Michael Morell is Former Deputy Director and twice Acting Director of CIA from 2009 to 2013. A 33-year veteran of CIA, including time as the head of analysis and daily intelligence briefer to President George W. Bush. Only person to be with President Bush on 9/11 and with President Obama on May 1st, 2011 when Osama bin Laden was brought to justice. Author of The Great War of Our Time, a New York Times bestseller. Member of President Obama’s 2013 Review Group on Intelligence and Telecommunications Technology. Member of the 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission.
Listen as he engages with our own Jim “Hondo” Geurts and Lauren Bedula about his experience being the Acting Director of CIA, 9/11, The China Problem, the Next 10 years of Globalization and Hunting Tech Talent.
Lauren Bedula 00:00
Welcome back to building the base. Lauren Badulla here with my cohost Hondo, Geurts. And we’re so excited to have with us, Michael Morell for today’s episode. Michael was a former career intelligence analyst and served as Deputy Director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013, which was, notably when US intelligence located and killed Osama bin Laden, Michael served twice as acting director first in 2011. And then from 2012, to 2013. So, lots of interesting stories and perspectives to share with our listeners today. Welcome, Michael. Glad to have you here.
Mike Morell 00:32
It’s great to be here. I just need to tell one story that let your listeners know who you’re talking to hear. So, I was acting director twice. Once when I was acting director the second time my wife and I went out to dinner not too far from where we’re sitting right now. And we were in big armored SUVs, and we pulled into this restaurant parking lot. And there was a guy standing against the wall. And he was looking at us, you know, he’s trying to figure out who this is. And is this Michelle Obama being the Secretary Kerry, who is this and it was on my wife’s side of the car. And when she got out, he said to her is that somebody important? And without missing a beat? My wife said, no, He’s just acting important. That’s what you got here today.
Hondo Geurts 01:12
Or she could have said she was really the important one. So, I think either way too good. So, Michael will talk a lot about your super interesting career and accomplishments and whatnot. But I’d actually like to start a little bit at the beginning, as opposed to, you know, all the great things you did late in career, what got you What drove you in the national security? How did you, you know, I tell our listeners, how you got involved, even in the agency, what brought you there, and kind of what set you which set your trajectory on this journey,
Mike Morell 01:43
it’s very different than, than what you see today. I spent a lot of time with kids who want to work at CIA. And each of them is absolutely passionate about serving their country, I was a bit different. I was an econ major. I fell in love with economics. I thought economics explained not only the economy, but human behavior as well. And what I wanted to do was go to grad school, get a PhD and teach. That’s what I wanted to do. And I’d applied a bunch of grad schools I’d gotten in. And I had a professor who I believe did some work for the agency, and he encouraged me to apply. I never could figure out whether he did he died or died early in life, so I couldn’t figure it out. But I did send an application to CIA, and they invited me to Washington, DC. And here I am this this kind of lower middle-class kid from Akron, Ohio, never had been to Washington, DC. So, I’m gonna go visit Nation’s Capital on the taxpayer’s dime, and go visit the CIA for two days. And in those two days, they, they blew me away, they blew me away in terms of the mission of keeping the country safe. From this very unique perspective of, of objectively telling policymakers what you think is happening in the world, you know, not in any way driven by politics or policy. So that was very attractive, the capabilities that they talked about, which were unlimited in terms of what they could tell me, but they were the ones that could tell me about were pretty impressive. And then the third thing that really struck me was, how nice everybody was, and how what the sense of family were, there was a really strong sense of family, I could feel it. And on the second day of interviews, to a person, the five people you interviewed on the second day to a person, they said, you know, this grad school thing he keep talking about, you know, to everybody yesterday, well, if you come work here, we’ll take care of that. We’ll send you back to school. And so, I you know, I said yes, and didn’t look back and taxpayers, and that’s how I got there. Now, why I stayed it for 33 years is exactly the reason why I’m talking to the kids I’m talking to now because there’s such deep meaning. In the job. There’s such a deep meaning, I think, in national security and contributing to it. And I, you know, there wasn’t a single day in my 33-year career that I didn’t want to go to work. I mean, how many people can say that, I look forward to Mondays, not Fridays, only people can say that. So, I was extraordinarily lucky. And that’s why I stayed
Lauren Bedula 04:27
awesome. And Michael, so many of our listeners, I think probably also are interested in your podcast. And it’s so fun to have you on the other side of the table here telling stories. And one of my favorite stories is really that you spent September 11 2001 with President Bush. So, I was wondering if you could tell our listeners a little bit about that day, and particularly how it changed your perspective on how the intelligence community works with the private sector.
