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Pioneering Woman who Directed CIA's Science and Technology

March 1, 2023

People and Culture

Dr. Ruth David

One of CIA’s most vital missions is addressing national security challenges through technological expertise. Leading the way is the Agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T), which works to exploit emerging technologies and deliver cutting-edge capabilities that ensure America stays ahead of foreign adversaries.

In July 1995, CIA appointed Dr. Ruth David to serve as Director of the DS&T – the first woman to lead the directorate and one of the first women to serve in a senior Agency leadership position. Unlike most of the past DS&T directors, Ruth came from outside the Intelligence Community, having developed her expertise in academic and national laboratory settings. Ruth joined the Sandia National Laboratories in 1975, where she spent the first part of her career. She later authored numerous technical papers and taught graduate courses in electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico.

Ruth led the DS&T during a period of enormous geopolitical and technological change. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a shrinking intelligence and defense budget led the CIA to begin downsizing, and the Agency lost capital, talent, and innovation to the private sector. Meanwhile, CIA faced major collection challenges posed by the way that new and more diverse adversaries communicated and stored information. The DS&T excelled during the space age with innovative collection technologies, but emerging threats required different approaches and technologies.

Smart, bold, and agile.

Ruth quickly recognized the need to reorient the directorate to confront anticipated post-Cold War national threats in a new way. She began a heightened emphasis on information technologies and accelerated the initiatives that her predecessor set in motion, overseeing the creation of several offices aimed at transforming the DS&T into a national laboratory and center for scientific and technological excellence within CIA and the broader Intelligence and Defense Communities. Ruth also focused on building Agency partnerships with the commercial world, including Silicon Valley where the most significant advances in technology were taking place.

On one memorable occasion during Ruth’s tenure, several of America’s top young scientists selected CIA as the organization they wanted to visit during their trip to Washington. The Agency hosted the group of rising science stars and introduced them to senior CIA scientists and Trailblazers, including expert geneticist and molecular biologist Janet Dorigan. When Ruth met the visitors touring Headquarters, she soon encountered their first hard-hitting question: “So, where do you keep the aliens?” In true CIA fashion, Ruth handled the question with ease – by referring them to the U.S. Air Force, of course.

CIA recognized her achievements with the Agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal to go along with prestigious honors from House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staff and directors of the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. With most of her initiatives implemented or underway, Dr. Ruth David left the Agency in 1998 after laying the groundwork for the founding of In-Q-Tel.

“Smart, bold, and agile,” is how then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet characterized Ruth. The traits required in an age of rapid technological change. In addressing the workforce ahead of Ruth’s planned departure, he also lauded the instrumental role that she played in shaping the strategic direction that the Agency would take in the years ahead.

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