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Decision-Making Inside the CIA Counterterrorism Center Before, During and After 9/11

We started the OODAcast as a way of highlighting insights and lessons learned from leaders and decision-makers in the OODA Network. Since March 2020, we have produced 80 OODAcast conversations that will long be relevant to anyone who seeks to sharpen their decision-making skills or gain insights into dynamic, competitive markets.

Many of these interviews are also with members of the intelligence community who have very personal and powerful professional stories to tell about the early moments of September 11th. On this, the weekend of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we have curated some of these interviews – pulling threads and highlighting where these leaders were at the moment the first plane hit, the early actions taken by the CIA, and their personal and professional journey in the days, weeks, and years after the attacks.

In July of this year, Matt Devost had a conversation with renowned counter-terrorism expert and career clandestine services professional Cofer Black. Cofer is best known for having been the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) on 9/11 and was part of the intelligence community warning about the near-term threat of terrorism in the United States prior to the attacks. However, his pedigree in counterterrorism issues was well established with a distinguished career in the field in high-risk areas and operations.

In January, Matt spoke with Ric Prado. Ric has been described by CIA leadership as the closest thing to 007 that the United States has ever had. Ric’s life is packed with more adventure and operations than your favorite spy novel series. Coming out of the shadows, his conversation with Matt was his first video interview and covers his career, operational decision-making lessons learned, and why we need a next generation of CIA agents.

Arriving in the United States as a Peter Pan refugee from Cuba, Prado dedicated himself in service to his county in many capacities that culminated professionally with a 24-year career in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). During his tenure at the CIA, Ric was involved with dozens of operations including spearheading the CIA’s operational response to 9/11 as the Director of Operations within the CIA’s CTC. For this response, he worked with the National Security Council and FBI, as well as with elite U.S. military representatives from Delta Force and SEAL Team Six.

July 10, 2001 – “It’s coming and we’re going to be struck.”

Cofer Black:  There’s a lot of briefing papers, you know “Osama bin Laden determined to strike in the United States.” They are putting out intelligence:  “There was a terrorist group in the United States, an escalating threat. We expect multiple attacks. Their objective is the destruction of the United States.”  My favorite one was on July the 10th [2001].  [CIA al Qaeda Unit Head] Richard Blee came in and said, “man, the roof is falling in on this”. What you got? PowerPoint.  Made some changes. We went to see [CIA Director] George Tenet. He looked at it. He got it immediately. And we made a non-scheduled meeting to see [National Security Advisor] Condeeleza Rice at the White House and we’re coming right now. So she was there and some of her people. You know, we, I mean, it was among maybe the hardest hitting briefings I’ve ever sat through. That was very clear and distinct, you know: it’s coming and we’re going to be struck.

And I remember she said to me: “So, Cofer, what do we do?” I said: “This country needs to go on a war footing now,” slamming my hand on the table. Well, unfortunately, none of the domestic agencies were mobilized. It just didn’t get traction, you know? And so it went like that. And for us…the intelligence was…we weren’t prescient. The intelligence was planted, we’re going to be struck, which also helped us to develop the capability to have the transportation and firepower and communications and allies in Afghanistan. So when this happened, we could do our jobs, sustaining the entry of the US military into Afghanistan. So that piece worked out well, but unfortunately, for all that to go forward, we had to suffer a tremendous amount of casualties on 9/11.

Matt Devost:  Yeah. So I’ve been fascinated with this concept of Gray Rhinos ever since I interviewed the author, Michelle Welker a couple of months ago. And you know, we understand Black Swans as kind of the unforeseeable events that could happen, but she talks about the Gray Rhinos, which are the things where we do have the warning, but then we kind of failed to take action. It seems to me that despite the fact that we’d described 9/11 as a bit of a Black Swan, it may be based on the tactics, that it really was a Gray Rhino…we had the early warning. You had the kind of the Cassandra syndrome of, you know, people being briefed and the awareness being driven, but without the associated action or almost action paralysis. Do you think that that’s kind of a fair characterization?