Mike Morell 04:52
Yeah, boy, that day is seared into my memory. And I could take you know; I could take several hours and talk Think about it. But to answer your specific question, Lauren, I don’t think it did affect the way I thought about the role of the government in the private sector because the the appropriate response to 911 was not greater collaboration between the government and private sector, it was appropriate collaboration within the government, right within executive branch agencies. That was a deficiency prior to 911. That was a big focus afterwards. But I will say this, here’s how I pulled the two together. I think one of the lessons of 911 is that the government has to respond. And we as a society, have to respond to strategic warnings. Strategic warning was there for years that bin Laden wanted to attack us in the United States, and was building the capability to do so the strategic warning was there for a pandemic, we just didn’t know when we knew there was going to be one. We didn’t know when we weren’t prepared for it. Right. And, you know, to a certain extent, we are we’re facing that, that at this very moment, right, we face strategic challenge, I think is the best way to put it from, from really from China, you can throw the rush in there, but it’s really China at the end of the day. And I don’t think we’re galvanized enough as a society, right to respond to that. So the lesson of 911 really is, is you can’t wait for the tactical wake up moment. Right? You can’t wait for China’s invasion of Taiwan. Right? You got to move a lot sooner than that moment. And so, it’s pay attention to strategic warnings.
Hondo Geurts 06:37
So, building on that really thoughtful observation, I think, you know, we work together on was a Special Operations Command, we work hand in hand with the CIA shared technology, shared ideas, shared blood on the battlefield, how do you see that scaling into a much more strategic challenge? versus one might argue that challenge was, you know, not at the same scale? What’s your sense of both inner government and then government with industry? How do we, if we get society, you know, to realize the strategic imperative, which, you know, how do we supersize it to really get everybody lined up and working together? Any thoughts on that?
Mike Morell 07:14
That’s really hard. It’s super hard. And I think it starts, it has to start with a strategy, right, a US government strategy for dealing with China. I don’t believe we have one. And I’m a big fan of Tony Blinken. And I’ve read Tony’s speech at George Washington University where he lays out the strategy. I’ve read it four times as his strategy, you know, strategy has to start with what your objectives are. And I can’t find that anywhere. What do we want? Right, in terms of this relationship with China? What are we trying to achieve? I don’t see that anywhere. And I think, you know, it’s not there, I think, because it’s really hard, because there are competing constituencies in the United States for what we should do with regard to China. It’s a whole bunch of companies who really rely on the Chinese market, right for their future. Is a there’s an industry I know, well, that is a traditional manufacturing US manufacturing industry. And 75% of the increase in the demand for their product over the next 25 years is going to be in two countries, China and India. And so, they’re all in about a good relationship with China. Right? They don’t they don’t want tension in the relationship. There are other people who want to compete, right. And so, there’s not a consensus here. So, the first thing is the government’s got to figure out, what do we want? And I think, you know, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves the question, what does China want in the world? And what are we willing to accept? Because we can’t stop them? This is not containing, you know, somebody like we contain the Soviet Union. You know, what are we willing to live with? And what aren’t we? And go and talk to him about that? You know, this, this Absolutely. All the running room in the world for you guys. This? No. And we’re going to push back every chance we get on that with our allies, right. And I think, to get to the society as a whole question that you’re asking about, once you have a strategy, then the government has to articulate it, you know, time after time, after time after time, you have to talk about it. If you think about all of the discussions after 911, about what the United States needs to do to respond to this very significant threat that we were facing from Islamic extremists. And the So, the amount of presidential airtime given to that and think about how much presidential airtime we’ve actually had about what’s the challenge that China faces that that China get, you know, creates for us. Why is that important to you, no matter where you live in the United States. And here’s what we’re going to do to respond to it and here’s what we need you to do you to do you to do different aspects of society, right. There’s got to be that kind communication between the government and the rest of society, I think is pretty simple. But it’s hard to. It’s hard to do.
