The Central Intelligence Agency might be the last place in Washington you’d expect political correctness to have taken root. But as Gabriel Schoenfeld demonstrates in a disturbing new article, “What Became of the CIA,” in the March issue of Commentary magazine, the agency has turned into “a government bureaucracy like any other, its managers and employees preoccupied with endless reams of restrictive regulations and simultaneously caught up in many of the newfangled pathologies of the American workplace,” including affirmative action programs. Is it possible that in its zeal to promote more women and minorities, the CIA compromised its own mission? What role, if any, did affirmative action play in the spectacular failures of the CIA prior to 9/11? And what is being done now to undo the damage to the agency?
Schoenfeld reports that the agency has been under pressure since the early 1990s to reform its “old boy network” image. A 1991 CIA-commissioned study found that women did not achieve “at the same pace of or [to] the same degree as men,” and received “proportionately fewer awards,” missing out on choice assignments in the agency. The report also noted that, “in order to be accepted,” female officers tolerated widespread sexual harassment. When Clinton-appointed CIA Director R. James Woolsey took over in 1993, the agency embarked on an ambitious plan not only to break the so-called “glass ceiling” but to identify the top 50 jobs within each directorate and collect data on how many women and minority candidates applied and were chosen for the slots.
Although Woolsey promised “we have not and will not set down quotas,” the affirmative action plan he put in place soon transmogrified into rigid hiring goals. When Woolsey’s replacement, John Deutch, took over, one of his first actions was to establish a “strategic diversity plan.” By 1995, Schoenfeld notes, “the effort to remake the agency in the name of ‘diversity’ had intensified markedly.”
Deutch appointed Nora Slatkin, a former Capitol Hill staffer and assistant secretary of the Navy, as CIA executive director, the No. 3 job in the agency. Slatkin immediately declared “a goal that one out of every three officers hired in fiscal years 1995-97 be of Hispanic or Asian-Pacific origin.” According to Schoenfeld, Slatkin “moved no less aggressively to alter the ethnic and sexual complexion of the CIA’s higher levels. In just six months, she was able to report, ’42 percent of officers selected for senior assignments ha[d] been women or minorities.'” Nonetheless, Deutch’s successor, George Tenet, bemoaned the under-representation of “[m]inorities, women, and people with disabilities” in the agency’s mid-level and senior officer positions, and proclaimed diversity “one of the most powerful tools we have to help make the world a safer place.”
Obviously, the undermining of the CIA during the Clinton years was not entirely due to overzealous affirmative action. As Schoenfeld points out, the agency’s budget suffered large cuts under Clinton and, most importantly, many senior political appointees seemed contemptuous of the agency’s very mission, to gather and protect national security intelligence. Deutch eventually admitted to mishandling highly classified material by storing it on unsecured home computers while he was CIA director. He signed a Justice Department plea bargain admitting his guilt, but the agreement was essentially nullified when outgoing President Bill Clinton pardoned him on Jan. 20, 2001. (Deutch’s affirmative action gadfly Slatkin was one of six CIA officials later reprimanded for her role in stalling the investigation into Deutch’s abuse of classified material.)
But even if affirmative action was not the primary culprit in the perilous decline of the CIA, it contributed to the problem. Schoenfeld points out, “The drive to hire more ‘Asian-Pacific’ and Hispanic officers at the very moment the CIA was facing a critical shortage of Arabic speakers, and at the very moment when Islamic terrorism was emerging as the most significant threat to our national security, speaks volumes about how and why the agency failed in its mission of safeguarding the United States.”
It’s now up to the director of the CIA, Porter Goss, and the newly appointed director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, to put the nation’s need for timely intelligence ahead of political correctness.