Cofer Black: I think that is a fair characterization. Certainly in hindsight, but also in real-time. In the decision-makers and the policymaker’s defense, they would fall back on this “well, you didn’t give us the exact day. You didn’t give us the exact target. You didn’t give us all the specifics.” Well, if I had that information, I wouldn’t even be wasting my time coming to talk to you. We’d take care of it. Whoever it was, where they were, and when they are going to attack – what do we need you for? We’d have worked with the FBI and taken care of it. So the reason that they’re being warned is that there are pieces, despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to collect on. Our estimation, or at least mine, was sometime in August of 2001:  multiple attacks, a significant loss of life, objective the destruction of the United States.

As we got closer to 9/11, our concern was it was increasingly to be in the United States. And I just think that the recipients of this were just not prepared to listen to this. And they didn’t take action on it because they didn’t want to be in the box of having to deal with something like this. When they have other issues, you know, they have competing issues.  At the same time you have a shootout in the South China, what are you spending your time on this counter-terrorism thing for? But my thing has always been when you have the CIA director and the head of the counter-terrorism center, the head of the Al Quaeda division coming in forcefully advancing, “we’re going to be struck, lots of Americans going to die, and we need to go on a war-footing.”

Here’s the thing, what traditionally would happen would be they call for a principal’s meeting. So you have essentially the war cabinet you know, Secretary of Defense, State, and all that. Bureaucratically, that’s a good way to handle it. Right? You can get these people together and they trot in Tenant, Black, and Blee. Listen to these guys, you know, see if there’s anything to this, then they can make a national determination. Are we going to do something? Or are we going to do nothing? At least the decision is made. As it was left, There was no meeting like this. There was no decision made. It just kinda happened. So that’s unfortunate. It would have been great if we could have collected all the tactical information, but that’s a pretty tall order. It’s like saying the FBI, you know, w we’d like you to collect all the intelligence so banks aren’t robbed. Somebody told me, you know, they’re like 40 bank robberies a day in the United States. There are limitations practically to the detection of events like this consistently.  There were so few people are involved and they’re attempting to practice tradecraft to defeat your ability to collect on them. So, no, we didn’t raise our alert level, the public wasn’t warned,  our resources weren’t increased.

Day Zero – September 11, 2001

Ric Prado:  Yeah, I mean, obviously for all of us, that was a surreal moment. I was standing outside of Cofer’s office. There was a TV there.  I was talking to one of the secretaries when the first plane went in and we all thought that it was just a big Cessna or something that hit the building. We had no idea that it was a 747.  CTC has always enjoyed a great fraternity of people. We’ve always had Secret Service, DEA guys, and everything else working together at the center. And we had an FAA guy and he came out to me and said “Hey chief, we got a problem. There are four planes missing and they’re not responding to the reverse call sign.  When they push a panic button, there are certain protocols and they’re not responding to them.”

And he hadn’t finished that sentence when the second aircraft hit. And obviously, you know, you go into action mode. I didn’t go home for three days. I literally slept in my office. Most of us did. Obviously a life-changing experience, but, you know, again, I believe in fate and I believe that we had in CTC at the time, the people that needed to be there. The fact that Cofer Black was our director in CTC at the time was God-sent. I cannot think of a single individual that could have handled it better than Cofer. His leadership ability, his testicular fortitude. His total disregard for career progression.

Day One – September 12, 2001

Ric Prado:  We had Deputy Chief Operations of the CTC] Hank Crumpton.  Ben Bonk, who was our senior analyst and he was Cofer’s main deputy. Smartest and nicest man I’ve ever met in my life. Even our FBI rep. CTC had three deputies at the time. One was the Intel and the second was the Ops – myself- and then we had an FBI guy. Ed W. was an FBI agent, and he was more loyal to the agency in confrontations with the FBI than most agency officers. And we had hundreds of souls that stood up to the challenge. We had people coming from all divisions knocking on our door trying to get into the fight. And, and as you may have read and definitely heard right after the attacks my building was evacuated. They thought one of the next targets was going to be the CIA.

