TIME intelligence

CIA Lags in Recruiting Diverse Workforce, Reports Finds

Mission not yet accomplished on diversity

The Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to bring more minorities into its workforce haven’t been as effective as hoped, according to a new internal report.

The report finds that since 2008, recruitment of minority officers has declined “to levels lower than what is necessary” to maintain the agency’s current levels of minority representation. Currently, racial and ethnic minorities make up about 24% of the entire CIA workforce.

The CIA says diversity and maintaining a diverse workforce is essential to its mission. Without varieties of perspective among employees, CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday, officers can become susceptible to “group think,” which could lead to lapses in intelligence and security.

Without a diverse workforce, Brennan said, “we’re not going to be able to do our job.”

MORE The CIA’s Latest Mission: Improving Diversity

CIA Director John Brennan commissioned the Diversity in Leadership study in January 2014, shortly after a report led by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that examined women’s leadership roles across the agency. That study, released in 2013, found that women comprise about 45% of the agency’s workforce and 31% percent of senior leadership positions. The agency is currently in the process of implementing the recommendations of that report. The 2015 Diversity in Leadership study was chaired by famed Civil Rights activist and attorney Vernon Jordan.

Brennan said increased competition in the workforce has likely contributed to the decline in minority recruitment. At a recent trip to a historically black college, he said, the students he met with were impressive—but also courting several offers from private companies that have more attractive salaries and benefits than the agency.

The agency’s challenge is to become an “employer of choice” for applicants who can thrive—and make a lot of money—at private companies.

And once recruits get in the door, impediments to success remain. Only 10.8% of the senior ranks of the CIA are racial and ethnic minorities, according to the study. The number of African-Americans in the senior ranks has declined in both percentage and actual number between 2004 and 2014. The percentage of Hispanics in the CIA workforce is significantly lower than in the civilian workforce. The study also found that the agency lacks an inclusive culture and that many groups don’t have access to formal informal networks that can lead to career advancement.

A survey of officers found that many LGBT, minority, and officers with disabilities felt that they had to “hide aspects of their identity” in order to thrive within the agency. Many officers said they didn’t even feel comfortable advocating alternative viewpoints within their work groups.

In lieu of agency-led networks, African-American officials have historically hosted informal groups where they can talk freely about their experiences and assist officers in efforts to seek new positions.

In an interview with TIME earlier this year, a veteran officer said some still meet regularly for social and networking events. “We made that a point of pride,” he told TIME. “It was a thing of, ‘I may not get there but we want to position you to get to the top.’”

Brennan said he hopes the report sends a strong signal to his workforce that he takes diversity and increasing minority representation across the board seriously.

TIME intelligence

Martin O’Malley Calls For More Restrictions on NSA Surveillance

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce June 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Win McNamee—Getty Images U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce June 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley said that recent reforms to the Patriot Act did not go far enough in curtailing the National Security Agency, arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court should include a public advocate.

“The USA Freedom act was a step in the right direction, and I’m glad that it passed and the president signed it,” said O’Malley, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

“I would like to see us go further in terms of a role for a public advocate in the FISA court,” he continued. “As a lawyer myself and by training, I think our national security and our rights would be better served if we had a bigger role for a public advocate in the FISA court.”

O’Malley’s remarks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon marked the first time the two-term governor has laid out a notable policy position on mass surveillance since becoming a presidential candidate. He has thus far staked his candidacy on a progressive economic platform, including regulating Wall Street and pushing for immigration reform.

President Obama signed into law on Tuesday sweeping legislation that dissolves the NSA’s authority to monitor data on millions of Americans’ phone calls, instead requiring that phone companies store the data themselves. If the government wants to access call data, it has to first acquire a court order with FISA.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is running for the Republican nomination, has made reforming surveillance a central platform of his presidency. But O’Malley differed with Paul on how to do that.

Over the weekend in New Hampshire, O’Malley said he opposed Paul’s move on Sunday to delay a vote on to extend the Patriot Act. Paul’s delay ultimately led to the NSA surveillance authorities lapsing for nearly two full days, but paved the way for the USA Freedom Act to pass on Tuesday. “I think we could be less safe if we resort to obstructionism when it comes to something as important as protecting our homeland from the threat of terror attacks,” he said, BuzzFeed news reported.

