American Intelligence Agencies Lag Behind in Diversity

American Intelligence Agencies Lag Behind in Diversity

For decades, intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA that have been tarred with accusations of sexism and racial profiling have worked hard to clean up their images and present a friendlier, more inclusive face to the world. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, similar scandals continue to hound the intelligence community, from the CIA’s hand in helping the NYPD monitor “ancestries of interest” to a culture within the NSA that condones violations of women’s privacy.

A recently released report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence may help to explain why: American intelligence agencies remain disproportionately white and male.

This the first time that a National Intelligence diversity report been declassified and publicly released since the department began producing the reviews in 2005. The report, which covers the period between October 2014 and September 2015, shows that while the numbers of minorities working in the intelligence community has increased in the past five years, minority groups are still underrepresented.

Minorities make up just under one quarter of the intelligence workforce, despite making up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to the report. Diversity is much higher in other sectors: Minorities comprise about 30 percent of the civilian labor force and roughly 35 percent of all federal employees. Promotions and honorary awards also tend to go to whites in higher numbers.   

African Americans make up 12 percent of the intelligence community workforce. Hispanics comprise 6.6 of all intelligence community employees. Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are 4.4 percent of the workforce; multiracial people, 1.8 percent; and American Indians/Native Alaskans, 0.6 percent.

It’s a similar, though better, story when it comes to women in the intelligence community. Women make up a little less than half of the population, and about 46 percent of the civilian labor force. They comprise 40 percent of all intelligence employees, but sometimes outdo men when it comes to promotions and honorary awards.

Minorities and women are also underrepresented as managers. Less than 25 percent of managers are minorities; 34 percent are women. Intelligence community hiring has shown some progress. Minority hiring increased from almost 21 percent in 2011 to nearly 25 percent in 2015. During that same period, the minority share of the workforce increased from about 23 percent to roughly 25 percent.

National Intelligence agencies have attempted to increase female and minority representation by launching a number of initiatives, such as the Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence program, which provides grants to select higher education institutions to fund programs and courses that are designed to ultimately attract more diverse groups of potential employees.

Past scandals illustrate how the intelligence community’s lack of diversity has affected its surveillance activities. Historically, intelligence agencies have targeted minority groups. In the 1960s and 1970s, the CIA and the National Security Agency spied on civil rights organizations, Puerto Rican independence groups, black radicals, and others, all of which they viewed as threats to domestic security.

Documents obtained through a FOIA request by The Intercept last year revealed that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have monitored Black Lives Matter protesters around the country. Meanwhile, during the Bush years, the NSA spied on a number of prominent Muslim American leaders, while the CIA sent one of its officers to work with the NYPD in setting up its “Demographics Unit,” which spied on “ethnic communities,” often Muslim, in order to root out terrorist threats.

In recent years, the NSA has also been in hot water after reports surfaced of employees eavesdropping on overseas military personnel having intimate conversations with their wives and girlfriends back home. Employees also spied on women they were involved with or romantically interested in. According to whistleblower Edward Snowden, NSA employees also regularly passed around nude photographs of women that they happened to come across while gathering other data.  

National Intelligence Director James Clapper said he hoped that the report would persuade future intelligence leaders to work to increase diversity in the intelligence community. Earlier this month, Clapper ordered intelligence agencies to produce plans for increasing diversity within 90 days.