Hondo Geurts 10:05
Yeah, sometimes the simplest or most challenging.
Lauren Bedula 10:08
Absolutely. And one of the reasons we started this show is to have more discussions about the threat that you really zeroed in on, which is China in this case, and we look at the collaboration between the high-tech sector and the national security community, and how we can make that a bit more effective. And the CIA recently went through a reorganization from the outside, it looks to me a bit more approachable for companies who have never done business in this space, to not necessarily have to go through their investment arm Inc you tell as the only avenue to have conversations. But there’s a new CTO position now and a new mission center date dedicated to technology. So, I was wondering, Michael, if you could tell our listeners a little bit about that reorganization and how it might change collaboration with particularly the high-tech sector. Yeah. So
Mike Morell 10:55
if you look at the media reports, on the reorganization, the big focus was on the China Mission Center. And that was kind of a no brainer, it didn’t really didn’t really matter whether you had a tiny Mission Center or not, you were going to do China, right China for an operational perspective, China from an analytic perspective, with immediate really missed was the changes that were designed to improve the agency’s ability to bring in and interact with the high-tech sector. So, as you mentioned, right, a new high-tech Mission Center, a CTO an ability, at least I talked about it, I don’t know where this stands now. But the ability to bring in on a short-term basis, folks with So, high tech skills, right, who might not want to spend a career but are willing to spend, you know, a year or so. So, I actually think that the reorganization is much more about technology and the agency’s relationship to technology in the private sector than it is about China. Right. And it just didn’t get the attention and that the decisions the director made about technology were really driven by, you know, number one agency recognizing that it was doing a very poor job bringing in technology into the building technology that they needed to, to do their mission better, right, of, of, of spying and analyzing, to protect their operations against the technology that the adversaries have. Right. That’s, that’s second reason you need to technology in the building. And then the third was a realization that if you’re going to understand foreign technology developments, the way that we understand foreign weapons developments, right, or foreign, political or foreign economic developments, if you’re really going to understand foreign tech developments, you need a pretty intimate relationship with the US private sector. Because if, you know, ask the question, who in the US government or who in the United States has the best sense of where China’s 5g capabilities are? It’s not anybody in the US government is not anybody in a think tank, right? It’s the CTO of So, Verizon, right? Or the CTO of Qualcomm, it’s that person who probably has the best understanding. So, the CIA better be talking right? The CIA analysts, right? Not to collect information here and just go talk to these people. And the realization that if you’re going to keep the President informed on where the adversaries are, in this dual use in these dual use technologies, right, that can be used for all sorts of good reasons, but also can be used for intelligence purposes and, and military purposes, you’re going to need the private sector to help you understand that. So, kind of put all those things together. And it was a realization on the part of Dr. Burns that way, we have a long way to go here. And, you know, back to your back to your opening premise. I hope they’re making progress. Right. My sense is that it’s So, going slow, as things do in government, you know, and you hope that it builds over time and momentum. Right. But I think it’s going to be you know, it’s going to be a bit of a slow crawl here.
Hondo Geurts 14:04
It’s interesting what they say the only person likes to change it baby with a wet diaper. Yeah. It’s tough. You know, it’s really challenging to lead transformative change. But
Mike Morell 14:15
I do know, actually how easy it is to drive change at CIA people ask, you know, did Leon Panetta actually make a difference in our hunt for Bin Laden? Because we never stopped looking? Right, this idea that we had stopped looking, and then Obama had to restart us at the start. That’s Morell 14:15 politics. That’s not true. Right. But Leon did make a huge difference. And here’s how he made the difference. You know, when he came in, and he said, Can I have a briefing on you know, where we are on finding Bin Laden in reverse came in their briefers gave the briefing and at the end of the briefing, he said, Great, thank you. I want you to come back every week and tell me how you’re doing. You don’t want to come back and say nothing happened last week. Right. So that meeting, that accountability meeting Eating right with the director drives change. And, you know, I would encourage bill, if he’s listening to this podcast, I would encourage bill, if you want to drive change in terms of how the agency is, is interacting with the private sector, right, have a have a weekly or bi weekly meeting with the CTO and your other key technology, folks and say, Okay, where are we? And I want you to come tell me, you know, once a month, or once every two weeks, I want you to come tell me how we’re doing that will drive change?
