CIA Director John Brennan says the agency's new structure promises to be a force multiplier.

CIA Director John Brennan says the agency's new structure promises to be a force multiplier. Richard Drew/AP

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CIA Chief Says Overhaul Puts Spies and Analysts ‘Cheek by Jowl'

Brennan stresses digital communications have upended intelligence gathering.

The announced reorganization of the CIA, which launches on April 30, will embrace digital communications while placing spies and analysts “cheek by jowl,” CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday.

In the workforce initially there was “anxiety that some of the analysis might be corrupted,” he told a mostly contractor audience with the nonprofit Intelligence and National Security Alliance. But a survey to which 4,000 employees responded “was very positive,” and the new setup—10 centers, six regional and four functional—promises to be “a force multiplier,” he said.

“I’ve never seen a time in our country‘s history when we’ve faced such a dizzying array of national security threats,” said Brennan, a Middle East specialist who joined the CIA in 1980. Crises in Syria, Libya, Iraq and the Ukraine, along with China’s expansion in Asia and cyber threats, have produced “economic and social tensions that will continue to grow,” he added, “and our ability to deal with them is more challenging than ever.”

The most jarring change, Brennan said, is that “information moves at blinding speed and is instantaneously available throughout the globe, which has fundamentally changed our way of life.” Despite the agency’s “68 years of storied history, it needs to adapt to the 21st century to continue making a difference to national security,” he said.

Many have asked, “What’s broken that we need to fix?” Brennan said, “I say that’s the wrong question. That’s what Kodak and Blockbuster Video asked. Any public sector enterprise needs continuous adapting and must change organizationally as well as in how we think about work.”

It does little good, for example, to have a spy in a foreign prime minister’s office if the threat is out on the streets and expressed through social media, he noted.  

“Our younger officers see technology has changed our daily life,” Brennan said, noting that millennials grew up with mobile devices. “Everywhere we go we leave some digital dust in our wake, so we need to master our digital domain.”

Brennan described the four components of the reorganization plan, in which 10 assistant directors—among them the agency’s first digital innovation director—are coordinated by new Deputy CIA Director David Cohen.

The four pillars include:

  • Organizing around people so they can reach their potential, take advantage of continuous learning and understand how their craft fits in with the larger enterprise.
  • Embracing the digital revolution and data “all around us” in communications, education, trade and intelligence—be it analysis or clandestine operations.
  • Updating business practices to “stamp out bureaucracy,” empower people at lower levels to carry out their responsibility and build budgets accordingly.
  • Integrating and reorganizing the 10 new “cylinders of excellence” to push decision-making down to the appropriate level.

The reorganization is being funded “out of pocket,” without additional money, Brennan said. It could allow agency leaders to better see how resources are being allocated and “get rid of unnecessary redundancies and inefficiencies,” he said, adding that the new budget may “have a delta left over.”

Brennan said he can’t imagine the next director would want to undo his work and separate analysis from clandestine services.  He said he has no plans to leave before President Obama’s tenure ends, or even afterward. “I have best job in the world, bar none,” Brennan added. “I work with most patriotic and talented Americans who give their all every day.”

Brennan said he would favor a fixed term for CIA director—either five, seven or 10 years—like the FBI director, so as not to coincide with a presidential term.  He would also like to send more CIA officials out to other intelligence agencies for mutual sharing and growth. Asked to assign the agency a grade, he said, “improving.”

“The CIA does important things, dangerous things, controversial things,” Brennan said. “I want to make sure people understand that we’re an important part of the future.”