A Few Words from Susan Hasler…

One of the most intense, ambivalent, addictive, and weird relationships of my life has been with an agency of government. The Central Intelligence Agency is an overbearing and jealous partner, the type who doesn’t respect your privacy and tries to take over your life in an unhealthy way. It interferes with other relationships by limiting what you can talk about with outsiders. It asks you invasive personal questions. It wants to know where you got your money and how responsibly you spend it. It wants more of your time than it’s willing to pay for—a lot more. It stimulates you with an addictive stream of information from sources ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. It wants you to be creative while not breaking any unwritten rules. It wants you to take risks but not make any mistakes. It demands primacy over everything else in your life. It’s into kinky accessories like tire slashers, razor wire, radiation detectors, Humvees, and pop-up terrorist barriers.
The CIA was a place to swim in ideas and intellectual debate and to drown in frustration. There I met my husband, some wonderful friends, creative minds, and impressive intellects. I also ran up against glib careerists, pants-wetting bureaucrats, and the occasional borderline sociopath. The CIA gave me a stunning window into two of the great global paradigm shifts of our time: the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of international terror networks. The CIA gave me acute acid reflux.
You come to terms with CIA, wish it the best for the sake of your country, but you don’t get over it even years after you’ve left. Despite the Agency’s faults, I can’t condemn it  without denying the part of my self that was shaped to fit its needs. I often find myself defending CIA. In a world where so many indulge in non-thinking, name calling, and meme-level “debate,” it’s still a place that tries its best to practice intellectual rigor. It’s better than people think. It has been the scapegoat of choice for politicians for generations, allowing them to say “intelligence failure” rather than admit policy failure. If you have a passion for your subject matter, the CIA is a good place to be.
Now that I’ve left, I am grateful for the training I got there, for all the people who questioned my thinking and forced me to admit my intellectual biases and fight against them. I still marvel at the range of expertise in the Agency. I still admire the analysts’ strong sense of professional ethics.

11 Replies to “A Few Words from Susan Hasler…”

  1. Any folks that can “hold a long thought” can appreciate what it takes to not only work for the CIA but to remain grounded and coherent in spite of it.

    Thank you for remaining both. 🙂

  2. In an age of alt-facts and alt-right, we now must verify the sources of our information. What could be better for that than open and honest debate between retired CIA agents!

    1. Jerry, that is a very kind offer. We are not set up for that right now but yes, donations would help. we’ll figure it out and get back to you!

  3. I’m a weepy, soft-headed person. I read your few words over and over again, looking, as we do, as I’ve done all my professional (and private) life, to pick them apart. Instead, my eyes misted over. Simply beautiful words. I taught a seminar premised on the notion that, if you haven’t really done the work, you can never truly understand. My goal was to try try try to get my seminarians to understand the true heart of the work, which lies in a culture in which the incessant scrutiny of honest peers ensures the integrity of the work as the best we can say and do in the interest of the American people. I loved, despite and still, being an intelligence officer. And I’m proud of the work I did, and of the women and men I worked with, who grappled with big questions and tried every day to make useful sense of those questions and issues for policymakers for whom time is a precious commodity. You captured much of this in your eloquent few words.

  4. Honestly-People who haven’t been a part of what your team has been through will never understand the importance of what you have said here. They can’t imagine what circumstances have molded the thoughts created by successes and impediments to those altcia members or knowledge that they have encountered and filtered. I for one, not being an alum, will be a devoted blog reader. It is, at least one thing I can do to support the understanding, respect and intelligence, your team has amongst those who have taken the time to research historicals. Proud to say, you and the team are true heros of times.

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