And you’d be surprised how many people in CTC stayed put. We had full functioning capabilities in CTC.  As a matter of fact, our Chief of Logistics on the second day or actually I think that evening, broke the door of the cafeteria and started bringing up food because we were stuck with nothing to eat and nothing to drink. So yeah, it wasn’t a one-man show.  It was the leadership of Cofer and we had the right team players and the conviction.

Cofer Black:  The important part is, even to this day, I have been amazed at the difference in the authorities and the resources granted to the counter-terrorism center led by me from before 9/11 and after 9/11. Before 9/11 we had fewer people and fewer resources than the 9/11 commission would have in terms of their staff and their money.  The 9/11 [commission] staff and the money allocated for them was more than we had for al Qaeda.   After 9/11 briefing the President, I am not making this up, “You need a carrier battle group?  You guys have a plan, it’s been validated, you’re going forward.  Let us know what you’d need.”  I remember we had to move an individual through a capitol and I just called, they gave me a number to call this number at the Pentagon, whatever you need they’ll fix it. And we’ll call them up and say, look, just to let you know, we’re moving this high-value guy to this place.   Normally it’d be like, yeah, fine, thanks for telling me. This time. This is kind of symptomatic of the time: “Would you like us to put a squadron of Apache attack helicopters over the convoy?”  No, that’s okay. I think we can manage without it, but it was a tremendous amount of resources. If you need money, you’ve got it, if you need support from the military, you’ve got it. Everyone was there. And because comparatively, we’d been working on this the longest we scoped it up.  Our threat intelligence was accurate. We had plans of what to do – the Afghan war plan, the worldwide attack. So we were on this issue so significantly ahead and validated by the President that temporarily everyone came in and supported us until we could turn this over on the ground, to the military, and off they went.

“The first boots on the ground in Afghanistan were CIA officers.”

Matt Devost:  Then there’s a huge mobilization effort as well, right? I mean, you can talk about the days immediately after, but then the CIA and the team that you put together, in particular, were heavily involved…engaging in Afghanistan?

Ric Prado:  The first boots on the ground in Afghanistan were CIA officers, not just ground branch guys. Gary Schroen wrote a book, First In, which is actually excellent. We had three agency officers that had gotten out early. They had done like 10 years. I know them personally all ground branch guys. And they went out to the private sector, were making six figures back then. And they were at our doorstep coming back to get into the fight. These are the kind of people that stepped up to the plate. And the effort that the agency demonstrated, the capability that the agency demonstrated. Our biggest strength has always been flexibility. The ability to do something in short order and in quick reaction. And the fact that when we got the money to take to the Northern Alliance- in boxes – one of the individuals in the process said, you know, not even the Treasury Department could pull this off in two days.

And here we were with that kind of money to send up to Afghanistan. Our guys, our first team on the ground is the one that actually vector in the first Special Forces helicopter that came in. The movie 12 Strong? I went to see that movie not knowing what it was about, really not knowing what the plot was. And I couldn’t talk when I left. I was so angry because the agency was relegated to a brave guy on a donkey with bags full of money. And the sad story is that we were there first. Our guys arranged for that Special Forces ODA to come in, they were there on the ground bringing that first chopper in when it came in. And for every action described in that movie. Yes, yes, our guys did it. For every SF guy on the ground that was a CIA officer with them. So then you have an opportunity to showcase a movie like that, that would give the agency the credit for the heroic things. You know, we lost first blood in that scenario. So that was very painful for me.

“It is your professional responsibility to give the leaders above you an accurate picture of your area of expertise.”

Matt Devost:  So leading up to September 11th, I know there’s been lots of books and documentaries, et cetera on the topic, but you kind of were in a position of trying to speak truth to power with regards to the emerging threat from al Qaeda that would eventually, you know, manifest itself in the September 11th attacks. Can you speak to any lessons learned from that process or your experience?

