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Sep 02, 2020 Ask Molly: September 2, 2020

Q: Dear Molly,

To what extent does intuition play a role in your decision-making process? Do you think you have a more developed ‘sixth sense’ compared to others?

- Go with Your Gut

A: Dear Go with Your Gut,

Ah, intuition. Gut feeling. Spidey sense. The third eye. A sixth sense. Perhaps one of the most fundamental of intelligence tools—but undoubtedly one of the most difficult to observe and empirically document. Still, human history is riddled with examples of intuitive decision-making. From everyday intuition, like the decision to pack an umbrella despite a clear forecast, to split-second battlefield orders which might cause a troop leader to redirect a planned route for fear of an ambush, the role of intuition is uniquely intertwined with humankind.

That is to say, of course intuition plays a role at CIA. The more difficult question is assessing the extent to which it drives decision-making. At the expense of sounding like I’m giving you a non-answer, the short take is that it depends. Intuition is so incredibly difficult to observe – and it so often intersects with logical, analytic methodology, that to give a firm answer is next-to-impossible. What I can say, however, is that the role of human intuition has not been displaced (at least not entirely) by the emergence of big data, supercomputers, and other technological advancements. While these tools have helped analysts immeasurably in their effort to distill large amounts of information and to chart fact-based conclusions, intuition remains a critical skill for any CIA officer.

It is worth noting that intuition can be bolstered by a deep understanding of the subject matter. An ice climber, for instance, may intuitively know not to climb a certain section of ice for fear of instability. That intuition is borne from years of ice climbing and thousands of observational hours. Even the most intuitive of people are woefully unintuitive in unfamiliar waters. This is why our analysts spend a great deal of time understanding their subject matter, down to the minute details. Doing so will build their intuition to slight changes that would be otherwise imperceptible.

Do I think the typical CIA officer has a more developed “sixth sense,” as compared to others? Not necessarily. I do think CIA officers prepare themselves to think intuitively. Analysts are constantly building their bodies of knowledge so that they can be prepared to assess changes at the drop of a hat. They are thinking critically and creatively so their intuition can thrive. Allowing yourself to think intuitively is an important part of the process. If you are not actively examining a situation, you are not preparing yourself for intuitive thought.

A Case Study in Intuition: The Hunt for a Mole

Ames Mole Hunt Team
There is no better way to illustrate the role of intuition than examining a case study. In the late 1980s, as the Cold War was drawing to a close, the CIA faced a terrifying threat. One after another, the CIA was losing its Soviet assets – many of whom were arrested, convicted, and executed for spying for the West – and it had no idea why.

After ruling out the threat of a talented Moscow code-breaker, CIA assembled a small team to work the possibility of an insider threat. The hunt for a CIA mole began. The first step was to narrow the list to those who would have access to the compromised information. Though only a small percentage of the Agency population had access to the information, the number was still much too large for the investigative team to manage. Their next step? Intuition.

The team was asked to go through the condensed list and take note of those persons who made them ‘uneasy’ or otherwise suspicious. In an era that predated big data and complex algorithms, this was the most promising solution. For Sandy Grimes, a CIA officer on the team, there was one name that stood out in particular: Aldrich Ames. Sandy had known Ames for years. Something about him, his personality, his demeanor, always seemed to stand out and recent changes in his behavior struck her as troubling. It is this intuition that made Ames a person of interest. Only after the FBI conducted legal surveillance of Ames, were federal law enforcement officers able to confirm that Ames was the mole they had been looking for. Intuition can play a very important role in the intelligence world, and it was absolutely necessary to catch one of the most damaging spies in US history.

You can learn more about the Ames case here.

In short, intuition is an important step in a long and complex analytic process, but its success relies on logical reasoning and objective analyses. In our world, each cannot exist without the other. We can’t presume to educate decision-makers on intuition alone, nor can we hope to focus our efforts without intuition. That’s why we work tirelessly, as an organization and as individuals, to create the conditions for intuition to thrive. From intuitive thought we build outward with logic, sound reasoning, and strong analytic tradecraft—but you already knew that.