TIME intelligence

Anti-Spying Law Wins Cautious Praise From Edward Snowden

Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Moscow, is seen on a giant screen during a live video conference for an interview as part of Amnesty International's annual Write for Rights campaign at the Gaite Lyrique in Paris
Charles Platiau—Reuters Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Moscow, is seen on a giant screen during a live video conference for an interview as part of Amnesty International's annual Write for Rights campaign at the Gaite Lyrique in Paris December 10, 2014

The USA Freedom Act limits the NSA's power to collect phone data

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has called the USA Freedom Act “an important step” but urged further congressional limits on surveillance.

Speaking via video link at a London Amnesty International event Tuesday, Snowden said the law, which will limit the power of the NSA to access telephone data from millions of Americans with no connection to terrorism, was historic.

“For the first time in recent history we found that despite the claims of government, the public made the final decision and that is a radical change that we should seize on, we should value and we should push further,” he said from Russia, where he has been given asylum since he leaked information about Washington’s domestic spying programs to the media in 2013.

The new legislation, which President Obama signed into law on Tuesday night, requires the NSA and other intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant from a counter-terror court before accessing data from telephone companies, AP reports. “This legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs,” Obama said in a statement.

But the Act also renews still-controversial governmental powers granted by older legislation, such as roving wiretaps and tracking of so-called “lone wolf” suspects. For that reason, Snowden urged Congress to consider more limits on surveillance.

“If we collect everything, we understand nothing,” Snowden told the audience. “We’re spending resources for no benefit in terms of public safety and a real cost in terms of freedom and liberty.”

[AP]

TIME intelligence

NSA Program to Collect Phone Records Ends

After a 67-32 vote in the Senate, Obama signed the bill into law

The National Security Agency will lose the ability to collect and store virtually all of American phone records, after the U.S. Senate voted 67-32 Tuesday to reform the secret intelligence collection programs revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden.

The Senate voted to pass a compromise version of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that has already passed the House, with the support of President Obama, who signed the measure into law Tuesday night. Under the new law, the U.S. government would stop collecting the phone records, showing date, time and numbers connected. Instead, telephone companies will be required to keep the information, which can then be queried with a court order by intelligence and law enforcement professionals.

Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called the vote a “resounding victory for those who plotted against our homeland,” had hoped to resist the House reforms. But McConnell failed to schedule enough time to debate a different bill before several provisions of the Patriot Act, including the phone records program, expired on Sunday night. “He put us in a position to get us something no worse than the Freedom Act,” said Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

McConnell scheduled votes on several amendments to the Freedom Act Tuesday that would have limited the reforms, but they all failed.

Nonetheless, many civil libertarians, including Amash, also opposed the Freedom Act for not going further in limiting the ability of court orders to request large numbers of documents. Under the Freedom Act, requests for information can be made based on a “specific selection term,” which can be an individual, association or an organization, a provision that opponents fear the intelligence community will interpret to once again gather vast amounts of information.

At issue throughout the debate was the history of the specific telephone-record program. It was permitted under the 2001 U.S.A. Patriot Act under a vague provision that allowed the government to request “tangible things” including books, records, papers and documents for an investigation into international terror or clandestine intelligence. Until the Snowden leaks, U.S. officials had concealed the fact that this provision was used to collect records of virtually every phone call made in America.

Asked in 2013 if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” National Intelligence Director James Clapper falsely answered “not wittingly,” in an unclassified Senate hearing. Snowden later said this deception was a major reason for his decision to leak classified material.

The Senate vote ended a tense three days in the Senate, in which Senators arrived home over the weekend only to be forced to stand by as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, obstructed movement on a last-minute effort to pass a short term extension to several intelligence authorities so that the Senate could craft its own bill.

The rebellion of Paul, who forced the expiration of several intelligence gathering powers Sunday night in protest, forced McConnell to act fast to reinstate the authorities. Paul’s procedural moves were able to delay passage of the bill, but only for a couple days.

In the end, he voted against the final bill, along with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are both also running for President. Republican Ted Cruz voted for the reforms.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who was traveling at the time of the vote, said he would have voted against the reforms. Graham also criticized Paul’s tactics. “There are lines I don’t cross, within my party or without,” he told TIME. “To me, he crossed the line here. He put the country at risk unnecessarily.”

