they'll be an analyst or they'll work intelligence operations, and they bring in that outside experience. They're also great, you know, they also help us with our brand in terms of going back out to the field to talk about what IC does, but especially what INR does. And that's really what sets us apart. We also take a much broader view. Again, we're only about 250 analysts, so we don't have the luxury of looking at one system or one city or one country. We're looking more--
MICHAEL MORELL:
You might have an analyst at CIA who looks at one North Korean missile.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely. But I'll tell you, that turns out to be a great partnership, a great way to work. I'll tell you, there's nothing that INR does that we can't do without leveraging the community, because we are so small.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Ellen, I would love to dig in to some substantive issues, but perhaps do it in a way that we've not done before on the show. I believe that one of the key jobs of the IC is to tell our national security policymakers, including the President, how the other guy is thinking. So what is their mindset, what is their view, what are their perspectives of us, right, and our policymakers.

I think it's incredibly important for our leaders to know where the other guy is coming from. So what I'd love to do, if it's okay with you, is I'd love to throw out some countries and leaders and get you to talk a bit about how you think and how your analysts think they think about us, without getting into anything classified, of course.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Okay.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So let's start with North Korea and Kim Jong-un. How do you think he sees us? How does he think about us? What does he think we want, et cetera, et cetera.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Okay. I'm going to answer your question, but I'm going to preface it with that INR is actually in a unique role to be able to answer this question, because there are a couple things we do that some of the other IC agencies don't do. And one of which is we have a very robust opinion polling capability. So for 40 years, we have developed a very sound, based in science methodology for going out and gaining other people's perspectives on matters that are important to the intelligence community. So that's why I can sit here--
MICHAEL MORELL:
And you do this for the whole community, correct--
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
We do this for the entire community. We'll do it--
MICHAEL MORELL:
And for the entire government, actually.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely. And, you know, oftentimes we'll have other combatant commands, other agencies that will come in. And they'll ask us to pick a country, pick a region, and so we do this all year long and we do, you know, hundreds of polls. The methodology includes not only polling, but sitting down and doing some focus groups in the country, and combining that experience, that feedback.

And then using the intelligence, so actually looking at the classified information, and really coming up with an assessment. And we're very good at it. Again, more often than not, when it comes to elections or activities, we are able to predict it in advance, well in advance. So we're pretty proud of that capability.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So I imagine there's some places you can do this, and then some places where it gets really hard to do it, correct?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
It does get hard. And so you asked specifically about North Korea, and that's an area where it's particularly hard to do that. So, you know, that's where we're really relying on media analysis and other intelligence to get a sense of, in terms of Kim Jong-un, how he thinks of us.

And I would say that based on our understanding of the media and things that he has said, you know, he really does think that the U.S. is looking for regime change. In fact, of all the leaders that you've talked about, there is this view that the U.S. is looking to try and get regime change.

And that he does not believe we'll take military action, and that, I think he thinks we cheat on agreements, and that we're not necessarily to be trusted in that regard. It is clear that he does have, you know, he does look at our President of the United States and in him it's different. When you read the media there is a different relationship there. I can't say whether or not he likes or dislikes him, we don't know that. But we definitely has assessed that he does look at the President and thinks this one is different.
MICHAEL MORELL:
What do you think the sense of regime change comes from? Just our relationship with South Korea, the fact that we have a military in South Korea, or the fact that we fought a Korean war? I mean, is it all of that? His father thought the same thing, you know, this idea that we want to topple the regime and reunite the peninsula on the South's terms.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I think it's all the things that you said, but again, I think in general, when you look at all these world leaders they all think that that's what we want, and frankly that has been a goal in many of our previous (LAUGH) operations.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, yeah, we've actually done that, right? Yeah.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So again, I can't speak to, you know, how Kim Jong feels now with President Trump. Because my sense is they do have a different relationship, and all the analysis suggests they have a different relationship. So I don't know if that is as heavy on his mind as it was in the past.
MICHAEL MORELL:
I guess it's possible, right, that he views the President one way, and he views the rest of our government as if it hasn't changed, right? It's still regime change there--
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Exactly, I think that's very much--
MICHAEL MORELL:
But you would say this is his fundamental issue. This is his fundamental security issue that he has to solve, right, this fear that we want to get rid of him.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely. But I think that's not as high an issue with this president, with President Trump.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And, you know, the DNI made this very clear publicly in the worldwide threat testimony earlier this year, that the analysts in the intelligence community believe that Kim will never give up his weapons. And I'm just wondering, you know, do your analysts share that view? What's your personal view? What's your sense on that?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
My sense is that that's still very much where our analysts lie. But I will tell you that, you know, that's interesting, where intelligence and policy is just a different, this is the first time I've ever done this in terms of working the policy side of the house. And I know, you haven't asked this question specifically, but lots of times we get asked the question about, you know, "Are you worried about policy bleeding over into intelligence? About intelligence morphing into policy or being politicized?"