Cofer Black:   I would say the main thing is that concept of speaking truth to power. Whenever I talk to young people in the agency or even the military, this speaking truth to power thing is easy to say, but for some people, it is hard to do. But it’s absolutely vital. It will, no matter what level you’re serving at currently, if you’re a platoon leader, speaking to a company commander it is your professional responsibility to give the leaders above you an accurate picture of your area of expertise, right? In the agency, after you go through training, you know you would be responsible for one case. And if there is an issue with that case worthy of seeing the Director, when a very junior officer,  you’re trotted in front of the Director and you’re the expert.

And you know, hopefully, you learn then and over time that what you have to say is important regardless of what your rank is, but you have to get that concept across is point one. Point two is you have to speak truth to power in what I call simple English. Which is not, you know, “growth is the sign of life”, however, “good things come in small packages.” You can’t cover the entire spectrum. You gotta decide what the point is professionally. You’ve got to tell it to them in simple English and clearly, so they understand it. And then it is their job to have to deal with it. But invariably, some leaders or bosses above you aren’t going to like it – because it presents them with a problem. This is a factor you’ll typically find dealing with the more politically aligned elements, whether it’s Congress or the Senate or the National Security Council – they have other agendas, other competing issues they have other political objectives and it is vitally important that you tell them exactly what is in your area of expertise.

Tell them in a clearly understandable fashion. Otherwise, if you don’t do that, then you are at risk – when it’s all over and things go bad – you’re going to need a full-time psychologist to help you through the rest of your life. You can take satisfaction that you did your job, that you made it as clear as possible….and it is vitally important that you tell them exactly what is in your area of expertise. And you tell them in a clearly understandable fashion. Otherwise, if you don’t do that, then you’re at risk – when it’s all over and things go bad – you’re going to need a full-time psychologist to help you through the rest of your life. You can take satisfaction that you did your job, that you made it as clear as possible.

Leading up to 9/11. I could go on and on about this, but the 9/11 commission did a pretty good job of emphasizing how much paperwork we did. I will use an example, one of my lieutenants, Rich Blee, who I believe you know, the head of the al Qaeda section. I remember early on in my time in counter-terrorism, I went into his office.

He had a windowless office and one wall was 15 feet long and he began piling up one copy of every briefing. on al Qaeda and the threat. If I give a briefing, they usually write it up. I’d give it and give it back. And so these piles begin to grow and grow and grow. And by the time before 9/11, I asked him “why are you keeping all this paper?” Rich said “very, very simple: when the catastrophe happens and there are lots of Americans dead, the investigators are going to want to know, did we brief anybody? And I’ll be able to say, there you go – have at it.” Which is exactly what happened. By the time of 9/11, say a 15-foot wall, one copy of each briefing was piled high one pile right next to the other from waist high to shoulder high. And I’m six foot three.

In fact, when the investigators asked about the briefing I said, there it is. They said, “man, that’s a lot of briefings.” Yes, it is. So there’s a lot of paper that went into that, but that doesn’t fully cover it  – nor does the 9/11 commission cover all the personal briefings we gave. I mean, we briefed people. We never briefed the President or the Vice President, but everybody else in a very truth to power way. I did and my lieutenants did. And it was a new threat for [the policymakers].  And certainly, in the case of the Bush Administration, they were concerned about, you know, loose nukes weapons of mass destruction and this didn’t really fit their agenda. They were going to think about it.  And they really didn’t accept this threat with the severity that at least we gave to it.

“Empower those folks that are working with you with both the responsibility and the authorities to do their piece of the cake.”

Matt Devost:   A very senior CIA executive told me that Ric Prado is the closest thing to 007 that the United States has ever had. So kinda stepped me through, you know, what are kind of the operator and the decision-making skills in particular that contributed to the success of your career?

Ric Prado:  Well, offline, you’ve got to tell me who that guy is so I can send him a thank-you note. But you know, I never had a career plan to go into the agency, especially me, cause I was recruited from the streets for lack of a better word. We don’t know what the agency really does, even nowadays, so for me it was an adventure with high moral ground. I mean, what appealed to my ethos you know, being able – I had the courage, I knew that I had the courage to go into harm’s way. The willingness – I had my pet peeve with communism and all that other stuff – but I really just wanted to enjoy the fact that here I am, a kid fresh off the banana boat and I’m at the CIA.