TIME Rand Paul

Rand Paul Filibusters Patriot Act Renewal

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 15, 2015, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the need to reform asset forfeiture.
Andrew Harnik—AP Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 15, 2015, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the need to reform asset forfeiture.

Presidential candidate Rand Paul took to the Senate floor to protest the renewal of the Patriot Act, a Bush administration-era law that enables government surveillance.

The Kentucky Republican argued that the programs authorized by the 2001 law improperly constrict Americans’ rights and grant overly broad powers to the National Security Agency.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” he began. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

Shortly after the speech began, the Paul campaign emailed supporters to say that he would “not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand.”

Paul began speaking at 1:18 p.m., when the Senate was in the midst of discussion of a massive trade deal with Asia, making it arguable whether it was technically a filibuster, a parliamentary procedure used to delay or prevent a vote.

Paul previously filibustered the nomination of CIA chief John Brennan in order to highlight what he considered the danger of drone strikes against U.S. citizens within the United States.

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie to Call For Larger Military, Defend Intelligence Collection

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Olivier Douliery—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

He'll call for more warships and military planes in a speech Monday

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will call for an expanded military and defend American intelligence programs Monday in a speech laying out his foreign policy vision in New Hampshire.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential candidate is set to criticize the emerging Iran nuclear agreement as well as President Obama’s handling of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to prepared remarks released by his political action committee.

“With Iran, the President’s eagerness for a deal on their nuclear program has him ready to accept a bad deal,” Christie will say.

Christie will issue a full-throated defense of American spying efforts, seeking to draw contrast with more dovish members of his own party, as well as many Democrats, who have unified against the National Security Agency since the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013.

“They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids,” Christie will say. “They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of the Bourne Identity or a Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more.”

“Let me be clear: all these fears are baloney,” Christie will add. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy. And we shouldn’t listen to people like Edward Snowden, a criminal who hurt our country and now enjoys the hospitality of President Putin—while sending us messages about the dangers of authoritarian government.”

Christie will also propose an expansion of federal defense spending, including a repeal of the mandatory budgetary caps known as sequestration.

“The Army and Marines should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 strength, and our active duty forces should be at 500,000 Army soldiers and 185,000 Marines,” he will say, drumming the call of the nation’s defense hawks. “Our Navy should have more ships,” adding the Navy needs at least 350 vessels. The Air Force, Christie will say, should have 2,000 combat aircraft and a total strength of 6,000 aircraft.

Christie’s call for an expanded military mirrors the plans of other Republicans, even the more dovish Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who earlier this year called for an expansion of the military budget.

Read more: Rand Paul Proposes Boosting Defense Spending

Christie has seen his path to the presidency narrow amid a troubled fiscal situation in his state and the continued fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge by former aides in 2013. Monday’s remarks are the third in a series of addresses designed to restart his presidential efforts, as he prepares to make his candidacy official in the coming months.

Casting himself as a decisive leader in contrast to Obama, whom he says has not defined a strategy for America in the world, Christie will argue that the current administration is alienating American allies. One piece of evidence he’ll cite: Last week, Obama was set to host Gulf leaders, but several, including Saudi King Salman, pulled out in an apparent snub to the White House.

“The price of inaction is steadily rising,” he will say. “Just last week we saw the embarrassment of almost all the Gulf leaders, including the Saudi king, pulling out of President Obama’s summit at Camp David. Our allies want policies, not photo ops, and we’re not listening to them.”

Christie will call for the linkage between the sanctions on Iran stemming from its nuclear program to that country’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East, including its support for Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. Such suggestions have been rejected by the Obama Administration as an effort to undermine the nuclear deal.

TIME psychology

How to Get Smarter

elderly-reading-close-up
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Wouldn’t you like to know how to get smarter? Of course.

I’ve looked at the science on the subject many times in the past and there are some simple methods — like, believe it or not, exercise and even chewing gum.

But is that really going to move the needle over the long haul? Research shows that IQ isn’t all that valuable without a little discipline behind it.

So what’s going to really make a difference? Learning.

Cool. But learning new stuff takes time. And you’re busy. But what if you could pick up new skills super fast?

