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Nov 20, 2019 Ask Molly: November 20, 2019

Dear Molly,

I’ve been closely following the news out in California, and the devastation caused by wildfires that continue to burn. Though we don’t live in the area, it got me wondering if my family is prepared to handle a natural disaster like that. What can I do? #AskMollyHale

~Not Your Average Prepper

Dear Not Your Average Prepper,

Great question! Unfortunately, many people don’t think about these types of things until disaster strikes. It’s great that you’re thinking about emergency preparedness now.

CIA Officer with a Go-Bag
At CIA, we spend a lot of time discussing emergency preparedness and planning with our officers, who often find themselves working in all kinds of remote—and sometimes dangerous—places around the world. Often villages, towns or even cities are ill-equipped to handle major emergencies. What those emergencies might look like (hurricanes, earthquakes, civil unrest, violent uprisings or wildfires, etc.) can be hard to predict, but a well thought-out emergency plan, paired with regular drills and the right equipment, can put you in a better position to weather the storm, whatever form it takes.

I asked our Office of Security for tips on developing an emergency action plan, and they had lots of suggestions. They also recommended that everyone learn how to create a “go-bag.” (A go-bag has important items that you may need during an emergency) Hopefully you’ll find these tips useful for you and your family.

Tips for Developing an Emergency Action Plan

An emergency action plan is, simply put, the plan of action for you and your family if a crisis arises. It’s important to discuss (and write down) your plan so you and your family know exactly what to do during an emergency. Remember: Planning shouldn’t be done in isolation. Every member of your family should be included and actively contribute. Here are a few things you should consider discussing when creating your emergency plan:

  • Be aware: What sort of natural disasters are frequent to your area? How might they affect your access to resources, roads or general infrastructure? Does your area have an emergency alert system? Do you know how you might be able to access it? These types of questions can help you shape your family’s planning meeting.
  • Establish a communication plan: The odds of you and your family being in the same location during an emergency are slim, so planning for communications is critical. Who is the primary point of contact for the family? What about a secondary point of contact, if your primary point of contact can’t be reached? What should you do if you don’t have a cell phone or if it isn’t working? Larger families should establish a ‘phone tree’ system in which each person is responsible for establishing contact with a particular person or set of persons.
  • Identify meeting points (primary/secondary/tertiary): If you and your family aren’t able to make contact with one another it’s important that everyone knows the location of designated meeting points. Meeting points should be familiar places around town where you and your family can plan to meet if an emergency were to occur while you were separated. It is best to pick locations that are familiar to your family, such as your home or that of a relative. Other options can include schools or local civic buildings. Be sure to have a few back-up locations just in case you can’t reach the first one. For instance, if the primary location is home but the roads are blocked, everyone should know to make their way to a secondary location, like a school or a grandparent’s house.
  • Consider the specific needs of your household: You can easily find an off-the-shelf emergency action plan on the Internet, but is it going to address the needs of your family in your specific area? Probably not. An emergency action plan should take into account precautions that are unique to you and your family. Perhaps you have a family member in a wheelchair; if so, your designated meeting points should take handicap accessibility into consideration. Do you have pets? Make sure you have food/water, vaccination records, proof of ownership and even a photo of your pet, in case you get separated. Check out the website for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for more information on how to prepare your pets for an emergency.
  • Plan evacuation routes: An emergency could require that you and your family quickly evacuate the area. If so, you need to be aware of all possible evacuation routes, without relying on GPS. Try to memorize these routes. That way you can evacuate an area safely and quickly—even if some roads are blocked and communication networks aren’t working.
  • Practice, practice, practice: An emergency plan is no good if it sits in the kitchen drawer unread and unused. It is important to commit the plan to memory. Our security officers encourage all of us at CIA to not only plan for emergencies, but also to practice them, both at home and at work. When practicing, throw in some curveballs that require you and your family to fall back on secondary plans or even completely unplanned options.

Building the Perfect Go-Bag

Emergency Kit Go-Bag on CIA Seal
According to FEMA, people should be prepared to take care of themselves and family members for up to 72 hours, or three days, following a disaster. To do this effectively you should collect and consolidate the appropriate materials at a well-known location in your home, work or vehicle ahead of time. We recommend consolidating the items into what we call a “go-bag,” so named because it is a tool that is intended for use in ‘on-the-go’ situations, such as a hasty evacuation.

