Cipher Brief Experts Weigh in on Gordon’s Departure

Susan M Gordon

The resignation of both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and his deputy Susan Gordon, both taking effect on August 15th, mean big changes are underway at the top of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Sources tell us that Gordon increasingly found herself between a rock and a hard place since Coats announced his departure in late July.  If you haven’t read the latest on that, you can catch up here

The Cipher Brief polled a number of our national security experts, who have impressive depth and breadth of experience across the Intelligence Community.  They hold a range of political views, some of them don’t express them publicly, others do.  We wanted their professional impressions of what Gordon’s departure signals and what they think a change at the top of ODNI might mean moving forward.  

Gen. David Petraeus (Ret.), Former Director, CIA, Former Commander, U.S. Central Command

“Sue Gordon served our country and the intelligence community exceedingly well – and she did so as professionally and as apolitically as was possible. She was a true standout at the CIA when I was the Director and that is why I selected her to be the Director of Support, where she did a characteristically exceptional job.  She was equally impressive as the Deputy at NGA – which, of course, led to her selection to be the Principal Deputy DNI, where she once again did a magnificent job. My hope, of course, is that she – and the DNI, another great American public servant – will be replaced by leaders who also focus on getting the analysis right, speaking truth to power, and promoting the best and brightest IC professionals, while leaving the politics to those in Congress and the White House.”


Michael Allen, Former HPSCI Staff Director to Republican Chairman Mike Rogers

“Sue embodies the can-do excellence of U.S. intelligence and her energetic leadership will be tough to replace. The IC deputies is where hard problems come home to roost and she was the steady anchor as PDDNI. She commanded respect as a trusted agent and that allowed her to challenge bureaucracy, pursue innovative solutions, and push for early adoption of new technology. I have a feeling she’ll continue to be a force outside of government.”


General Michael Hayden, Former Director, CIA and NSA

“Gordon is a professional. CIA. NGA. She rose through the ranks at CIA to become deputy director of support, which is the largest directorate. Coats is a good man, but she kept the trains running on time. Trump doesn’t understand what it is to be a professional intelligence officer.”


John McLaughlin, Former Acting Director, CIA

“Sue Gordon is the consummate intelligence professional, non-partisan and respected for her objectivity, with skills and experience that cross all the intelligence disciplines.  A great loss at a critical time.”


Matthew Olsen, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center

“Both Coats’ and Gordon’s resignations represent a significant loss for the country at a time when we face complex security challenges.  The role of intelligence in speaking truth to power — which Coats and Gordon exemplified — has never been more critical, but there’s little reason to believe that the White House will listen to the voices of our career intelligence professionals.”

John Sipher, Forner Member, CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service

“I think the shake-up in the intelligence community was inevitable. It is apparent that the President is only comfortable with people who tell him what he wants to hear or are willing to make themselves complicit in pushing his views. DNI Coats tried to avoid politics and publicity but still received unfair criticism for simply doing his job and reporting on the analytical conclusions of the IC on key issues. Sue Gordon did what intelligence professionals are best at and focused on mission. She focused on big, strategic issues and the health of the community and did her best to provide the President with what he needed. However, we’ve now learned that while being a quiet professional might buy you some space, at some point the President will turn on the professionals when it is in his personal interest. Needless to say, any efforts to politicize or personalize the IC is dangerous. While the President is the main customer and the IC will bend over backwards to serve the President, the public’s faith in the community is fragile and if it is seen as simply a political tool for one party or another, we will have lost a critical weapon in keeping us safe.”


Gilman Louie, Founder and Former CEO, In-Q-Tel

“Sue was a true pioneer and there could not have been an In-Q-Tel without her vision and her work to set it up. She was and is a “pathfinder” for many of us involved in National Security.


Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, Former Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks with North Korea

“I have known and worked with Sue Gordon for many years. She was a smart and creative officer, a true visionary in the business of national security and a role model for younger officers. She will be missed.”


John Bennett, Former Director, CIA’s National Clandestine Service

“The willingness to speak “truth to power” and being able to speak truth to power are not the same.  One needs access to power to speak truth to power which means being a trusted adviser in senior leadership’s inner circle.   DCIA’s Leon Panetta and Mike Pompeo had that relationship.  James Woolsey and Porter Goss did not.  If the new leadership at ODNI, whomever it may turn out to be, has that relationship, it may prove to have a positive impact on the IC.”


Doug Wise, Former Deputy Director, Defense Intelligence Agency

“As the PDDNI Sue was the Intelligence Community’s epoxy; she bonded the Agency to the IC’s mission, wedded them to the concept of collaboration vice competition, and kept the Agencies focused on the core values of America and the Community in support of the defense of the Nation.  This was the magic this remarkable magician delivered to the customers of the IC and the American people.”


Leslie Ireland, Former Asst. Secretary of the Treasury for Intelligence and Analysis

“This is a loss for the IC and for the nation of a consummate intelligence professional who spoke truth to power at such a critical time.  I want to focus on the glass half-full.  Sue mentored and inspired so many through her down-to-earth wisdom, genuine humility and vision-focused leadership that these qualities will continue in the IC long after her departure.  She impacted my career and I will be forever grateful.”


Todd Rosenblum, Fmr. Acting Asst. Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense

“It will be up to the Senate, especially Senator Burr, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to remain vigilant in giving a favorable vote only to those actually qualified to be the next DNI and PDDNI.  There are reasons to be optimistic that the Chairman and Vice Chair Warner are up to the task.”


Read Sue Gordon’s Rock and a Hard Place only in The Cipher Brief



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