Ah-ha. Now we’re on to something. However, I’m no expert at this. But, luckily, I know a guy who is.

Tim Ferriss is the bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek. And he’s also an expert at learning new stuff fast. In fact, his new TV show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment, is about just that.

In the various episodes Tim tackles all kinds of skills from poker to rally car racing to chess — and then puts his new talents to the test. (He picks up the language Tagalog in 4 days and then does an interview in Tagalog on Filipino TV.)

So what can Tim teach you about accelerated learning? A lot. And all you have to remember is a simple acronym:

“DiSSS”

Those are the four steps: Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes. Tim explains in this video:

I’ll break down the steps for you below. Okay, let’s get learnin’.

1) Deconstruction

Picking up a language? Oh god, that takes forever… Wrong.

Every skill has parts. To learn effectively you need to break it down into the key elements. This makes something that may seem overwhelming and divides it into manageable chunks. Here’s Tim:

The D is deconstruction. You’re taking a complex skill like learning a language, tactical shooting, or swimming and breaking it down into components. For swimming you would have arm movement, leg movement, different strokes, etc. Try to break a skill down into 5-10 pieces.

(For more on the 8 things successful people do that make them great, click here.)

That’s pretty straightforward. But here’s where Tim’s expertise really helps…

2) Selection

Most classes or books start you out from the beginning and gradually build you up. That’s nice if you have a lot of time. You don’t.

We need to be smart about where we put our energy and focus if we want to make progress quickly. Forget what is fundamental and ask yourself what is most important to get to competency. Here’s Tim:

The first S is selection. That’s doing an 80-20 analysis and asking yourself, “Which 20% of these things I need to learn will get me 80% of the results that I want?”

So when learning a language, Tim doesn’t bother with the typical basics. He looks at what the most frequently used words are and studies those first.

That Spanish class taught you the word “Father” in the first week. But how often do you really talk about Dad? Here’s Tim:

You can become functionally fluent in any language, in my opinion, in 6-12 months. But you can do it in more like 8-12 weeks just by choosing the 1500 highest frequency words. What you study is more important than how you study it. Rosetta Stone is not going to help you if you’re studying the wrong words.

This jibes with the research. When I spoke to Sports Gene author David Epstein about how world class athletes train, he said the same thing: “The hallmark of expertise is figuring out what information is important.”

And what’s the first thing academic research shows helps undergraduates get better grades? Yup:

Learning occurs best when important information is selected from less important ideas, when selected information is organized graphically, when associations are built among ideas and when understanding is regulated through self-testing…

(For more of what top athletes can teach you about being the best at anything, click here.)

So you know what’s important. What’s next?

3) Sequencing

This is the thing most teachers, classes and books get wrong.

Not only do they not focus on what’s important but they don’t work on that stuff first. Here’s Tim:

The next S is sequencing. That’s just putting things in the right order. Putting things in the right progression, that’s really the secret sauce that is missing from almost any instructional book, DVD, video, class, etc.

When Tim was learning chess from champion Josh Waitzkin (whose life was the basis for the film “Searching for Bobby Fischer“) they did things the opposite from how most chess instruction works.

They didn’t start with the beginning of a chess game. They jumped straight to key moves that are applicable to the majority of interactions on the board. This allowed Tim to hang with top players after only a few days of practice. Here’s Tim:

Josh would basically do things in reverse. He took all the pieces off the board and started training me with King and Pawn versus King. By doing that he was teaching me not rote memorization of openings, but really powerful principles that can apply to the entire game in many different circumstances. Just by giving me a very short tutorial on a few principles with three pieces on the board, I went to Washington Square Park, and I was able to survive three or four times longer than I should have against a really savvy speed chess street hustler.

(To learn how to develop a photographic memory in four steps, click here.)

So you’ve broken your area of study into parts, figured out what is important, and you’re focusing on that first. What’s the final step?

4) Stakes

You won’t get fired from your job if you don’t learn to speak Russian. Your family won’t starve if you don’t master the guitar. And this is why you quit. Because you can.

You need an incentive to keep practicing. Or, even better: a penalty if you don’t practice. Here’s Tim:

Stakes is arguably the most important piece. By stakes, I mean consequences. Some type of reward or punishment to keep you on track and accountable. To prevent yourself from quitting, you need incentives.