Hondo Geurts 15:27
Absolutely. You know, one, one thing when Jovita and I put out a piece kind of on where do we need to take what we call now the industrial base, we really kind of promoted this idea of an industrial network, which I think had two facets. One is a sense of urgency, as you just mentioned, and the second is a sense of, of networking, and how do we make more out of the pieces we have, and I would, if I look back on that time, at least speaking in front of special ops side, the amount of networking and sharing and was, you know, got restarted and reenergized to a level I haven’t seen? And I think we’ve built on that. What’s your sense of the government continuing to drive that networking and as opposed to everybody replicating their own special stovepipe? In even an industry, you think that’s a possible approach to it, to get more out of the assets we have? Where do you think that’s a flaw?
Mike Morell 16:22
So, this is this is, you know, this is a big question, right? This is a big question. So, the governments probably have two responsibilities. And then I want to put a really big caveat on it. So, the first responsibility is, the government should make it as easy as possible for companies to do business with the government, particularly as it relates to technology, because it just moves too slow, moves too slow in the IC, it moves too slow. And God, it just moves too slow. That’s one. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, too, is I think the government has a responsibility in the areas that really matter to national security. So those So, those technology areas that really matter to national security, the government should, I think the government has responsibility. And I think it should help reduce the risk of investment in those areas. And what we just did on semiconductors is an example of that, right? That 50, some billion dollars will actually help reduce the risk of investing in semiconductors in the US, that’s a good thing. And there needs to be, there needs to be more of that. The caveat is this. That’s industrial policy. And we have to be really, really careful. So, every time that you engage in industrial policy, every time you make a decision, like the chips act, you are affecting the allocation. Now I’m talking like an economist, you are affecting the allocation of resources, and you are reallocating them in a less efficient way, you are reducing the standard of living. So, we better be darn sure that when we decide to go down the road of an industrial policy, that we’re really doing it for national security. And because so, I guarantee you, one of the things that’s going to happen is a bunch of companies are going to line up and say, We’re national security, right? We should we should get a subsidy like so the semiconductor manufacturer has just got right-handed over. So, we got to make sure that that doesn’t happen. We have to make sure that we embrace, and I spent a lot of time on college campuses. And I’m sometimes shocked by how So, how kids think about capitalism, but I believe it’s next to the enlightenment, the greatest force for good in the history of mankind. And I actually think we need to embrace capitalism. And let’s not, let’s not throw capitalism away. Because we have a national security need, let’s be very careful in the decisions we make about the industrial policies we choose. Yeah,
Hondo Geurts 18:56
that’s a that’s a really interesting approach that right, you don’t want to outshine China. You know, we want to leverage all the strength we have in the marketplace. And in that, and it’s, it’s really challenging to find that right balance between too much or too little better. I would do want to go back to one of your points. You know, 20 years ago, you could have seen the fact that our Chipman capability was eroding. And we let everything off source what’s Is there a sense in in the intelligence community to also provide that strategic warning on technologies or capabilities that are leaving the country so that you could have done a $2 billion chip sack 20 years ago, not a 25 or $50 billion chip deck, you know, 10 years after the fact.
Mike Morell 19:42
Another great question. So certainly, it’s the intelligence community’s job right to be able to say to the president and her or his her or his national security team. Here’s where the Chinese are on these key technologies. the intelligence community has always been incredibly reluctant to do a net assessment, right to say, Okay, here’s where the Chinese companies are, but are they better? Are they worse than US companies? And what areas are they headed? And what areas are they behind? The IC has never liked to do that on any issue. I think they’re gonna have to get over that, that hurdle and actually start doing those assessments.