And the answer is I'm not worried about that at INR, because there is a firm line. But it's also very clear that sometimes while intelligence may be in one place and policy may be in another, we try our best to integrate, but we're not always right. So, you know, given the recent meeting in North Korea, you know, we have a new strategy, of our policymakers are getting ready to take advantage of this reset, and we'll work as closely as we can with them to ensure they're getting all the intelligence they need to do their job.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Maybe just one more point about that, because this is a little bit of a pet peeve of mine. I always found it not to be helpful to policymakers to have analysts tell them what they can't accomplish.

And I used to tell mine, you know, "When you tell them that Kim Jong-un is never going to give up his nuclear weapons, it's the same thing as a scout telling a coach that he can't win a game." And I would tell them, "Find a way to be helpful, right, to them achieving their goal."
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Michael, absolutely. I think you're 100% right. And I'll tell you, that's the practice at INR. And again, because we've been doing this for 70 years now, our analysts would never go and say to a policymaker, "You can't do this." That is where intelligence is now jumping into policy, and that's just not what we do.

But if all the intelligence is suggesting that this is what the intelligence says, we will give it to the policymaker. If they don't agree, they get to do that. And an analyst is not losing a moment of sleep because of it, because it's our job to feed them the intelligence, it's their job to develop the policy.
MICHAEL MORELL:
They have a harder job at the end of the day, I used to find.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I will tell you that I've spent five months now, five whole months working policy. And I am awfully glad to be an intelligence officer in (LAUGH) the United States intelligence community.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Iran, so switching gears from North Korea to Iran, how do they see us? And maybe an interesting question here is do you think there's a difference in how they see us depending on whether you're, say, the Supreme Leader, or whether you're President Rouhani?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
You know, I think where Iran is different is, I mean, their view of the United States goes back to, you know, the late '70s in terms of, you know, again when you'd look at the media there's this very much anti-U.S. view, propaganda, teachings. It goes back for an awfully long time. So I suspect that those leaders, you know, very much are in line with the teachings and the propaganda that helped form who they are today and what their baseline views are.

I think when you look at the sanctions that have been imposed, that it almost certainly contributes to that overall antipathy towards the United States. It's not helping. And so, you know, given that they are not pro-U.S., and given this long history of anti-U.S. propaganda, we don't see that changing.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, so would you say that they share the North Korean view that we want to change the regime, that we want them to go away?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I absolutely think that that's, you know, again, based on the analysis, absolutely think that's what they think.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, and the President's made very clear that that's not our policy, right--
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And the Secretary's made very clear that's not our policy. The Secretary's made clear that we're trying to change their behavior. But I'm wondering, to what extent the fact that they have the view that we want their regime to go away makes it more difficult for them to come to the negotiating table at the end of the day.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I suspect that's exactly why they are having a hard time coming to the negotiating table.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So Ellen, Russia. Vladimir Putin. How do you think he sees us? What do you think he thinks we're trying to do to him? I'm afraid we might have a consistency here with the other two.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I think we absolutely have a consistence here with the two, because I think, you know, he, so I describe Russia, in fact, when you look at Russia and China, and you've got two countries, one, Russia, is fighting for relevance, China is fighting for dominance.

So if you take the perspective that Russia is fighting for dominance, you know, anything that he can do to show himself and Russia as being a superpower is, anything that takes away from that theme, that story, he's not going to be happy with. And so I do believe that. And that's why every step of the day it seems like Russia is trying to take an opposite position of ours wherever we go, whether it's arms control, Africa, you know, Argentina, China. Always taking the opposite perspective. It's about showing himself as being dominant, showing that he still is a player in this great world order, and that, you know, with his vast nuclear capabilities that we need to take him seriously.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Do you think he sees us as strong or weak?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So you know, I'm not sure I can answer that question. I'll have to look back on that. You know, I'm just sitting here thinking what do I think? And I think he would think we are weak. And you know, and I absolutely think he does believe that we are weak.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, and that they can take advantage of us.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Right. And at every step of the day, you know, Michael I remember you once were interviewing President Bush, and President Bush was relaying this story about dogs. I don't know if you remember that story--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Oh yeah, I remember this, yeah.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
And so President Bush had a very small dog. When President Bush went and visited President Putin for the first time, he made it a point to show President Bush his very large dog. And it was very important for him to see that. So I think that is really insightful into who is Putin and--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Do you think the Russian people share Putin's view of us? Or do you think they're in a different place?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So I don't have the data on that. I'll have to come back and get to the answer on that. But yeah, I don't have the answer.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Ellen, one more country to ask you about. And at the end of the day, it's probably the most important, which is China. How do you think they see us?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
You know, China's another country that it's hard to assess how they see us, because the media is so--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Controlling, yeah.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So controlling. It's very interesting in terms of, you know, just in general, not answering your question directly. But, you know, you look at China as our biggest either competitor or threat, depending on where our policy is on that. You know, are we going to coexist? Are we not?