~ Molly

Aug 14, 2020 Ask Molly: August 14, 2020

Q: Dear Molly,

With so much information floating around online, how can the average person distinguish reliable and trustworthy reporting from everything else?

- Information Overload

A: Dear Information Overload,

We hear you on that one! There is so, so much information floating around out there, and keeping your head above water with reliable and trustworthy sources is difficult. It seems like every day there are a handful of new websites, blogs, and media outlets generating content to compete for valuable viewership. Frankly, it has us longing for the days of a daily newspaper delivery and three-station television sets. But alas, that’s not the world we live in and, like it or not, we need to adapt to overcome. But what exactly does adaptation look like? That’s the real question.

We’re not talking about picking a handful of your favorite media outlets and ignoring the rest. To do so would be ignoring potentially valuable information. And at CIA we understand that no one can afford to ignore the stuff we just don’t want to hear. No, what we’re talking about is how you can train yourself to more carefully evaluate information to decide whether or not each source warrants your time and attention. If this sounds daunting, that’s because it can be. Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeve to evaluate the credibility of sources, and today we’re going to share a few that you can use to trim your daily information consumption (and digestion, for that matter).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken the liberty of arranging a few (socially-distant) meetings with some of CIA’s most information-literate officers. CIA librarians and CIA analysts know, more than most, what it takes to filter through the vast amount of information competing for our attention. Analysts have made a career out of information, in one way or another, and as a country we rely on them to establish the credibility of intelligence that is passed to our decision makers. And so, without further ado, I present a few tips and tricks from the CIA on how you can improve your web literacy and filter out the noise.

1.  Pause and Reflect.

Let’s say you’re scrolling down your social media news feed and you come across an article shared by a friend. The article, as most do, has a catchy thumbnail photo and a compelling ‘bottom line up front’ headline. Good or bad, the article is likely intended to evoke some sort of emotion. The first, and perhaps most crucial, step to increasing your web literacy is always to pause and reflect.

Articles may be framed in a way that preys on our emotions, with the goal being to get the reader to click or share the article. That often means that articles which may be factually inaccurate gain larger-than-expected viewership. In order to truly evaluate the veracity of a piece, we need to first set aside our own biases. It is such a convincing trap to believe (and share) information that matches what you already think. Taking time to reflect will ensure that we conduct a more thorough evaluation of the facts.

2.  Establish Credibility.

    Now that you’ve taken a step back from the article, take a few minutes to establish the credibility of the article, the website, the media outlet, and the author. Start with the URL. Are you looking at one of the standard top-level domains (.com, .net, .edu, etc.) or is there something not-quite-right? URLs ending in or some other non-standard variation are questionable and should be avoided as a primary source of information. What about the website itself? Though it may have an official-sounding title, does it seem like a professional publication? Legitimate media outlets have high standards, so a website rife with misspellings might be cause for concern.

    Head to the website’s about and contact pages. Legitimate media outlets are clear about the ways in which you, the consumer, can contact them. If the outlet is missing a contact page, this could be a red flag. The outlet’s “About” page can give additional insight on the group, as well as their mission and goals. A legitimate media outlet will have a well-defined “About” page.

    Check citations. Even if someone who purports to be an expert in a given topic has written something, see whether their citations are from reputable sources. If there are no citations, be even more skeptical and continue to investigate the author’s credentials.

    And lastly, double-check that you’re not reading from a satirical website. Does the article seem a bit outlandish? Then it might be satire. If you’re not sure, head to their about page or check another source.

    3.  Verify. Verify. Verify.

      Now we’ve come to the most time-intensive part of becoming an information-literate consumer, but even this doesn’t have to be too burdensome once you’ve turned it into habit. Establishing the credibility of a website is one thing, but confirming the accuracy of information presented is another beast altogether. As the famous adage goes: trust, but verify. What this means is that we should make it a practice to exercise healthy skepticism by verifying the information we consume. We can do this by finding multiple, unlinked sources to corroborate the claims made in an article.