So my goal was to do the mission and be a good operations officer. That was, that was my only goal, my only career plan. I know that I took out assignments that a lot of people didn’t want. There were the hardship assignments. A lot of them were some of my special duty divisions bosses coming to me and going, this is an assignment that’s got your name on it. And I always saluted and went. So I think that as far as the personality, that was it. What drove me was results – messing with the bad guys. I was also blessed with great managers, sorry, great leaders in my career.

I think on the management side or the leadership side  – the hardest thing for people in a federal organization, including the agency, is not to become a bureaucrat as you rise up through the ranks. And I am very proud of the fact that I never did. I mean, I literally ended my career more ways than one on the streets after 9/11, in the last three years of my [agency] life, I gave up the Chief Ops job to go back on the street. So as far as leadership, you know, making the hard decisions with consequences. It’s not for everybody. And a bureaucrat is always going to look at how’s this going to look? How’s this going to blow back on me? What is my boss going to think? And that is not the right way to approach a career or a profession or a vocation like the agency you.

You should be looking at the bad guy. How do go after them? How do I take them down? How do I recruit the right people? And I think that’s key also. I, I always had a lot of luck recruiting people to do anything that I wanted to go do. Empower those folks that are working with you with both the responsibility and the authorities to do their piece of the cake. You mold it together, you have the vision, you lead it. At the end of the day, you give them the credit and you take the heat for anything that got screwed up. And that’s what a leader should be doing.

“So I would say whenever you get on a plane, if you don’t have a book about leadership or Napoleon or somebody like that, go to the bookstore, buy one, read it on the plane.”

Matt Devost:  So I’d like to shift a little bit broader, you know, given your experience in the CIA and then as the Ambassador-at-large in the State Department, what are some lessons learned, you know, just around progressing your career or leadership lessons learned that you would like to convey to folks that are starting or kind of at the midpoint in their career?

Cofer Black:  Well I certainly appreciate the opportunity. I would say one thing that helped me tremendously in my ability to assess and put in context situations in which I was the leader, oddly enough, was a function of the readings that I’ve done my whole life. Even as a boy, I started out reading about military commanders and captains on the ships and autobiographies and biographies of nations leaders.  From Attila the Hun to Sun Tzu to the whole lot of it. So it was really a passion of mine and it is to this day. And it just sort of expands your appreciation of the various factors involved in leadership. The trick when you have to execute is to kind of draw on the right lessons in the context of your time. So I would say whenever you get on a plane, if you don’t have a book about leadership or Napoleon or somebody like that, go to the bookstore, buy one, read it on the plane.  That’s what I would do. I did it my whole career. Then when I became a businessman, I started buying books about business. You know, how to conduct yourself as a board member and all that. So I think reading is vitally important. Also at the beginning of your career, when you’re put in a leadership position, you should take it very seriously as the first step of what’s going to happen in the future.

“Is everyone going to understand all the pressures on you and how hard your job is? No, nor should they. That is your burden. And you have to carry on and and essentially work for them so that they can perform at their highest level.”

Cofer Black:  Everyone makes mistakes and you will, as you go along, learn, and hopefully you won’t make that mistake again. If you make it early enough, you’re making it at a smaller level than you are later on. I would say, besides the trait of wanting to be a leader, and we should really think about this too because it has nothing to do with the reserve parking spot in front of the building or the car with the driver or having your own Air Force G4 to fly to Moscow.

It is really nothing about that. If that is what attracts you go work in the private sector.  That is not what it is about. What it really is about is leading people. Management can be you encourage people to do things that they don’t want to do. Leadership is encouraging people to do things that they never thought they could do, but you knew they could.   Like I said to my son, when he went to his first platoon in Afghanistan, these are not your pals and not your buddies. These are your troops for whom you are responsible and the most important trait that underpins this relationship is empathy. You know, regardless of the aspects of the common work that you share, I think empathy with each individual and group of people is absolutely crucial.

