At a special event for George Mason students, faculty, and staff organized by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security Monday evening, Susan M. Gordon quickly captured the attention of the crowd gathered at George Mason’s Van Metre Hall Auditorium and kept it throughout. Her enthusiasm for intelligence, foreign policy, and national security writ large brightened an otherwise rainy Monday night. During the event, which was held on February 10th, Gordon spoke of her 39 years in the Intelligence Community, which included two years as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence as the capstone to her storied career. Topics for the evening included intelligence challenges in a new era and her experience as an intelligence leader in the Trump administration.
In a conversation moderated by former deputy and acting director of the CIA, and Hayden Center senior fellow, Michael Morell, Ms. Gordon identified three eras of modern intelligence. First, there was the Cold War, in which nation-states held the secrets that intelligence agencies sought to unlock. Analysis at that time focused predominantly on Soviet politics and military might. The September 11th attacks ushered in a second era. For the intelligence community to succeed in that era, it had to form new alliances across federal, state, and local lines, drawing on new relationships to collect information about non-traditional actors. Now, she argues, we have entered a third era—where great power politics, rapidly advancing technology, untamed heaps of information, and a plethora of disinformation combine to create, in Gordon’s words, an era of “connectedness.”
Gordon highlighted some key objectives for the intelligence community to succeed as this era of connectedness unfolds. Intelligence agencies need to make greater use of open source intelligence. This material is not a “nice to have,” she said, “it must be integrated.” Better economic analysis is also needed. Allegiances are tested by economics, she argued. And agencies must write more unclassified products because, in her estimation, “the customer base is changing.” The connected citizen now plays a role. She stated that an informed populace is less vulnerable to malicious intent, and that national security can be strengthened through education.
Kicking off a spirited portion of the discussion about the state of intelligence in the Trump administration, Michael Morell asked Ms. Gordon about her challenging last days as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence. When Dan Coats stepped down from the nation’s highest intelligence post, Director of National Intelligence, Ms. Gordon was his immediate successor. In fact, by statute, it was required that she be named to the position. When it became clear that the president did not wish for her to fill that role, she offered her resignation. Gordon’s goal, she claimed, was to avoid Washington politics and make a graceful exit.
Before taking questions from the audience, Michael Morell and Susan Gordon closed the evening’s discussion with career advice for the students of George Mason University. Their conversation will be featured on Morell’s podcast, Intelligence Matters. A video of the event will also be posted on the Hayden Center website and YouTube channel.
Tyler Cross is a volunteer at the Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. Tyler completed his graduate studies at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and now works in international security.