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Remembering the Life and Legacy of CIA Trailblazer Don Cryer

February 21, 2023

People and Culture

Nearly five years ago, CIA lost one of its greatest champions of diversity and inclusion, Donald R. Cryer. He was a CIA Trailblazer—an individual whose leadership, achievements, and dedication to mission had a significant and lasting impact on the Agency’s history—and a lifelong Washingtonian. Don passed away at the age of 75.

Don enjoyed a long, successful Agency career with more than 40 years of service to the country. He joined the Agency in 1962 as a GS-3 name-trace clerk, worked his way up within the Directorate of Operations to become one of the Intelligence Community’s leading experts in the field of information management, and retired as a Special Assistant to then-CIA Director George Tenet.

As adept as he was at the technical side of intelligence work, Don understood the crucial role that diversity and inclusion play in mission success long before the Agency articulated this goal. Don was a strong advocate for eliminating institutional barriers to the advancement of women and minorities within the Agency. He served as a mentor to numerous officers over the years and led by example. In doing so, Don inspired other officers to do their best.

Diversity is really about mission at the end of the day.

In December 1999, Tenet unveiled a new strategy to increase CIA workforce diversity, identifying the objective as a mission necessity. He asked Don to spearhead a new position—that of Special Assistant for Diversity Plans and Programs, or in other words, the Agency’s first diversity and inclusion officer.

Don chose to delay his retirement to accept the job. In that role, Don laid the groundwork for what would become CIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Office and developed Agency-wide initiatives that have served as models for diversity programs across the broader Intelligence Community.

In 2004 when he retired, Don received CIA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal. CIA renamed its annual diversity and inclusion award, which began in 2008 to recognize officers’ contributions to advancing the endeavor, the Donald R. Cryer Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2010. That same year, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta presented Don with the prestigious namesake award. Don, even in retirement, enjoyed returning to CIA each year to present the award to officers.

Don at the 2017 presentation of the eponymous Donald R. Cryer Diversity and Inclusion Award.

CIA designated Don as a Trailblazer in 2014—a fitting tribute for a man who did so much to develop the workforce and advance the mission. Don always emphasized, “Diversity is really about mission at the end of the day.” The Agency continues to embrace Don’s work, and our progress is in part tribute to his wisdom, leadership, and foresight.

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