As some of our officers can attest, multiple go-bags scattered throughout the house, vehicles and your workplace might be the best solution. You never know where you’ll be when disaster strikes and having a go-bag within arm’s reach can mean the difference between life and death.

Contents of your go-bag should (at a minimum) include:

  • 1 gallon of water per day (or purification tablets)
  • Spoil-free food (i.e. protein bars)
  • First aid kit (with any prescription medications needed)
  • Light source (flashlight, glow sticks, etc.)
  • Spare batteries- (replenish them regularly)
  • Disaster plan with contact numbers, map and evacuation routes
  • Copies of passports and other critical documents
  • Warm blanket and several space blankets
  • Change of clothes with sturdy shoes
  • Hygiene supplies
  • Multi-tool (i.e., one that includes tools like a knife, screw driver and tweezers)
  • Cash and traveler’s checks
  • Matches or other fire starter in a waterproof case
  • Waterproof storage
  • Paper and pencil
  • Cell phone with emergency contact numbers and charger
  • Portable power bank for cell phones
  • Emergency repair kit (parachute cord, duct tape, safety pins)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should serve as a reference as you build a more personalized list based on your needs and those of your family, as well as the specific threats or challenges you are likely to face in your part of the world. If, for instance, you live along the coastline, you may want to put more time/effort into waterproofing your go bag and its contents. Those living or staying in areas of earthquake activity should consider including temporary shelters and focusing on communications, as cellular towers could be impacted.

Hopefully these tips are helpful!

Stay safe,

~ Molly

Oct 01, 2019 CIA’s Response to 9/11: A Panel Discussion at the 9/11 Museum

Last Thursday, September 26th, we joined forces with the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City to host a panel discussion about the events following September 11th, 2001.

The panel, “Essential Intelligence: The CIA’s Response to 9/11,” was moderated by former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell. The panel featured former Acting Director John McLaughlin and former Senior Paramilitary Officer Phil Reilly, who was a member of the first team to touch down in Afghanistan, 15 days after the attacks.

“Memories of that day are vivid and many,” John began when asked about his recollections from the day. He was in a meeting on the 7th floor of CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, when he found out that America was under attack. “I remember writing on a piece of paper ‘nothing is ever going to be the same.’

Phil was sitting in language training on September 11th, preparing for his next overseas assignment. “My first reaction was shock and anger, and maybe even a little bit of rage,” he said, recalling his emotions from the day.

Mi17 91101.jpg
The Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter was CIA’s workhorse for transporting personnel, equipment, and supplies into, across, and out of Afghanistan. Two days later, the CIA flight mechanic repainted the Mi-17 with a new tail number – 91101.
The three CIA alumni discussed the impact of 9/11 on the world of intelligence, from hardening the elements of homeland security that would prevent another attack, to the creation of elements like CIA’s Red Cell that would enable the intelligence community to think creatively about vulnerabilities and threats.

Phil discussed his experiences as the Deputy Chief of Operation JAWBREAKER, a team of CIA officers that were the first Americans on the ground in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The three panelists heralded the unprecedented collaboration that came in response to 9/11, both internally between the military and Intelligence Community and externally with international allies.

“Today," John said, "one of the incredible capabilities the US has is the ability to marry up civilian produced intelligence with military powers in a way that I don’t think we could have done pre-9/11.”

You can watch the entire panel discussion here.

Jul 19, 2019 CIA Hosts Washington Intern Forum

CIA Museum Director, Rob, discusses the history of CIA from its origins as the OSS.
Last Tuesday, we hosted a group of nearly 200 student interns at our Headquarters in Langley, Virginia for a number of briefings and discussions on Agency history and culture. Occasionally, we invite student groups to learn more about our mission and people. On those visits, most walk through the doors of CIA expecting a gallery of space-age weaponry and cool cars. We hate to disappoint, but want to set the record straight. By inviting student groups, we get the chance to “lift the curtain,” so to speak, and show them what work at Langley actually looks like.