It's very interesting, when you look at the world. The world is still very much aligned to the U.S., however, they look at China as this ginormous economic power and, you know, upon which that they can tap into resources to help their own economies, the Belt and Road Initiative and others. So, in terms of how the Chinese people think of us, it's hard to assess. I know how others think of us and how the others think of China, but I don't really know how the Chinese look at us. You know, again, I just don't have that.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, sort of my sense is that they see them on the rise and us on the decline, right?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
I think that's true. And it's funny, because it seems like we think that too in (LAUGH) some ways.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. I think--
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
But absolutely they see themselves as a rising superpower. They've got a strategy. They've got the Belt and Road Initiative. They have, I mean, whether it's agrarian, their agrarian portion of their economy to high level IT, they're on the move, they're growing. Other countries see that as very positive and optimistic.
MICHAEL MORELL:
But there is this, you know, at the same time that I think they do realize that they were able to achieve this amazing growth that they've had and this amazing transformation that they've had because they lived in a world of stability created by the United States.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Absolutely.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right? And they seem to be torn a little bit. They don't want to be the world's policeman. Right?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
It's very complex.
MICHAEL MORELL:
It's very complicated, right? So Ellen, a couple of final questions, you've been terrific with your time. And these are going to be questions that we ask every IC leader who sits down with us in this series. The first one is what you see as the biggest national security, foreign policy challenge facing the United States.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Well, we just talked a little bit about it, Michael, but I do think China is our biggest challenge. And, you know, a lot of it is, you know, what is our policy there? Are we going to coexist? Do we view them as a threat? You know, the intelligence community is active, actually very engaged in working with the policy side of the house to help come up with this sort of national strategy and policy on this.

But when you look at the growth of their military, their military budget has doubled in the last couple of years. They're absolutely on the incline. And when you look at their commercial sector and how completely intertwined they are with our own commercial sector, the world's commercial sector, and how, you know, how do we balance--
MICHAEL MORELL:
And money matters at the end.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Money matters.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Money matters at the end of the day.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
How do we balance economic relationships with the threat, and the fact that they are so different from us in how they think and how they operate? And, you know, how they capture data. What is their goal down the line? Again, I compared Russia searching for relevance, China searching for dominance, and to being looked at as a world power. And they're absolutely on that trajectory right now. And so how do we, as a country, want to live in a world like that, and how do we exist? That's the one that keeps me awake.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Okay, biggest challenging facing the intelligence community in being able to do its job down the road?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So from my optic, and we talked a little bit about this, not in a lot of detail. I have moved back and forth from the private sector into the government a couple of times. And in my last capacity it was actually working for a company that provides capabilities to the intelligence community.

And so I've seen firsthand how quickly technology is developing and how quickly the private sector can incorporate capabilities into the way they do business. I've seen the value of opensource data and the assumptions that it can make that rival what we do, for a lot more money, and not quite at the same pace. And I really think, in some ways, we need to take a look. And I know Sue Gordon at the ODNI is all over this. But we really need to take a look at how we do our business and what our value is.

I think in some ways, we're upside down. We should, instead of starting with our architecture at the highest classification level and working down, it should be the other way up. We should be designing a third rail and really incorporating opensource intelligence and capabilities much more quickly than we are right now--
MICHAEL MORELL:
I think the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is actually doing some of this. They're putting out unclassified commercial imagery and they're letting people analyze it and doing some crowdsourcing around that, which is a really interesting and novel--
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So, you know--
MICHAEL MORELL:
--approach.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
--my time at NGA certainly didn't hurt that view, because I absolutely saw what NGA does with commercial imagery. And, you know, they're actually even looking at it from a business perspective, and that we're not going to replicate in terms of budget, you know, national technical means for things that we can get in the private sector, so.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Great. And then last question, what do you want the American people to know about the men and women of INR?
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So I'll tell you that I, you know, I have moved back and forth, and I have moved around a lot. But at the end of the day, I view myself as an intelligence officer, even though I've worked in many agencies. But when given the opportunity to come to INR, I still have to pinch myself, because I can't believe it. Because INR was always, you know, they were always the smartest and they were from my mind, as a former all source analyst, the best.

And so to be given an opportunity to work with the best, I mean, these people, not only have they spent 17 years on their account, but they're all PhDs and lawyers and have multiple graduate degrees. It's just incredibly humbling to be associated with these people.

And I go home every day and tell them that they are so motivated by what they do, by the mission, and in serving this country. And in INR, and actually the rest of the intelligence community this way, it's just, I mean, it's an incredible privilege to be given this opportunity to come back. I can't believe I'm here.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And are you able to, I mean, there's a lot of politics swirling around, right, about intelligence. And I'm just wondering to what extent you're able to shield them from all of that.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
So, at State Department, again, it's a little different. Because support to policy is different than support to defense or law enforcement operations. That's much more a science. Policy is an art. You know, the analysts at INR have, for the most part, always been aware of politics and policy.

And this is a world that they've grown up in. They're very familiar with. This is not new. Maybe it's gotten a little hotter, but the reality is that they understand. You know, they come in every day, knowing that there'll be a new boss, and they're there to serve that new boss, no matter where the policy is going. So they're very professional in that regard. And I'll tell you that I love being back in the intelligence community because it still is very stable. You know, we're still doing what the IC was doing when you were there, and when I was there last, and it's just incredible to work with these men and women.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Ellen, thank you so much for joining us.
ELLEN MCCARTHY:
Thank you.
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