So Tim recommends using what researchers call a “commitment device.”

Write a check for $100 to a political party you hate or a cause you are actively against. Give it to a friend. If you don’t achieve your goal or put in the hours, your friend mails the check. Boom. You’re now motivated.

(For more on how to conquer procrastination once and for all, click here.)

Okay, Tim has given us some powerful tools for learning. Let’s round them up.

Sum Up

Just remember this… actually, just remember “DiSSS”:

  1. Deconstruction: Break a skill down into its key elements.
  2. Selection: Figure out what’s important and what gets used most often.
  3. Sequencing: Work on the important stuff, not what chronologically comes first.
  4. Stakes: Use a “commitment device” to make sure you have skin in the game and don’t quit.

And hang out with smart people. Research shows it helps. (In fact, studies show stupidity is contagious.)

So what’s the best way to get started? This is no magic trick. It comes from the heart. The first step is to believe that you can become smarter:

Thinking about intelligence as changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed, results in greater academic achievement, especially for people whose groups bear the burden of negative stereotypes about their intelligence.

And learning doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Wanna be smarter? Surround yourself with people who believe in you.

Via The Heart of Social Psychology: A Backstage View of a Passionate Science:

…Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) did the same study in a classroom, telling elementary school teachers that they had certain students in their class who were “academic spurters.” In fact, these students were selected at random. Absolutely nothing else was done by the researchers to single out these children. Yet by the end of the school year, 30 percent of the the children arbitrarily named as spurters had gained an average of 22 IQ points, and almost all had gained at least 10 IQ points.

Want even more accelerated learning secrets?

In my next weekly email I’ll have powerful insights from Tim including his counterintuitive advice on how to retain skills and the one question he always asks experts so he gets their most valuable lessons quickly. Get it all by joining here.

Join over 185,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME intelligence

Report Claims American Psychological Association Secretly Supported Torture Policy

An Iraqi security officer patrols the grounds at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad.
Wathiq Khuzaie—Getty Images An Iraqi security officer patrols the grounds at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad.

This is the first time the A.P.A. has been investigated on the interrogation program

The American Psychological Association secretly worked with the George W. Bush administration to justify a post-9/11 torture policy, says a new report released Thursday.

The report, written by six health professionals and human rights activists, analyzed over 600 e-mails that they claim show how the group assisted in morally and ethically justifying the Bush-era interrogation program after graphic photos surfaced in 2004 showing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq tortured by U.S. Army personnel.

“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report concludes.

A spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association denied the accusations in the report, stating that there “has never been any coordination between A.P.A. and the Bush administration on how A.P.A. responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program.”

The interrogation program has since been discontinued and was criticized by the extensive Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture last year.

[NYT]

TIME intelligence

McConnell Introduces Bill to Extend Surveillance Under Patriot Act

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media following the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on April 21, 2015.
Bill Clark—AP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media following the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on April 21, 2015.

The bill comes amid a bipartisan effort to curb the NSA's expansive collection of Americans' phone records

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday evening that would renew several sections of the Patriot Act, which grants expansive powers of surveillance to intelligence agencies, that are set to expire this summer.

Among the act’s provisions that would be renewed until 2020 rather than expiring in June is Section 215, the National Journal reports. The hotly contested authority laid the legal groundwork for the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of metadata from millions of Americans’ phone records.

The bill appears to challenge a bipartisan effort to amend Section 215 with stricter guidelines on what information intelligence agents can collect and retain.

TIME intelligence

The CIA’s Latest Mission: Improving Diversity

CIA Headquarters
David Burnett—Pool/Getty Images

A weapons analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, Lisa was sorting resumes with a colleague when something shocking happened.

Lisa, who is black, was helping her white coworker find the best applicants for overseas posts, which are considered prestigious within the agency and can lead to more important jobs down the line. Lisa was midway through her own overseas posting and had already seen how it helped her career.

But looking at the resumes, her coworker casually said that she would not hire a black man.