You have to understand where they’re coming from, how they see things. And I can give you an example. I would, even later in my career, I would work hard because I come from the operational side. Someone says, “Hey, hop on a plane, go halfway around and do something that has some risk to it.” No problem. That’s kind of where I’m coming from. No.  You are with people that never leave Washington. They’re in a cubicle their whole careers. And they have a problem. It may seem like not much to you, but if it means a lot to them, that becomes an issue for you and you have to engage and help them to work through it.  So I think empathy is absolutely crucial. You know this is not the days of Attila the Hun.  We are now a society where everyone interacts and everyone needs to be motivated.

And I think that’s crucially important. The second, most important thing, they gave a name to this. I never knew what it was for a long time, but they gave a name to it, which is now called servant leadership. When I first started out, I thought organizations were like a triangle with the boss on top and I’m at the bottom. Then you kind of move your way up according to some selectivity. But if you are a good leader and you have empathy and you want to get results and the like, actually the whole triangle was upside down. The most junior people are on top and I was the last guy on the bottom. And my job was to support everyone above me so they could be as effective as possible. So once you realize, you know, who’s working for who really, I think that, that it helps you go along the way to being effective.

You know, who’s working for who. Empathy. The third thing is once you have moved up your career a little, but according to General Powell, he says it beautifully:  leadership is lonely. You may be surrounded by a lot of people, but leadership is lonely because you are the one that has to decide. And you are the one that is responsible. And it is important that if there are awards, honors to be passed on, you rightly pass those to your lieutenants and the men and women who did the work. And if something goes bad and there is accountability, that is all yours. Once people understand that, then you are 95% on the way there to being a reasonably effective leader and then you take it from there. But those are the main points.  It’s easy to say these things, but when it comes to actually practicing them, they can be hard. And that goes with the role of being a leader. Is everyone going to understand all the pressures on you and how hard your job is? No, nor should they. That is your burden. And you have to carry on and essentially work for them so that they can perform at their highest level.

“In our business where your decisions have a lot of consequences, you know the 80% solution is often the only one you’re going to have. If not, you missed your window.”

Matt Devost:  It seems to be a theme in these podcasts.  We always talk about leadership and decision-making, and great leaders don’t suffer from decision paralysis, right?  They recognize that they have to make decisions with imperfect information. And we’ve seen, over time, the bad ones are always waiting for that next data point, you know, almost kind of paralyzed. It kind of reminds me of the old samurai adage right: There’s no decision worth making that you can’t make in seven breathes. And that seems to follow through, particularly as it relates to business or in, your instance, the kind of clandestine operations leadership component.

Ric Prado:  Paralysis by analysis is definitely a crucial thing.   In our business where your decisions have a lot of consequences, you know the 80% solution is often the only one you’re going to have. If not, you missed your window. You know, you take guys like Hank Crumpton who was in his choice assignment overseas, who just moved in there when 9/11 happens. And I’m the guy who reached out to him on the phone on the secure phone and asked him if he would be willing to come back and help us fight the war. And there was no hesitation, like I said, less than seven breathes. “Yes, absolutely. I will be there.” And yeah, those are the people that I grew up with. And those are the people that I think I learned a lot from.

“The same thing that applies to low visibility operations, applies to the civilian world. Awareness.  So, for the average civilian, they need to learn awareness and avoidance.”

Matt Devost:  So, you know, as it relates to somebody who’s not a SOF person, or just an average citizen, that’s concerned with safety and security. I know you and I have traveled around and done some training at some corporations on this topic. What is a piece of advice that you might give to somebody who’s just concerned with their personal safety in a modern world?