      While a lot of the research we do here at CIA is highly specialized and written by just a handful of experts, that is rarely the case in the outside world. You can almost always find a wealth of sources to verify information—unless, of course, the article isn’t as accurate as the author wants you to think. 

      And always remember, words are not the only way to lie. Videos, images, and audio files can be equally deceiving. Luckily, there are plenty of services online that you can use to verify the authenticity of images, video, audio, and text. This guide from the American Libraries Association includes of handful of these tools.

      4.  Consider Stopping the Chain.

        If, after establishing credibility and independently verifying the facts presented, you are reasonably sure that the information presented in the article is legitimate, that’s great! Use that information as you see fit, knowing confidently that you have taken the time to ensure its accuracy. ‘Knowing’ something to be true is one thing, but taking the extra few minutes to do a bit of leg work and independently verify its accuracy adds so much more to your understanding of the facts.

        However, if after doing your due diligence you’ve found that the article you stumbled across in your news feed is inaccurate or otherwise misleading, consider stopping the chain.

        Becoming a more capable consumer of information is, as our librarians and analysts will attest, a lifelong pursuit and one that is shared by all. I hope you find some of these tips and tricks valuable as you attempt to navigate through the many streams of information which compete for your attention on a daily basis. These skills will take some time to perfect, but with practice and patience, you’ll be sifting through information like a CIA analyst in no time.



        Jun 26, 2020 Ask Molly: June 26, 2020

        Q: Dear Molly,

        What language will be the greatest need in 20 years? I want to get my grandchildren started as early as possible!


        Planning for the Future

        A: Dear Planning for the Future,

        Your grandchildren certainly are getting a generous head start, which is beneficial for learning languages. Studies show us that young children are not only more adept at learning new languages than adults, but they also pick up variations in accent that are crucial to native fluency. That is not to say, of course, that adults are incapable of learning new languages. In fact, adult language learners have proven to be better than children at understanding the more abstract principles of language (i.e., conjugations, subject/verb agreements, etc.). That is to say, language learning at different stages of life can yield different advantages. In general, however, younger language learners are more likely to develop fluency that can remain with them into adulthood with regular immersion and reinforcement.

        But you didn’t come here to question the optimal age of language learning. In a way, I wish you had, because your actual question is a bit more difficult for me to pin down. To know what language will be in greatest demand for the CIA in 20 years would be like asking your local meteorologist what the weather will be in the same amount of time. They might be able to give you a general sense, but they most certainly couldn’t tell you to pack an umbrella.

        Since its inception in 1947, CIA has and continues to seek candidates with a strong foreign language aptitude.  After all, to pursue a global mission, you have to understand the world.  Candidates who have pursued foreign languages will often, in addition to learning the language, develop a better understanding of that country and their culture. They join our workforce ready to drill-down on a problem set. They may need to brush up on some vocabulary related to their specific topic (economics, technologies, etc.), but generally they are ready to move. And at CIA, we need to move. Fast.

        With that said, the specific language learned doesn’t concern us so much as someone’s ability to learn a language. Students of foreign languages can apply those same skill sets in pursuit of fluency in another language. At CIA, we have an incredibly talented cadre of language instructors that prepare Agency employees for their assignments. The student with language-learning experience would most certainly join with a leg up.

        Deciding which language to pursue is a difficult choice. The world of intelligence is constantly evolving to face new threats. This means that certain languages that were once in low demand are now in incredibly high demand. At the moment, Arabic, Mandarin, Dari/Pashtu, Persian/Farsi, and Russian are in high demand, but this does not mean that CIA is uninterested in capable speakers of Spanish, French, Korean, German, and all other languages. The future of global affairs is demonstrably unpredictable, despite our best efforts to stay ahead of the curve. You never know when your language will be in high demand.

        So, Planning for the Future, I can’t say exactly which language your grandchildren are best-suited to learn, but I most certainly encourage them to pursue foreign language study.



        Jun 17, 2020 Families of CIA

        Officers working for the Central Intelligence Agency experience a workplace unlike any other.