“She told me that if there is a white man — doesn’t matter how capable the black man is — I’m picking the white man,” recalled Lisa. (At the request of the CIA, TIME agreed to withhold last names of agency employees, many of whom work undercover.) “As a minority, you know that, but to have someone tell you that? It’s telling.”

Like workplaces across the country, the CIA is striving to improve the diversity of its staff. And just like other companies, the agency nicknamed The Company has found that progress comes in fits and starts.

In interviews with more than a dozen black officers, TIME found that while the CIA has made diversity a top priority, it still struggles to recruit African-Americans and promote them to higher positions.

Diversity is not just important for its own sake. As an intelligence agency, the CIA lives and dies on its ability to interpret complex data about foreign countries. Black agents noted multiple times when their unique perspective as a minority within the United States led them to a breakthrough in understanding a foreign conflict.

The agency’s top leaders agree.

“Diversity is critical to the success of CIA’s mission. We need a workforce as diverse as the world we cover,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement to TIME. “CIA has come a long way in broadening the demographic of its senior ranks, but we still have significant work to do.”

To that end, Brennan launched the Diversity in Leadership Study to examine the current demographics of the agency’s senior ranks. A similar study on women, who make up 46% of the CIA workforce, was released in 2013.

A key part of the study, which is being directed by famed lawyer and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan, will be recommendations on how to better foster an environment where people from all backgrounds can rise to the top.

That was not always a priority. According to Milo Jones and Philippe Silberzahn’s book Constructing Cassandra, in 1967 “there were fewer than 20 African Americans among the approximately 12,000 non-clerical CIA employees.”

Spenser, a black officer who oversees the Africa division, said that when he started in the 1990s, there was “not a single non-white division chief,” one of the highest-ranking positions in the agency.

The CIA would not disclose the size of its workforce nor its demographic makeup to TIME. But Spenser said that times have changed.

“We now have division chiefs that are Hispanic, that are Asian. That are black, women,” he said. “It’s completely different.”

As with other companies, a central part of the CIA’s efforts is recruiting. Intelligence experts say that the agency still has ground to make up on its reputation in the African-American community.

“The negative reputation has lingered on despite everyone’s best efforts,” says Mark Lowenthal, a former CIA officer and intelligence expert.

As the African-American community outreach manager for the CIA, Tiffany spends most of her time talking with black professional organizations about the agency. She said that she’s heard all kinds of misconceptions about the agency’s past and present, some of which she even believed herself in the past.

“When I was offered an opportunity to work for the agency, my initial response was, ‘oh hell no,’” Tiffany says. Now, she uses her story to get audiences comfortable with the idea of letting their friends and family members join the CIA.

Lowenthal remembers asking some young recruits — three black men — at their training graduation ceremony to get involved in recruiting as soon as possible.

“I said, go back to your schools and become mentors and recruiters,” Lowenthall recalls. “You’ll be much more effective than I can ever be.”

While not all officers participate in recruitment efforts, many black officers see it as part of their job. Reginald, a deputy chief of European analysis and a graduate of two historically black colleges — Howard University in Washington and Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. — makes it a point to recruit as often as possible, particularly at black schools.

Kim, who at 35 is already the chief of Africa analysis, recognizes the importance of recruiting.

“I actually went to a school not too long ago,” she says. “I saw their eyes get big when they noticed I was a young, African-American woman doing well at CIA. And I told them, you can come here and do this, too. I’m not that special.”

But recruiting is not enough. Within the agency, there are well-traveled paths to upper management that recruits need to navigate.

Lisa says she feels part of the problem is that white agents have done a better job of networking with higher ups that can recommend or “sponsor” junior officers for better positions. “They go to a different length to get positions than we do,” she said. “Often, they have an inside scoop, someone on the inside who can vouch for them.”

Michael, a 40-year veteran of the agency’s clandestine service, says a lot of black officers have felt that they have to prove they can do the work on their own. “We didn’t network,” he says.

He worked to change that, meeting with a handful of other black officers in the CIA cafeteria regularly to decompress and share advice.

“Even if we did a tour and came back three years or five years later, that roundtable was still there,” Michael says. It was important for black officers to have that space, and it’s something they continue today, gathering outside of Langley for social events and one-on-one chats.

“We made that a point of pride,” he says. “It was a thing of, ‘I may not get there, but we want to position you to get to the top.’”

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