An Intelligence Officer’s Guide to Dissent

By Steven Ward

Steven R. Ward is a retired intelligence officer and former member of CIA’s senior analytic service who specializes in Iran and the surrounding region. A retired U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and graduate of the United State Military Academy at West Point, he currently is a contract historian for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint History Office. Between 2010 and 2012, he was a CIA Visiting Professor to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. From 2005 to 2006 he served as the Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East on the National Intelligence Council, and he was a Director for Intelligence Programs on the National Security Council from 1998 to 1999.

(Editor’s note – Thursday, August 15 is the last day of work for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and his Principal Deputy Director Susan Gordon.  Coats turned in his resignation in late July and Gordon delivered hers last week amid rumors that she was being pushed from her job.  Both resignations are controversial because they are seen by critics of the President as punishment for those who speak truth to power, though the President provided a sigh of relief to those critics when he appointed current Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Joseph Maguire to take over as Acting DNI.  Maguire is seen as a true professional and someone who is also willing to speak up when required.  The issue raises a great question however, that should be explored.  What should an Intelligence professional – at any level – do when they are asked to do carry out a directive they do not support?  This guide was written by Cipher Brief expert Steven Ward in December of 2016, when the issue became front and center after comments that then President-elect Trump and had made about using torture to gather intelligence and killing the family members of terrorists – neither of which – as far as we know – he has directed since becoming President.  This guide was also written before Lt. General Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI in December, 2017.  It’s filled with valuable thinking around the issue of dissent.)

OPINION — Throughout my nearly 30 years at CIA, I was regularly reminded of the scripture that serves as a philosophical foundation of the Agency’s work. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) admirably links CIA’s mission to speak truth to power to the fundamental American value of freedom.

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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