Wokeness Is Compromising the Intelligence Community

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 12: Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (R) testifies alongside Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns (L) at a hearing with the House Select Intelligence Committee in the Cannon Office Building on March 12, 2024 in Washington, DC. Leaders from the U.S. intelligence community are participating in hearings with both the Senate and House intelligence committees to lay out their perceived global threats to the United States. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (R) testifies alongside Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns (L) at a hearing with the House Select Intelligence Committee in the Cannon Office Building on March 12, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

By Kenin M. Spivak
April 14, 2024

Last year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) announced a significant increase in the hiring of minorities, women, and persons with disabilities across the 17 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. Then last month, the ODNI’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Office relaunched The Dive as a quarterly magazine to highlight the “great work happening across the Intelligence Community.” The cartoonish magazine seeks to “empower every employee to speak their truth.” Aside from the grammatical error, it is ominous that the office of the director of America’s intelligence community believes that each employee is entitled to his version of the truth.


The contradictions compound. While the ODNI’s mission is to “lead intelligence integration and forge an intelligence community that delivers the most insightful intelligence possible,” the theme of The Dive is to limit analysts’ choice of words and to substitute politically correct pablum for nuanced, well-understood terminology. The Dive focuses on inclusivity, gender identity, and diversity, with a goal of creating a warm, supportive intelligence community that prioritizes politically correct verbiage.

Not only does The Dive express concerns about the targets of intelligence activities being offended by the intelligence community’s jargon, it also anguishes over the risk that intelligence analysts of foreign descent would perceive unpleasantries directed at the countries of their heritage as attacks on their character.

As The Dive’s editor in chief, whose name is redacted in the publicly released edition, explained, it’s “jarring” to members of the intelligence community when analysts disparage foreign countries or joke about the “ineptitude of foreign governments in a way that implie[s] that all people from that culture or nationality were uniformly incompetent.” The editor bemoans that “some” analytic work implicitly assumes that non-Western individuals and firms are not smart enough to produce high-quality goods and technology (though it is objectively true that some are unable to do so) and that civilian victims of war are referred to as “collateral damage” (the widely used term for casualties who are not the intended target of an operation).

The editor, who is depicted in an illustration as a darker-skinned female and identifies with foreigners who are disparaged by her colleagues, complained that if her colleagues dehumanize foreigners, perhaps they also perceive her as being “less than.” That she confuses an analysis of what is apparently the country of her heritage for a personal attack may be a consequence of the coddling that has overrun progressive ideology and may influence her capacity to evaluate global risks.

She did acknowledge, however, that things have improved. In particular, her colleagues have become much nicer in how they discuss the People’s Republic of China. It is unclear how it makes America safer when members of the intelligence committee pull their punches and restrain themselves when considering operations against, evaluating, or reporting on the adversary identified by the administration’s National Security Strategy as America’s most formidable foe. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence apparently rejects the idea that our intelligence community should prepare for conflict with China by in any way disparaging, criticizing, or dehumanizing our potential enemy.

The relaunch of The Dive focused on disentangling Islam from words and phrases used to discuss terrorism and extremist violence. Given that the preponderance of terrorism and extremist violence targeting the United States originates with Islamic extremists, prohibiting the intelligence community from accurately or fully describing the risk puts feelings above safety. “Some trainings and official presentations conflated Islamic beliefs with terrorism, which is offensive and alienates our Muslim-American colleagues,” The Dive cautions. To the ODNI, that Islamic terrorists kill and maim Americans is much less offensive.

Among the “problematic phrases” to which The Dive objects are Jihadist, Islamic-Extremist, and Radical Islamist. These terms “incorrectly suggest that Islamic beliefs somehow condone the actions and rhetoric espoused by the foreign terrorists.” It must be profoundly dismissive, marginalizing, and hurtful to Muslim extremists and their supporters that the authors of The Dive are deciding who is, and is not, a true Muslim. To support its perspective, The Dive noted that “some” Muslim-majority countries also avoid referring to terrorists as Muslims.

Despite cartoonish graphics and ideas, The Dive is not intended to be parody. It nonetheless achieves that result. For example, one article provides examples of “biased” language that should not be used by members of the intelligence community. The term “blacklisted” implies black is bad and white is good — possibly because throughout history darkness has been seen as frightening and the light as safe. The term “cakewalk” may refer to a dance performed by slaves — uncertain etymology of which no one is aware when using the term. “Brown bag” purportedly refers to a test performed by some black fraternities and sororities through the mid 1900s to exclude darker-skinned blacks. The use of the term “brown bag” to refer to a bag that is brown and is used to carry lunch has nothing to do with this impropriety and instead refers to a bag that is brown and is used to carry lunch.

“Grandfathered” was a test used by seven states from 1895 to 1910 that denied suffrage to African Americans. It also is a legal term used by all states and internationally on a color-blind basis to refer to those excluded from the coverage of new laws or regulations. The Dive also rejects the term “sanity check” because it implies individuals with mental illness are inferior, wrong, or incorrect. People who are insane often have a distorted view of reality. It’s not wrong to acknowledge that there is a profound cognitive difference between the sane and the insane.

One wonders how much time members of the intelligence community will allocate to selecting nice words with upbeat meanings and no potential etymological flaws. If even one American dies or is injured because of that misprioritization, that person won’t feel very good about him/her/itself. The Dive suggests that not offending America’s enemies is the more important priority.

The Dive also wants to reimagine how we talk about Africa. A formalized diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility steering group established in mid 2022 has begun annual updates to the CIA’s guide to acceptable language. The Dive does not explain if this is occurring annually because what is acceptable is rapidly changing or because the steering committee is moving slowly. In any event, the committee has determined that “humble self-awareness” is a key factor in selecting the proper phrase. For example, the word “tribe” is sometimes acceptable when describing Arabs, “while at other times [it] can be seen as pejorative and demeaning” to other Africans. In fact, there are more than 3,000 tribes in Africa, and Africa has long been known as a “tribal continent.”

Finally, The Dive offered a first-person account from a cross-dresser. This intelligence officer described himself as a man who likes to wear women’s clothes “sometimes.” Though these proclivities once were sufficient to end a career in the CIA, this officer believes that by “wearing clothes associated with a different gender,” his critical-thinking skills are sharpened, which is useful in understanding foreign-actor motivations. It is good that this individual understands that he has only one gender and that he is wearing another gender’s clothes. On the other hand, not only is there no readily apparent link between cross-dressing and the motivations of foreigners, there is also no objective basis to trust the insights of this confused officer. To be clear, I don’t doubt that the officer believes that cross-dressing makes him a better analyst.

On Joe Biden’s first day in office, his administration announced an executive order to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of federal-government policies and American lives. Over the following months, the administration issued a second order on DEI in the federal workforce, a government-wide strategic plan, and a gender-equity plan. Now, DEI permeates the federal government, driving hiring, promotion, and contracting decisions across the federal workforce, including the military and intelligence community.

Given this primacy, it is not surprising that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is advocating cross-dressing, placing performative limits on speech, or prioritizing feelings. That does not make it any less disquieting for the members of the intelligence community or dangerous for America.

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