Ric Prado:  You know, that, unfortunately, is a huge reality now, more so than in a long time. I think the average civilian copes with stress like an ostrich, they stick their head in the sand and hope nobody bites them in the butt. And I think that is a huge mistake because you are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of your family. Police officers are there to help you where they can and to investigate a crime and maybe deter by their presence. But chances are that, if you ever are in harm’s way, there’s not going to be a police officer within fifty feet of you. So I think the first thing a person has to do is look in the mirror and take responsibility and say, I am not going to be a victim. I am not going to allow my family to be victimized.

I do not need a police officer to take care of my immediate needs. Carry out on your own. That said the same thing that applies to low visibility operations, applies to the civilian world. Awareness. You see people getting out of their cars and they’re texting, or they’re talking on the phone, they’re oblivious to everything around them.  They are oblivious to what’s going on around them. They’re listening to the radio. They’re texting, they’re talking on the phone and that is death.

If you are confronted with any kind of danger, under those circumstances, you are dead. There’s nothing you can do. You come up to a traffic light. People sit up. The first thing people do at a traffic light is take out the phone and check their text messages, right? First thing I do when I get to a traffic light, I look right. I look left and I go, if something was to happen, which way would I go? Because that’s when it’s going to surprise you. So, for the average civilian, they need to learn awareness and avoidance. That said avoidance doesn’t always work. And I believe that, like I said, that every individual is responsible for his or her own safety. My kids learn to take care of themselves from martial arts to guns and awareness from age five.

“You are taken into therapy if you say you want to go into the agency.”

Ric Prado:  This is one of the things that bothers me the most about the reputation my agency has. You know, there, there isn’t a movie out there, except maybe Argo, that really describes the agency in a positive light. You know people talk about Jason Bourne.  So you have a maniacal assassin with 17 personalities, put out by his own government for black projects that were illegal to be done. That is the image that I don’t want my grandson reading about what his granddad did. That has always been something that’s stuck in my craw because I worked with some of the finest people and to this day the majority of my good friends are people that I met at the agency. The level of dedication, sacrifice, morality, conviction to mission, courage, and legal oversight that exists inside the agency is something that most Americans have no clue about. You know, we are that pit bull in the yard that you keep with a chain, you throw them a bone, and you let them loose when you need something done. We are not pit bulls. We are sheepdogs. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves is the image that my agency has.

One of the things that the agency really is lacking is the ability to showcase what we do. How can you recruit talent if the majority of the parents will sway a kid from going into the CIA? You are taken into therapy if you say you want to go into the agency. The FBI has an advantage that we don’t, you know? They can broadcast their successes. But there are things out there that we should be able to showcase operations that are historical. You obfuscate sources and methods and show what the agency does.  And, and the other one is I think that we should have a poster child kind of program. Why can’t you have a guy like Cofer or Hank appearing in an advertisement and talking about their careers and you know, Jose Rodriguez for God’s sake, he took over for Cofer right after 9/11, you know, after [Cofer] was moved out. And so another guy who has a historic meteoric rise through the agency and who did incredible things for CTC.  So why can’t we showcase individuals like that and use that as a recruitment tool? And we have some incredible ladies. One of them is our DCI right now, you know. So we have people that should attract the right kind of recruit to the agency for our kind of work.

Matt Devost:  Yeah. That’s a challenge, how best to go about recruiting that next generation. And I think you have to be able to showcase the reality of the career and the successes,  especially for this stuff that doesn’t remain classified, or, you know, all of the players have changed, some of the operations that you’ve described to me every single player in that circumstance has changed, right? It is history, but you could still draw from some of those experiences and even anonymize them and kind of demonstrate the value that the agency provides. So definitely a challenge.

Watch or Listen to the Full Interviews:

OODA Loop – Cofer Black on Leadership Lessons Learned and Speaking Truth to Power

OODA Loop – Ric Prado on Intelligence Operations and a Legendary Career in the CIA

OODAcast 9/11 Perspectives: 

A CIA Officer and Delta Force Operator Share Perspectives on 9/11

Pre-order Ric’s Book – Black Ops




Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira is research director at OODA. He is a foresight strategist, creative technologist, and an information communication technology (ICT) and digital media researcher with 20+ years of experience directing public/private partnerships and strategic innovation initiatives.