        The challenges they face are unparalleled. Their work is demanding, their adversary never sleeps, and the stakes for national security continue to climb. Agency officers recognize the toll this line of work can place on their mental and physical well-being, but also recognize that it isn’t a burden they carry alone.

        Agency families stand by our officers through thick and thin, through success and turmoil, through late nights and far-off deployments – they truly experience the effects of our profession firsthand. They are as much a part of the CIA family as the officers who walk our halls, and this summer, we’d like to honor them with the thank you they deserve.

        Our new social media series, “Families of CIA,” will highlight the invaluable role that families play in support of the Agency, its mission, and its people. Throughout the summer, we will feature the spouses of Agency leaders past-and-present, significant others of those officers working on the frontlines for national security, and children who followed in their parents footsteps and chose to serve.

        It is no exaggeration to say that, without the love and support of our families, our mission could not be accomplished. In an address to CIA families in 2019, D/CIA Gina Haspel asserted; “you may not possess a security clearance, but you play an indispensable supporting role at our Agency. We simply couldn’t do what we do without your patience and understanding, and CIA is far more effective because of your support.”

        To all CIA families, thank you.

        You can follow along weekly with the #FamiliesofCIA series on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

        Jun 01, 2020 A History of Pride at CIA

        Before 1995, LGBT CIA officers were considered a security risk for potential blackmail by foreign intelligence services and officers could, and did, lose their jobs if they admitted to being, or were thought to be, LGBT. This began to change when President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order (EO) 12968 banning the withholding of security clearances from members of the LGBT community.

        The EO sparked the push for diversity and inclusion inside the CIA and inspired three courageous LGBT officers to found ANGLE in 1996. The officers, two lesbians and a transgender woman within the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, stood up and banded together to try and create a working environment that was equitable to all employees regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The journey was not always easy and the evolution of changing the embedded internal culture of the CIA to be more diverse and inclusive was a monumental tasking.

        Throughout the years, ANGLE sought out senior champions and allies, collaborated with other Agency employee resource groups, worked with policy offices, and educated the workforce on LGBT issues and concerns. In addition, ANGLE worked closely with the Diversity and Inclusion Office and its predecessors on community outreach efforts to LGBT professional groups and organizations outside the CIA to share their experiences. ANGLE was also instrumental in creating IC Pride, a resource group made up of members from agencies across the Intelligence Community (IC).

        ANGLE today has hundreds of members, including allies and senior champions, and is one of the longest-standing employee resource groups in the IC.

        For more information on ANGLE, CIA inclusion efforts, and CIA Pride, see:

        May 27, 2020 Asian Pacific American Organization Celebrates 30 Years

        This year, the Agency’s Asian Pacific American Organization (APAO) resource group is celebrating its 30th anniversary of supporting officers and enriching our workplace. 

        A small group of officers started APAO in 1990, the same year President George H. W. Bush signed the bill that officially designated May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. In its early years, APAO helped connect officers of Asian Pacific American background to one another and spearheaded cultural activities for the workforce. 

        Since 1990, the numbers of Asian Pacific American officers in the workforce have increased, and so has APAO membership. Today, APAO activities encompass professional development and workforce diversity initiatives that support the Agency’s diversity and inclusion strategy. Examples of recent activities include matching officers with mentors, helping officers prepare for job interviews, and collaborating with other resource groups on educational programs with diversity and inclusion thought leaders. Foreign language activities to help officers develop or maintain skills in languages that include Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Khmer, and Tagalog. APAO members who organize these activities get a chance to use skills that they may not use in their regular jobs and explore topics of interest to them.

        APAO members also support the Agency’s recruitment activities, working with organizations such as the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, the National Association of Asian American Professionals, Mid-Atlantic Union of Vietnamese Student Associations, and the Council of Korean Americans. Members share their professional stories with job seekers so that more people in the Asian American community know about Agency career opportunities. 

        Like all the Agency’s resource groups, APAO is open to all officers. Members of APAO’s current leadership team were born in South Korea, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, and are all naturalized US citizens. 