Lauren Bedula 20:26
Michael, earlier in our conversation, you talked about companies that rely on Chinese markets, and we’re talking about shoring up critical capabilities and looking at our supply chain for these vulnerabilities. I’m curious for your take on globalization, what’s it gonna look like, in the next 10 years? Given the national security threat landscape?
Mike Morell 20:44
It depends on where this where this relationship ends up? Right? I mean, one of the ways I think about the US China relationship is, is it can be somewhere on a spectrum, right. And at one end of the spectrum is cooperation, the kind of cooperation we saw between Barack Obama and Xi Jingling on climate change the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, you know, that was a really good thing. And you kind of move along on the spectrum and you have healthy competition, is the economic competition, healthy diplomatic competition, the world’s better off, right for that healthy competition. And then you move along, and you get into mistrust, which we certainly have today with each other, and then you get into unhealthy competition. What does that look like? Well, that’s China’s stealing intellectual property. That’s China, you know, squeezing, squeezing people for technology who wants to do business in China? It’s the US putting tariffs on, right. I mean, that’s unhealthy competition, the world’s the world’s worse off for that, right. And then you go to the far end of the spectrum, and you have conflict, actual war, right. And it’s not impossible, the probability of war between the United States and China is not zero over the next 25 years, on high, but it’s not zero. So where do you want to be on that spectrum? Right. And I think, if both, if you took politics out of the equation in the United States, and you took politics in the form of nationalism, off the table in China, and you had two statesmen, as leaders, and they actually sat down and talked about my Spectrum, they would agree that it’s better to be at this end, than at this end. Right? The cooperation healthy competition, and then the unhealthy competition and conflict, they would agree, right. But politics here, for sure. Nancy Pelosi, his trip to Taiwan is great example that as politics is an n nationalism in China, right? And what they think about us, and what they think we’re trying to do to them contain them, right, is pulling us in the wrong direction. So, it really depends on where we end up. If we end up in a better place, then this, the coupling that people talk about will be minimal, it will really be on the most important national security matters. But if we ended up at the wrong end of the spectrum, then the coupling will go much further, right. And you could end up in a situation where there are really two poles, two economic poles in the world, you know, one China one the US with different countries, kind of spinning around those poles. So, it really depends on what happens to that relationship over the next 2025 years.
Lauren Bedula 23:23
And do you think the sense of urgency around this issue is hurting our collaboration with allies and from an international perspective? Or is it in fact speeding up our strategy? There?
Mike Morell 23:35
Depends on the allies, right? There are allies who, who feel incredibly vulnerable to China, and are willing to sign up with us sign on the dotted line, right? For a long, long time, Australia is the poster child for that, right? Where the UK, Canada, South Korea and Japan. But then there’s a bunch of other countries who feel stuck in the middle. In fact, most countries feel stuck in the middle. I was in a conversation, I don’t know, year and a half, two years ago with diplomats from Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore. And we were talking about this, this, you know, being pulled into different directions. And the guy from the diplomat from Singapore said, Michael is really, really, really, really important that you understand three things. One is every country in East Asia and you can probably make this every country in the world wants to be friends with the United States, in a couple of exceptions. Ron, North Korea, Belarus, Russia today, right? But every country most the vast majority countries want to be friends with the United States, to no country wants to be an enemy of China. And three for those people who sit in China’s back yard or I broaden that out to those those those countries that are dependent economically on China. If those countries ever have to make a choice, they between being our friends and being China’s enemy, it’s easy. They’re gonna go with not being China’s enemy, right, because of where they sit geographically, and where their economic interests lie.