Tuesday’s group came to CIA from a handful of Washington-based entities. Many of these students are considering careers in intelligence or international affairs, and came to the Agency to learn more about our career and internship opportunities. Our goal was to create a program that touched on all of these topics: CIA history, work, mission, and culture.

We kicked off the day with a presentation from the Director of CIA Museum, Rob, who began his presentation with a quick question: “How many agents do you think work here at CIA?” After a brief pause, a few responses rang out from the group. “Four thousand,” said one intern sitting in the front of the auditorium. “Ten thousand!” another shouted from the back. The answer: zero. “CIA employees are called officers,” Rob explained with a laugh.

Rob continued with a brief history of CIA, from the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services, our predecessor, to the modern day CIA and everything in between. He spoke about the need for intelligence and major technical achievements, like the U2 and CORONA satellite programs that dramatically improved our ability to collect information.

Next, we transitioned to a panel discussion with representatives from each of CIA’s five directorates: Analysis, Operations, Support, Science and Technology, and Digital Innovation. The interns asked a range of questions, which spanned from interest in the panelist’s career progression to how the officers manage to balance their personal and work lives, given the classified nature of the work at CIA. When asked about their motivations to work at CIA, the panelists all responded to the same call: mission. “I’m not here because it’s going to make me a lot of money,” one panelist said. “I’m here because I cherish the opportunity to serve and protect the United States.”

Interns rounded out their day with a presentation on creativity from CIA Creative Thinking Facilitator Jacob. His presentation, which he also delivered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film, media, and music festival earlier this year, highlighted strategies and tools our analysts use to reframe their key intelligence questions and encourage creative and divergent thinking.

CIA is always on the lookout for opportunities to give students a peek into the halls of Langley, and to demystify our mission. Are you interested in learning more about internships with CIA? Check out our student opportunities page!

Jul 12, 2019 Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani Visits CIA, Meets Program Alumna

Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani Visits CIA

As a young girl, Reshma Saujani’s father read her stories about leaders who changed the world: Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. While she wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do, she was sure of one thing – she wanted to make her mark.

Reshma did just that as the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that aims to close the gender gap in technology. CIA recently hosted her for a speaking event and to meet with officers. She shared her perspective on how to empower women of all ages to be courageous and to shift from a culture of perfection to one of risk acceptance.

Reflecting on her personal and professional path to Girls Who Code and other successes, Reshma discussed how she overcame obstacles, including law school debt and a ten-year finance career that left her feeling unfulfilled.

She shared the story of how a call from her friend gave her the courage to make a bold move. “Your best friend always seems to call when you’re at your lowest,” Reshma said. She quit her job and turned to politics, where she had little luck in two New York Congressional races taking on incumbents. Though her campaigns were unsuccessful, they gave her the initial idea for Girls Who Code. When she visited local schools, she noticed a stark gender imbalance in computer science classrooms.

 “When we think about the image of a programmer,” Reshma said, “what do we see? A guy in a basement drinking a Red Bull and singularly focused on his screen.” She was concerned that young women were getting the message that they did not belong in the tech world.

Girls Who Code now reaches millions across the globe in schools, community centers, homeless shelters, and churches.

“We raise our boys to be risk-takers, but our women in bubble wrap,” Reshma said, explaining that parents exercise an unconscious bias when raising children, one that is deeply ingrained in our culture. Parents are “hard-wired to toughen-up boys and insulate girls,” she said.

These fundamental differences in how we raise men and women, Reshma explained, can have broader implications as women reach adulthood. By conditioning women to be risk-averse, we’re in effect raising them to be perfect, she continued, calling for a cultural shift she coins a “Bravery Revolution.”

“It starts with the small things,” she said. “When you start finding courage in the everyday, you can prepare for the big events.” For example, she challenged the audience to accept having an occasional typo in an email – to be brave, not perfect.

When asked what men can do to contribute to ongoing issues of gender inequality, Reshma said there have never been stronger male allies, noting that more than 40 percent of Girls Who Code instructors are male. “Our men won’t accept a world where their daughters can’t be anything they want to be,” she said.

