Partisan Intelligence Activism Will Reemerge in 2024

Dr. John A Gentry

Editor’s Note” American Free News Network would like to welcome Dr. John A. Gentry to this team of great writers. Dr. Gentry is an adjunct professor with the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and also teaches for the School of Defense and Strategic Studies, Missouri State University. He is a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer and formerly was an intelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. He writes frequently on intelligence and security topics, most recently including Neutering the CIA: Why US Intelligence Versus Trump Has Long-Term Consequences (Armin Lear, 2023) and Strategic Warning Intelligence: History, Challenges, and Prospects. Dr. Gentry is on X: @gentryjohna Welcome Aboard Dr. Gentry!


U.S. intelligence personnel likely will resume the activism they prominently displayed in 2016-2021 as the presidential campaign season deepens.  They then were driven by ideology and special interests, which now are stronger.  Many of the former senior intelligence officers then critical of Donald Trump have badly damaged their credibility, so new politicizers with new messages may emerge, especially after July when Trump presumably will be formally renominated.

The agencies themselves, as matters of policy, will not be activist.  The culprits will be former intelligence officers with deeply partisan views, who have few restrictions on their public activities, and current employees who leak.  Agency leaders do not directly control these activities, but some past and current leaders established policies that continue to strongly encourage tendencies toward political activism.

President Obama was the major instigator of the politicization of U.S. intelligence.  His Executive Order (EO) 13583 of August 18, 2011, “Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce,” summarized his explicitly political agenda, which soon became known as “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI).  Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair converted an early version of Obama’s diversity agenda into Intelligence Community policy in 2009, before Obama’s government-wide mandate.

DEI policies appeal to two general groups of intelligence people.  First, leftists like them for ideological reasons.  While liberals embrace DEI as a fairness issue, cultural Marxists know that DEI, an offshoot of critical race theory, is designed to be divisive in organizations and societies that embrace it.  Second, the policy overtly favors privileged demographic groups — minorities, women, LGBTQ+ people, and later disabled persons — in hiring, promotions, and assignments. DEI thus is materially helpful for these people, who now comprise large and growing shares of the intelligence workforce.

For these people, DEI policies are self-evidently good on philosophical and personal material grounds.  Some even imagine that DEI policy-induced ideology and its associated personal benefits are key components of national security. Others argue that it is essential that CIA and other agencies “look like” the country they represent. They do not ignore people who disagree with them, they actively reject the views of people Hillary Clinton called “deplorables.”

CIA director John Brennan (2013-2017) was especially aggressive at implementing Obama’s agenda.  But his favoritism and blatant politicking soon generated a backlash.  The favoritism of women and minorities was not just unfair to white men, some people argued, it damaged the performance of intelligence.  In response, DNI James Clapper and others asserted, always without evidence, that DEI policies actually enhance the agencies’ performance.  An academic study of such assertions found no evidence to support them.  Many more current and former intelligence officers now say instead that there has been major damage.  A study of these claims is now underway. Stay tuned!

The purposeful changes in policies, demography, and organizational culture at CIA, especially, led intelligence officers who strongly supported Obama’s agenda to react viscerally in 2016 when Donald Trump’s arrival on the national political scene seemed to threaten the “progress” Obama had made.  Quiet when Hillary Clinton seemed likely to win the presidency and continue Obama’s policies, former intelligence officers heeded Brennan’s call for political activism to defend the “progress,” as did evidently many current employees in the form of leaks.

Of the former intelligence officers prominent in 2016-2021, no one was louder than former deputy CIA director Michael Morell.  He started the blatant violations of longstanding, very functional CIA norms against political activism with his op-ed endorsing Clinton in August 2016.  And he instigated the worst abuse of intelligence credibility, the open-letter signed by 51 former intelligence officers that claimed, just before the 2020 election, that the New York Post’s accurate story about incriminating evidence on Hunter Biden’s laptop computer had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”  Morell later told the House Judiciary Committee the letter was instead an influence operation instigated by the Joe Biden campaign to fool voters just before the election.  One of the people approached to sign the letter told me the pitch received was explicitly to help Biden, not to enlist intelligence expertise.

Trump and his appointees incomprehensibly did nothing to reverse the policies Obama initiated, but President Biden’s even stronger executive order of June 2021 expands Obama’s agenda to DEIA — diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.  The diversity offices at each agency now are creators of ideological orthodoxy, and its enforcers.  The diversity office of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Dive, which conveys this orthodoxy to the intelligence workforce.  

For example, its Winter 23/24 issue tells employees to avoid specific words that might offend American blacks, Africans, and Muslims. It contains an article by a man who explains how being a cross-dresser at work makes him a better intelligence officer.  He supports the mandatory transgender awareness training that DNI Avril Haines imposed on all intelligence officers in 2023. And it has a story about a deaf person who had a good deployment abroad, aided by two sign language translators.  The receiving element got one intelligence officer for the price of three—no problem in Biden’s world of DEIA. (Thanks to The Daily Wire for getting this pub declassified and released!)

The Dive’s words are not mere suggestions. Intelligence officers generally are smart people who read between lines for incentives to follow.  They know that the diversity offices have become go-to places for people of privileged demographic groups if they feel they have not been treated appropriately — or as they would like.  Like Soviet communist party commissars, CIA diversity officers reportedly relieve managers who misbehave, per DEIA orthodoxy, leading managers now to approve or even reward substandard work, or quit as managers.

Even more damaging may be the impact on analysis.  History indicates clearly that biased organizational cultures within intelligence services lead to analytic errors, and intelligence agencies’ leaders in recent years have been candid in acknowledging their ideological agenda and aims to change organizational cultures.  We do not yet know what major intelligence failures of the future may be a direct result of the ideological biases of reengineered organizational cultures.  

The ideology and interests that directly generated the politicization of intelligence in 2016-2021 by many accounts are much stronger than they were in 2016.  Intelligence officers have been quiet in recent years because many of them like Biden’s DEIA policies and others are afraid to express opposition to them.  History suggests strongly that activism will resume if Trump again appears to threaten their politics and interests.

Citizens can help fight such activism.  Current and former CIA people, especially, with the help of the anti-Trump media, misrepresented their actions and motives and manipulated voters in 2016-2020. In defense, voters should learn about disinformation techniques.  Watch for politicization by formers and call out them and the left-leaning media that promote them.  Resist believing bogus stories.  But remember that while inappropriate partisanship seems certain to reemerge, many fine intelligence officers still quietly maintain traditional norms of apolitical public service.  These people deserve our thanks.  The intelligence agencies are important. They need reform, not elimination.

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