        To explore job opportunities at the Agency, visit the Careers section

        Apr 29, 2020 Find the Library at Your Place: CIA Resources for National Library Week

        Last week, America celebrated a particularly unique National Library Week. Designated by Presidential Proclamation in 1958, National Library Week was established to recognize the essential role that libraries play in our nation’s “educational and cultural advancement, economic and technological development, and intelligent participation of the citizen in the affairs of our country.”

        Having closed in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, libraries across the country instead encouraged people to celebrate virtually. Some pointed followers to generously-expanded digital collections while others invited followers to join the conversation with their librarians on social media. This year’s theme of “Find Your Place at the Library” – which was selected several months before the U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 – was changed to “Find the Library at Your Place,” to reflect an unprecedented posture for libraries across the country.

        As pillars of learning and intelligence, libraries have always played an important role at CIA. So important, in fact, that we have our very own fully-staffed-and-stocked library at the Headquarters compound in Langley, Virginia. And while our collection may be a bit different from that of your local library, its importance to the CIA community is just as meaningful.

        In an effort to help you “Find the Library at Your Place,” we’ve pulled together a list of unclassified and declassified CIA resources that you can use to learn a bit more about the Agency’s history and the broader world of intelligence. 

        You might be thinking; “what unclassified information can the CIA possibly share?” While there’s a lot we can’t say about what we do, people forget that there’s so much information that we can (and do) release.

        In fact, we want people to learn more about CIA, about its people, about its mission, and about its history. We want people to read the tales of derring-do by officers in the Office of Strategic Services, CIA’s predecessor. We want you to learn more about the U2 and A12 Spy Planes and CORONA satellite program that revolutionized aerial reconnaissance. We want you to relive the CIA response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, and hear from the JAWBREAKER team that led the United States’ response to those horrific attacks.

        You can find those stories and much, much more at the below links.

        We hope you’ll find some of these resources interesting and that they help you “Find the Library at Your Place.” To all of our nation’s librarians: thank you for all you’ve done to make this a fun and interesting National Library Week.

        Apr 23, 2020 Ask Molly: April 23, 2020

        Q: Dear Molly,

        I would love to join CIA, but I’ve done illegal drugs in the past. Is there any path forward for me at CIA?

        ~ Eager to Serve

        A: Dear Eager to Serve,

        Let me be clear on this from the get-go: having previously used illegal drugs does not immediately disqualify you from working at CIA. If working for CIA is your life’s goal - and we certainly hope it is - there could be a path for you here. With that said, there are certain restrictions that you should be aware of, especially if you’ve used illegal drugs within the past year. Generally speaking, to be eligible for CIA employment, applicants must not have used illegal drugs within the past 12 months. This is, as with most things, a general rule by which to gauge your hire-ability as, not only an applicant, but as the potential holder of a security clearance.

        It might seem a bit archaic, but consider the access to information we’re giving CIA employees, and consequences of granting access to the wrong person. Officers regularly handle classified information, which, if leaked, could spell disaster for national security and endanger the life of CIA officers, assets, and their families. I’m not asserting that those who have experimented with drugs are in some way bad or unworthy, but a willingness to break federal law to engage in illicit drug use can be used as a measure of someone’s fitness to hold a security clearance. It should be noted that drug use and abuse is one of the most common reasons applicants are denied a security clearance.

        Now you may be wondering; that’s all fine Molly, but I live in a state where marijuana use was legalized under state law, so would any of this really apply in my case? The short answer is yes. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law in every state. CIA is bound by federal law, which prohibits CIA from granting security clearances to unlawful users of controlled substances, including marijuana. State laws do not supersede those of the federal government. For more information regarding the federal government’s security clearance guidelines regarding drug use and other considerations, you can check out the SEAD 4 National Security Adjudicative Guidelines.