Reshma concluded, “Coding is a metaphor for bravery. [These girls] learned to code and can stand up to anything.” After the discussion, several people from the audience stayed behind to meet Reshma, including an employee—and former Girls Who Code participant—who was inspired by that experience to go into a technical field that led her to CIA.

Jul 10, 2019 Ask Molly: July 10, 2019

Dear Molly,

What are your thoughts on cybersecurity? How can I better protect myself and my family in this ever-growing world of hacks and data leaks? #AskMollyHale

~Internaut I Am Not

Dear Internaut I Am Not,

I asked our CIA cybersecurity experts for advice, and they highly recommended a unique resource from our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security called Stop.Think.Connect.

Stop.Think.Connect - USA

Stop.Think.Connect - Global

The Stop.Think.Connect. campaign is an unprecedented public-private partnership between federal and state governments, law enforcement, industry, and non-profit organizations to increase the understanding of cyber threats and empower Americans and all digital citizens to be safer and more secure online.

Pretty cool, right?

The campaign is led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (part of the US Department of Homeland Security), the National Cyber Security Alliance (a nonprofit that empowers people to use the Internet safely & securely), and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (the world's largest independent counter eCrime association).

The idea behind Stop.Think.Connect is that Internet safety is a shared responsibility—at home, in the workplace, and in our communities. The Campaign provides access to tons of resources, tips sheets, and research, giving you the tools you need to make more informed decisions when using the Internet.

At the DHS site, there are toolkits loaded with info specifically for groups like students, parents, teachers, older Americans, government organizations (like us!), small businesses, corporations, and law enforcement.

On the Global site, in addition to dozens of tips and resources, there is a blog, research section, sharable memes, and several resources in foreign languages too.

Stop.Think.Connect is a fantastic resource available for free to anyone in the world, and I highly encourage you to explore it.

Stay safe out there, Netizens…

~ Molly

P.S. If you have questions specifically about online dating, check out my column from February: Plenty of Phish.

Jun 17, 2019 CIA's Andrew Hallman Discusses Digital Futures at FedTalks 2019

On Wednesday June 5th, Deputy Director of the CIA for Digital Innovation, Andrew Hallman, joined other public and private sector tech leaders at FedScoop’s ninth annual FedTalks to discuss a number of hot topics in the world of digital futures. In the conversation, Andrew covered the need for agile adaption of intelligence tradecraft to compete more effectively in an increasingly complex threat landscape, intersection of innovation and security, and CIA’s commitment to strengthening its digital acumen.

Andrew also discussed the role of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in enabling higher order human cognition and intelligence tradecraft. He noted the role of these tools as “enabling the human mind” to help officers focus on their highest value activities. From the automation of routine tasks to the rapid exploitation of data, pattern recognition, and predictive analytics, these tools, he noted, are intended “to allow officers to do what they do best in their intelligence tradecraft.”

When asked how CIA manages to promote innovation within the top secret world of national security, Andrew admitted that “historically, the Agency, like most other government organizations, has viewed security as an obstacle to the assimilation of advanced technology.” Andrew highlighted that, in fact, “security and innovation are inextricably linked” and that our counterintelligence and security officers are “indispensable partners to our collective intelligence tradecraft.”

Watch the full video above to learn more about how CIA stays on the cutting edge of technological innovation, and how we adapt to an ever-changing global threat landscape.

Jun 13, 2019 Ask Molly: June 13, 2019

Dear Molly,

I’m taking my family on a road trip to DC this summer. I’m a huge spy buff and would like to visit the Langley campus while we’re there. Do you give tours of the CIA Headquarters? Is the CIA Museum open to the public? #AskMollyHale

~ DCRoadTripper

Dear DCRoadTripper,

We get this question a lot during the summer. Unfortunately, the CIA Museum and our CIA Headquarters compound are not open to the public, so you can’t come here in person. However, our nation’s capital is a great place to visit. It’s filled with historic sights to see, and the Smithsonian museums along the National Mall are some of the best museums in the world. (Bonus: they’re free and open to the public every day!)

