CIA Lagging in Recruiting, Promoting Minorities, Study Finds

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Central Intelligence Agency is falling behind in recruiting racial and ethnic minorities and promoting them to its highest ranks, according to an internal study the agency released Tuesday.

Minorities make up less than 24% of the CIA workforce, and only 10.8% of its top Senior Intelligence Service. Among the most experienced employees whose ranks feed into the leadership jobs, known as GS-15s in the parlance of government pay scales, minorities make up 15.2%.

Even worse, in the past seven years, the percentage of recruits who are minorities has dropped precipitously to 19.3% from a high point of 31.5% in 2008.

CIA Director John Brennan says he ordered the report after returning to the agency in 2013 after noticing that despite repeated efforts at tackling the problem, the agency’s leadership didn’t reflect the diversity of the CIA workforce or the nation.

Brennan, meeting with reporters at CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, says it’s clear to him that “there have been impediments to minority officers being able to rise in the organization.”

And beyond just giving more opportunities to minority employees, Brennan says there’s a “business case for diversity.” He notes that in many of the countries that are the focus of the CIA’s work now and in coming years, it’s harder for white employees, and easier for many minorities, to operate covertly.

Asked if the agency’s lack of diversity has led to intelligence gaps, Brennan would only say it has led to “less comprehensive appreciation” of the world’s reality and “has not allowed us to optimize the capabilities.”

“Given our global mission, no government agency stands to benefit more from diversity and inclusion than does CIA,” Brennan said in a statement.

To tackle the problem, Brennan says he has made a point of promoting more minorities, and beginning in October, the performance of senior leaders will be judged on how well they try to sustain and improve diversity.

An Asian-American woman is the agency’s No. 3 official, and a Hispanic woman serves in the No. 4 job. But beyond that, the top ranks are mostly white. The agency has managed to boost the number of women to 45% of its workforce, but Brennan said it’s had particular trouble attracting Hispanics.

The recruiting troubles, Brennan believes, arises in part from the fact that many of the agency’s top minority prospects are also highly sought after by private employers who offer much higher salaries.

The study was done by outside experts, led by Vernon Jordan, the prominent civil rights activist and confidant to former President Bill Clinton who also serves on the CIA’s external board, as well as other former government officials.