John Brennan (left) and Johnny Taylor discussing the need for diversity in the CIA workplace as George Curry moderates a press conference in D.C. on Nov. 13. Photo by Travis Riddick
John Brennan (left) and Johnny Taylor discussing the need for diversity in the CIA workplace as George Curry moderates a press conference in D.C. on Nov. 13. Photo by Travis Riddick

WASHINGTON — The CIA and a national organization that financially helps students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) announced during a press conference in Northwest on Friday, Nov. 13 that they’re working on a plan to increase the number of African-American agents and analysts at the nation’s foremost intelligence group.

Johnny Taylor Jr., president of The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), and CIA Director John Brennan said they had not worked out the details of the plan but have agreed to make increasing the number of African Americans at the agency a priority.

Brennan and Taylor said the plans are in the early stages.

“We had a kickoff meeting as far as the implementation team,” Brennan said. “There are a lot of teams throughout the agency that are joining together to do this, and we’re going to have metrics on this. We need to measure our ability to make progress towards these goals. Nothing is a light switch. We’re not going to be able to make this change overnight.”

Brennan said he would hold his senior managers accountable by spending more time addressing the issues of diversity at the CIA. The CIA must take the initiative to find these minority students who are qualified to join the CIA, he said.

As part of the process, Brennan said he wants to ensure that his senior managers are going to the colleges to recruit African-American candidates and that they are mentoring and sponsoring individuals within the CIA. Additionally, they should be coming up with ideas about how to realize their goals to increase diversity in leadership positions.

“It’s easy for us to talk about these things,” he said. “You really have to be able to walk the talk, and we’ll do that inside the building as well as outside.”

Taylor said the CIA will find that students at HBCUs are just as qualified and talented to work for the CIA as students from Ivy League colleges.

The Thurgood Marshall fund, which is named after the nation’s first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice, will act as a liaison by providing the names of potential candidates to the CIA, Taylor said.

“There are computer science engineer geniuses on these campuses that no one knew existed because they aren’t at MIT,” he said. “They aren’t at Stanford. It’s our job to provide these names and we’ll play a key role in introducing that diversity.”

Taylor said his organization will also expose more Black high school students to the CIA and its career opportunities, then introduce the needed CIA skill sets into high school curriculums. They’ll also encourage the students to attend college and introduce them to the majors that the CIA that would make them more desirable candidates.

“I have a saying that ‘Only us can save us,’” he said. “The African-American community has a responsibility to help too. Our job at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund is to ensure that organizations like the CIA know that there’s an incredibly talented source of really good students ready to come work for their agency, if only they knew how to get there.”

Brennan said he asked former Urban League President Vernon Jordan, who used to work with former President Bill Clinton and is now a part of the CIA advisory board, to spearhead the effort to improve the diversity of his agency.

Kenisha Tillmutt, a senior at Fort Valley State University, said she’s optimistic about the CIA’s efforts to include African Americans in the CIA workplace.

“It opened my eyes more,” Tullmutt said. “If he took the time out to come here and speak to us, I know he’s serious about bridging the gap for diversity. I hope he lives up to his word.”

Abrahana James, a junior at Fort Valley State University, said she believes the CIA is trying to change.

“They’re trying to provide everyone the same opportunities,” James said. “Like he said, there are people with the same mindsets at schools other than Ivy League colleges and they’re trying to give them that same opportunity.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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