        No matter your history with drug use, the key is to exercise candor throughout the application process and through your employment, for that matter. Sincerity and honesty are two traits that CIA values above all else, and for good reason. We have a very specialized mission with very serious stakes and life-threatening consequences. CIA needs to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it can trust the members of its workforce. If an applicant were to be dishonest about their drug use in the application process, even out of fear of rejection, it would be a sign to CIA that the applicant doesn’t exhibit candor. And with the stakes so high, CIA can’t afford to take that chance.

        Keep the 12 month guidance in mind as you consider submitting an application, and remember to be truthful and forthcoming throughout the application process. The rest will fall into place.

        ~ Molly,

        Apr 22, 2020 CIA Celebrates Earth Day 2020

        Today marks the 50th anniversary of the country’s very first Earth Day. On this day in 1970, millions of Americans took to the streets to demand that measures be put in place to protect and care for our precious natural resources. Today and every day, CIA remains committed to doing its part to protect Mother Nature.

        As responsible environmental stewards, we spend a great deal of time and effort on minimizing our impact, increasing energy independence, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements, and regularly evaluating our processes and systems to identify opportunities for improvement. Officers in CIA’s Environmental Safety Division are constantly exploring new ways in which CIA can reduce its footprint. They work tirelessly to track progress and provide a strategic path forward to meeting environmental goals.

        Ongoing projects include green and energy efficient purchasing, stormwater management, recycling programs, and pollution prevention, to name a few. In FY18, CIA diverted an average of 51.8% of waste from landfills and in 2019 CIA recycled more than 2200 tons of material. To accomplish this, CIA made tremendous efforts to educate its workforce on recycling initiatives.

        CIA has made great strides in the way of workplace flexibility and balance as well. By encouraging the use of teleconferencing, flexible work schedules, desk-sharing, ride-sharing, car/vanpooling, and web-based training, CIA is implicitly discouraging unnecessary transportation, thus limiting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

        Water consumption at CIA’s headquarters has also seen a significant reduction. In FY18, CIA implemented new water treatment procedures at its central plant, which significantly reduced overall water consumption at headquarters.

        CIA has also made great efforts to enrich the natural beauty of its own campus in Langley, Virginia.  Since April 2019, CIA has planted 180 new trees and has plans to add even more by June 2020.  Those who follow CIA on social media may recall the 2019 holiday video, which features a timelapse of the holiday tree being planted at CIA headquarters. What you may not know is that, after the holiday season, that tree is transplanted to a nearby tree farm instead of making its way to a landfill. CIA recognizes that these seemingly small steps can have a tremendous, collective impact.

        And to top it all off, CIA even found a way to reuse some of that energy created by the destruction of classified materials. Classified waste is collected into “burn bags,” which are incinerated after use. Instead of letting that energy escape into the atmosphere, CIA transforms that heat into clean energy which is then used to supplement the heating of its facilities.

        Initiatives like these are at the forefront of our efforts to be responsible stewards of the environment. CIA is proud to play its role in preserving a safe, clean planet for future generations and looks forward to doing so for years to come.

        If you are interested in helping move the needle on CIA’s environmental sustainability initiatives, consider exploring opportunities in our Environmental Safety Division.

        Apr 20, 2020 Notice of Availability of Draft Environmental Assessment for 30-Day Public Review

        The United States Government (USG) has prepared a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluating the environmental impacts associated with the construction of a new Health and Wellness Center on the George Bush Center for Intelligence (GBCI) campus. The draft EA was prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 and the Council of Environmental Quality regulations implementing NEPA.

        Specifically, the proposed action is to construct a new standalone, multi-story (total height exceeding 18 feet), unclassified Health and Wellness Center on the GBCI campus in Fairfax County, Virginia. The purpose of the proposed action is to construct a facility to satisfy the physical health, wellbeing, and resilience needs of the CIA workforce. Construction is anticipated to be completed in three phases over 18 months.

        The proposed action is not anticipated to have any significant adverse effects on human health or the environment. Starting Monday, April 20, 2020 the draft EA for the project is available for a 30-day public review on our Reports page, as well as here: [PDF 11.06 MB*].

        Comments and inquiries should be sent via our comment form here.