For a more intel-related tour, you can also visit two museums that are run by our colleagues at FBI and NSA:

  • If you contact your local congressional representative, you can look at arranging a tour at FBI Headquarters of their exhibit, The FBI Experience, which features interactive multimedia exhibits, content, and artifacts that help illustrate the importance of the FBI’s work to protect the nation.
  • The NSA also has its very own National Cryptologic Museum, which is located across from NSA Headquarters and is open to the public. Their museum houses thousands of artifacts that provide an inside look at some of the most dramatic moments in the history of American cryptology.

As for CIA, although you may not be able to visit our museum in person, we do have the next best thing: We have opened our virtual doors to you!

Our website has an online tour of CIA’s Headquarters. You get to take a sneak peek inside the CIA and see sights such as our Memorial Wall, “the Bubble,” Kryptos, our Presidents and Directors galleries, and much more.

If you want to go more in-depth, we also have three publications available online that you may be interested in:

    The CIA Museum also has a large part of its unclassified collection online, if you’re interested in exploring relics from our past. It’s like Indiana Jones, except without all the snakes.

    And if you’re looking for something to listen to while on your road trip to DC, you can always check out the Washington Post’s Retropod podcast, where our historians shared the stories behind some of our most interesting artifacts over the course of a recent week:

      Hope you and your family have a great visit to DC this summer!

      Safe travels,

      ~ Molly

      Jun 12, 2019 CIA Visits the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program

      Last week, CIA had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) in Anchorage, Alaska, for a few days of training simulations on detecting national security threats.

      Founded in 1995, ANSEP’s objective is to inspire, educate, and propel Alaskan Native students of all ages toward success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It pursues this objective through a number of academic and professional programs intended to challenge students and accelerate learning to keep pace with the needs of tomorrow. One of these, the Summer Bridge Program, is geared toward graduating high school seniors as they transition into higher education and career planning. Always on the lookout for bright young minds (particularly in science and technology!), CIA jumped at the opportunity to pay these students a visit.

      ANSEP participants were excited to participate in technical simulations provided by the visiting officers. They worked in small teams with limited resources and under demanding time constraints to identify threats in a fictional small town. The students took on the role of Agency officers, using critical thinking, situational awareness, and decision-making skills to address the simulated national threat – no small feat, but one our officers face on a daily basis.

      On the last day, CIA officers even had the opportunity to join our US Fish and Wildlife colleagues, who trained the students on wilderness safety. This summer, many of these students are headed to STEM internships that will take them into the field, making wilderness safety a top priority. And who knows, maybe in the future we’ll see some of them walking the halls of CIA, tackling some of our nation’s toughest science and engineering challenges.

      Learn more about CIA internship opportunities here.

      Jun 04, 2019 Balancing Transparency and Secrecy in a Digital Age

      On Friday, May 31st, CIA’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer, Benjamin Huebner, spoke to a packed crowd at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC about the balance of transparency and secrecy in a digital age, especially within the Intelligence Community (IC).

      Moderated by Brookings Institution Federal Executive Fellow (and former CIA Office of Public Affairs spokesperson) Ryan Trapani, the conversation spanned from discussions on the legal context of privacy and transparency to the intersection of public accountability and secrecy. That balance, said Ben, “makes us better” as an intelligence agency.

      Ben relayed a whole-of-Agency commitment to protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. “It is the role of every single officer to think of these issues,” said Ben. “The moment you become a CIA officer is when you go to our memorial wall and you stand up in front of those 133 stars and swear a constitutional oath to protect and defend the constitution.”

      Learn more about CIA’s commitment to transparency here.

      May 02, 2019 Ask Molly: May 2, 2019

      Dear Molly,

      Is there really a Starbucks at CIA Headquarters?

      ~ Frap Fanatic

      Dear Frap Fanatic,

      Yep, there is a Starbucks at CIA Headquarters! It’s actually one of the busiest Starbucks in the country. We need our caffeine jolt just like everyone else.

      The menu is the same as the Starbucks on your local street corner. They even play the same modern music, and we have a comfortable seating area for officers to take a break, hang with a co-worker, or talk shop… as long as the conversations are unclassified of course.

      The only big difference between this Starbucks and your regular Starbucks: Baristas don’t take customers’ names. Our officers order their cup of joe incognito.

      ~ Molly