Hondo Geurts 25:11
Fascinating. So So Michael, you’ve been out now for a while? Yeah, almost 10 years isn’t, it isn’t hard to believe how time flies? I’m almost at a year. And I think it was, you know, yesterday, what, what’s your take on? What are you seeing out there in the private world? What you know, I think in government for a long time, you think you understand what’s going on in the private sector, either in the way they operate, or the things they’re thinking about? Yeah, and then I’ve, I’ve been, you know, I’ve had plenty of interesting strategic surprises of my own getting out. What’s, you know, what are observations you’ve made? Now being out for a little while? What surprised you the most and what’s maybe energizing most
Mike Morell 25:49
What surprised me the most was that I could negotiate. Right? As a government employee, they say, you know, this is this is how much you’re gonna make? And you say, yes, right. Everything’s negotiable, right, and their private sector, which is just terrific, but I think from, you know, in terms of stuff that really matters here, one is, it’s hard to overstate the frustration of CEOs with doing business, the government, particularly the CEOs of startups, you know, CEOs of primes, you know, much less so, right. But the CEOs of startups, and I, you know, my sense is, we were talking about the industrial base earlier, I kind of break the industrial base into two pieces. One is the traditional industrial base, right, which has been eroded. As you guys know, one of the reasons we can’t supply the weapons and the quantity that Ukrainians need is we can’t make it fast enough, right? Because our industrial base is eroded. So, we have to worry about that. That traditional industrial base, that’s the that’s the, that’s the primes, right? Those the big prize, they know how to do that really well. But I also think this new industrial base, that that is, that sits around these key technologies is really the startup world. It really is. Right? And they haven’t figured out how to play in it in this big, big lake. Right? There are organizations like yours, right? That tried to help them do that, which is absolutely terrific. But we have to, we have to help them fertilize that new industrial base, right for this, for this to actually works. So that’s one two is, and you don’t want frustrated CEOs, because the government is nothing else, right? I’m not going to hang around if if it takes three years to get a security approval, right? I think two is two is, with very, very few exceptions, investors don’t give a damn about national security, they talk a good game. But when at time, when it comes time to put their money on the table. It is about returns, period. So, what does that mean? It means that if we’re going to succeed at a capital going to the right places, from a national security perspective, we have to make it economically viable to do so. And the government, there are things that government can do that can help do that. That’s and that surprised me a little bit. Right? That surprised me a little bit.
Lauren Bedula 28:11
You talked about attracting capital, and the importance of technology. But at the end of the day, it’s really important that we have people aligned here. And some that we’d like to hit on is how to stimulate more interest in talent and contributing to the national security space, both from the private sector but also to serve. And so, you told your story, Michael, about how you got in? What’s your take on the outlook for talent here, and particularly to go in and out of the private sector to the public sector? Do you? Do you see that as a challenge ahead? Are we making improvements? From that perspective?
Mike Morell 28:44
Let me let me it’s a great question. Maybe Maybe it’s the most important question. Because the end of the day, people create the tech and the tech, just not the tech by itself isn’t what wins, right execution, at the end of the day is what wins, right? So people matter tremendously. I go way back to the beginning, our public education system is broken. Now, I don’t know how to fix it, you know, I have no idea how to fix it. I just look at the numbers. And we’re at the bottom of the OECD, you know, in nearly every educational category, I don’t know how we can be a high tech economy, you know, when our kids are at the bottom in math and science. So somebody’s got to do something about that. Again, I have no idea. But that is a huge issue. I think who is people want to live in America. Now if you say to most people in the world, if you’re going to move somewhere, some other country where do you want to move Alright, United States is at the top of that list. And I think we should be very aggressive and finding the best talent in the world and bringing it here. I’m going to use this word Don’t take it the wrong way. I used to hunt people for a living right I used to you know find find find assets right who could spy for the United States I couldn’t find drug traffickers in town. erson as I hunted people, I think we need a program to hunt talent in the rest of the world, Hunt tech talent, and then go and offer them, you know, a green card to come to the United States. You know, these kids who graduate, right? There’s a lot of people who talk about, you know, when they get to graduation, they get a green card. Absolutely. It’s a no brainer, right. And we should do that. So we should, we should try to attract the best talent to the United States. There’s, there’s, there’s all these Russian kids, you know, hundreds of 1000s of them, well educated, technically savvy, who have now left Russia, and I don’t believe we’ll ever go back. How do we get them to come here? How do we get to come here? And, and, and, and work right in? In our tech fields? Right. So we should have an aggressive program to do that. And then the third really gets to your question, Warren, which is how do we get folks in the private sector to want to spend some time in government? Because the the tech maturity? The tech, understanding the tech awareness is pretty bad. And so how do we elevate that, you know, when I the last year I left the agency, the attrition rate was 3%. And those are mostly retirements. And which is actually a really good thing, because people who come to work there want to stay for career because the work is so rewarding, but you know, as a leader of the organization, I said to myself, this is way too low. Right? Because it doesn’t allow for flow of new blood in the organization. Right. So I think we need programs that, that allow that tech talent to come in fairly easily, and leave if they want, right, so. So what I advocated to Director burns, when he was thinking about how to improve tech at the agency was the White House Fellows Program is a is a really effective program where you bring in the most talented people in the country, and the White House puts them in different different places in the executive branch. I don’t know if it’s a year or two years or what it is. But they give they give back to their country. And lo and behold, a chunk of them decide to stay and make it a career. Right, because just because it’s just so interesting. I told the director we need, we need a CIA tech Fellows Program, right, that brings in 250, Stanford graduates in MIT graduates right every year to give a year back to their country. And you know, a bunch of them will stay. And those who don’t will go back and say nice things about the CIA. I think you have to come up with creative programs.
