“The joke about intelligence officers,” Brunswick Director Preston Golson says, “is that they smell flowers and ask, ‘Where’s the funeral?’ Because you get to a point where you have—I wouldn’t say a dim view, but a very realistic view of what goes on in the world.”
Preston, and George Little, a Brunswick Partner, are both former CIA officers. The two spoke with Brunswick Review in June about how partisanship has become an increasing threat to the integrity of national intelligence. At the same time, the death of George Floyd at the hands of police had triggered a global wave of civil unrest.
A former aide to the Director of National Intelligence, Preston also served as CIA Spokesperson, Chief of CIA’s Public Communication Branch in its Office of Public Affairs, and Chief of Communications for the Agency’s Directorate of Digital Innovation. George was Assistant to the US Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary, and CIA Director of Public Affairs.
You can read the full interview, “Fragile Legitimacy” here, below is a sample of their responses.
On White House Attacks on Intelligence
GEORGE: My colleagues at the CIA wake up every single day thinking, “How am I going to get this information and characterize it in the most truthful, meaningful way for the President and the Vice President and other national security policymakers?” I worked in a Republican administration. I worked in a Democratic administration. Didn’t matter…
There is a great deal of concern that the independence of the intelligence community will erode, become increasingly politicized, that it will be used in many of the same ways that governments and other societies use their intelligence communities and militaries—to drive political ends for their own reasons, for their own constituencies.
PRESTON: There really is a selfless commitment to the ideals of America that are held deeply by people in the intelligence community. Not saying it’s perfect. But the Constitution, the rule of law, the American way of life—they believe all those things very strongly. And a lot of the CIA’s ethos was built out of the Cold War. We defeated the Soviet Union, right? Our ideals versus their ideals. Despite our many shortcomings as a nation, we’re supposed to be better than our adversaries. That’s something we’ve always told ourselves.
To see some of those things called into question just kind of strikes at some of the fundamental ethos.
Both the intelligence community and the Department of Defense are given tremendous powers to secure the country. The deal that they’ve struck with the American public is that there’s going to be oversight, lack of partisanship, following the rule of law, to utilize those authorities and capabilities around the world. So there’s a concern that if the intelligence community is seen to be politicized (as it is in many other countries), that will lead to an overall delegitimization of the work and it will be seen as just another partisan agency.
On the George Floyd Protests
PRESTON: As an African American, I see this as a longstanding issue that’s spanned administrations. People are protesting against systemic issues that are deeply ingrained in the founding of our nation. We saw 400 years from when the first slave ships landed on our shores…
One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is how much people are surprised when they shouldn’t be surprised. If you go back to every decade of the 20th century, you find a period of racial unrest and race-related riots usually tied to cases of brutality—Martin Luther King’s assassination is one. Each decade there are examples of it. Yet we act as if it’s a surprise every time it happens. So there’s an element of strategic failure and intelligence failure. Companies have to ask themselves why this keeps happening.
GEORGE: Ultimately you have to match words with deeds. Corporations will be held to account on what they do to change the situation, to make profound change and to follow up on their commitments, not just within their own companies, but in society writ large. Even 10 or 20 years ago, companies weren’t expected to play that role in society… Now it’s vital.