Hondo Geurts 32:39
Yeah, absolutely. And, and getting them in whether it’s, you know, the right programs and public education or these policies you’re talking about? It’s a good first step, but it’s not the final step. I’m sure you can think back in your career of somebody who mentored you, the professor you talked about or, you know, shaped your trajectory in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise? Which What’s your thinking on mentorship? Can you recall a situation like that, because I think analogy, we have to bring them in, then we’ve got to figure out how to let them achieve their maximum potential and, and help help them along the way. Like, certainly, I’ve had a lot of my career.
I had, I had many, many mentors. Along the way, I would not have been successful without them. The most important mentor that I ever had started mentoring me when, when I was a young supervisor, and he is still a mentor to me today. I still talk to him. So that’s, you know, and I tried to do that, as well, when I was when I was a senior in government, I still mentor some people who, who you know, are at CIA. When I was deputy director, I tried really hard to mentor women in particular. And I think I was successful at it. And so yeah, it’s really important to allow yourself to be mentored, right, which is to open yourself up, and then it’s really important to mentor so it’s part of that it’s part of that education process. We’re just talking about,
Hondo Geurts 34:22
Yeah, certainly a two way street. I think many younger teammates, you know, feel oh, you know, he’s too busy, or she’s too busy to go ask them. And quite frankly, I’ve learned more from folks I’ve had the fortune to mentor than I think I’ve ever imparted on them. And so for those in the audience, never be shy about asking, asking to, you know, meet with somebody and mentor them I find many or they don’t actually even make the ask.
Yeah, but here’s what I would say to people, right is is, is people would come to me, particularly young people and say and they still do, and say will you mentor me? My answer is Sure, absolutely. What do you want to work on? I just just don’t come in and say mentor me, right? What in particular? Do you want to work on your work? I want to work on your leadership skills, do you want to work on, you know, whatever. But, but but but, you know, have a specific goal in mind that we can work toward?
Hondo Geurts 35:17
Yeah, I think, you know, I often tell folks, you know, Job was a mentors not to make the person in the form of the mentor, it’s the for the mentor to help the person achieve whatever goal they want, right. And, you know, we’re not all here to create clones. And so
Mike Morell 35:30
I wouldn’t want anybody to be a clone of me.
Hondo Geurts 35:34
So, so let me let me just loop back a little bit in this unique time with Ukraine, and probably the first time many folks have seen at scale commercial technologies, impacting the battlefield, I would say some of that happened during counterterrorism activities, but certainly not to the scale, and not as publicly as you’re sitting here. What’s your, what’s your take on that is that is is a fundamental shift in commercial entities, one both being on the front lines, and then to impacting the front lines?
Mike Morell 36:05
Sure, we’re because we’re in a new world. Now, we’re in a world where, where, you know, open source data is readily available. Commercially acquired data is readily available in the most time you have to pay for it. But you know, it’s not that expensive. And so there is all this new data available, right? And this, is this something else that the intelligence community needs to get its arms around, right? Because the culture, the culture of intelligence organizations, if it is if it’s not stamped top secret, right, it must not be worth anything. Right. But as you see, in Ukraine, the stuff is actually really useful. Right. So I think that that, that the availability of both information, in a way publicly that’s never been like this before, and technology in a way that’s never been like this before, has created what we’re seeing in Ukraine. And, you know, if governments were smart, they would adapt themselves, right to what’s happening in the world around them. And I think some of them are pretty slow at that.
Hondo Geurts 37:11
Yeah, I can imagine it’s quite a culture shift on the Intel floor of you know, is it 90% Ts and, you know, 10%, open source now are commercially available. Now. I imagine those are all shifting, and then the culture is going to have to shift with it. Yeah.
Lauren Bedula 37:28
And as Hunter said, it’s been amazing to watch all of the companies really step up to bat and try to help here, even if it’s informally sharing information, or really wanting to help, which in a post Snowden world, or even five years ago, that wasn’t the case, this strong, I think, trust between communities or appreciation for prosperity in the private sector side. So some of the issues you talked about today, Michael, I think will really help us strengthen that collaboration, whether it’s working between companies selling into government, or this talent issue that we’ve talked about to have more cross pollination, and that these are some some great ideas that you shared today. I’m wondering if any final thoughts or anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about?
Mike Morell 38:06
You know, one thing I’d say is something maybe a little contrarian, including to what I said earlier, I’m beginning to wonder if historians are going to look back at where we are right now, and are going to conclude that we over worried the China problem. Just like we over worried the Japan problem, we over worried to some extent, the Soviet problem, there are trends underway, right, that really raised questions about China’s ability to continue to grow in influence relative to us. You know, one is they’ve got a whole basket of systemic issues that that they’re working on, but are going to be really difficult to deal with. Right demographics is by far the absolute worst for them. But there’s others. So you have that. And then the second bucket is you’ve got the fact that they are stepping away from capitalism. Capitalism is what created the Chinese economic miracle is what brought, you know, hundreds of million people out of poverty, you know, take that those people who don’t like capitalism. You know, capitalism is what created China’s influence in the world. And she she paying for political reasons, is stepping back away from that. So when he first came to power, he froze economic reforms. And now he’s actually rolling them back. And that is going to cost China economically. And he’s doing it because he’s worried about in the future, the Communist Party, which is his number one, his number one issue, it’s not China’s role in the world. It’s his own. His is his own neck and his party’s neck. And then third, the world’s starting to get his act together, relative to China. So we’re starting. We’re starting as a group of nations to face China instead. You know what, we don’t like that behavior. So you really wonder, right? Is China going to continue to gain relative to the United States and influence in the world? What we’ve seen over the last 20 years? Or is it really going to start slowing down and we’re going to reach some sort of equilibrium? Or maybe even, we’re gonna move in the other direction? Because we’re because at the end of the day, we’re a stronger nation for our values.
Lauren Bedula 40:23
Michael, that reminds me of a piece he wrote maybe four or five years ago, I think it was in the cipher brief where you kind of gave an outlook from a Chinese intelligence analyst perspective, do you think use the US is top of mind for them?
Mike Morell 40:37
Really, but I don’t think they believe what I just said. Right, I think they’re still in the US is in decline. And, you know, we’re still in the ascendancy. So I don’t think they’ve, they’ve adjusted to what I’ve just said, hard for them, right, hard for them to argue that their boss is doing the wrong thing. The other thing I’d say, which I think is really, really important, is all the things that we talked about that we need to do, those things aren’t possible in our current political environment. So if we don’t get our politics right here, and I’m not taking any sides at all, both sides were at fault. If we can’t get our politics in order here, then you can forget about everything we talked about. And in that case, it might be not a race to the top between China and the United States. But you know, who’s who’s not going to get to the bottom first. So, you know, the most important thing we need to do is strengthen our democracy and strengthen our politics so that we can start making decisions that advance our national security and our society and our economy.
Lauren Bedula 41:43
Wow. Well, so many important issues, Michael, that you hit on today. And thank you so much for taking the time. I think one of the strongest takeaways I have is the importance of a strategy. And I think that’s on all sides of the equations that we talked about, whether it’s from the financial world or the tech companies that we’re working with and on the government side, and trust and strong collaboration between them, given this this global outlook, so thank you so much for taking the time to write to me, Michael.
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