Agents Against Change: CIA’s Culture of Discrimination

An internal CIA study shows that the Agency is far from being the progressive liberal bastion that some perceived it as in its early days. The study and its attached documents show that not only do statistics show racist hiring and promotion policies, there are often racist and sexist attitudes that lie beneath the Agencies actual practices, which have not improved over time. The opening paragraph of the Findings summary itself is surprisingly racist, stating that white men fit the “model for success” more than women and minorities and suggesting those women and minorities may not be as deserving of holding senior positions as their white male counterparts.

Model For Success

The study also shows that the Agency is classist and full of cliques that control career trajectories from the moment someone first interviews with the Agency. Whether someone is an “insider” or “outsider” depends on things like whether or not they came from the “right” or “wrong” schools. Naturally, those that are “insiders” are seen as more likely to be promoted. In some cases, it would be as simple as a job assignment or title that would dominate someone’s career. For women and minorities, staff job assignments could be “death on wheels.”

The study also shows that racial profiling didn’t end with the 1977 Halloween Massacre that saw 20% of Agency employees terminated, primarily targeting first and second generation Americans. Hispanic and Asian employees reported that their assignments were limited to “specific geographic regions.” In other words, minority employees are assigned to areas where the locals look like them, regardless of not being undercover or necessarily speaking the language or having cultural ties.

Seniority by Race

For white male managers, the issue becomes overtly racist. According to the study, white male managers believe “that if they give negative feedback to a woman or minority, the recipient could file a complaint with the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.” They also seem to feel that women would become emotional and minorities would become confrontational. When it comes to dealing with racial and sexual harassment, the issue is even worse.

The number of reported complaints was “remarkably small”, although there were a substantial number of incidents reported in the interviews conducted as part of the study. Over 75% of the employees interviewed reported that sexual and racial harassment affected people’s careers at the Agency. In some instances, the responses of Agency employees is strikingly similar to blaming rape victims or accusing them of making up the complaint.

While some white men complain that women make up complaints and manipulate the system, women are often afraid to report anything. The common feeling seems to be that there is universal mistrust, and since employees never know who they’ll have to work for later, it’s safer for them not to report it at all. One woman reported that violence was a better option, saying that “In the case of severe sexual harassment, it is more effective to just knock his teeth out than to go to EEO. Everyone will respect you more, and you won’t be a trouble maker.” [Emphasis added]

One black man reported that the complaint system was so broken, there was no point in using it unless you “had enough to win big and retire.” Asians would apparently rather find a new job than file a complaint. When women do file complaints, they’re likely to be told they lack “interpersonal skills” and be labeled as a troublemaker. The report summarizes the general findings of the complaint system by saying that:

Virtually all focus groups reported that the complaint system at the Agency is
not usable. In the Agency’s culture it is not viewed as acceptable to complain. If an employee does complain, there is a perception that no real help is available. The
complaint system is not known for its confidentiality, and there is a strong perception of career-ending retribution.

Beyond the broken complaint system, the report shows a great deal of resistance to the assimilation of women and minorities into the Agency. Even the report itself was seen as threatening to white men in the Agency.

Be Real Careful

At the same time, some white men demonstrated their enlightenment and acceptance by asking questions like  “When was the last time we ever did anything for White men?” Another white man accused the report, which hadn’t yet been released or even completed, as being “a cooked-up job.” Women reported that men saw themselves as “the biggest minority” and that they were “scared to death about women and minorities” and trying to decide if they wanted a female boss.

Even some of the recommendations made by the report itself come off as racist, such as suggesting that Asian employees being encouraged to hang out together (participating in “brownbags”).


While women and minorities struggled to compete with each other for senior positions, white men saw them as part of the problem and resisted any competition from them. Rather than seeing them as less competent, men reported that they were unwanted competition would didn’t appreciate their position in the white male dominated culture.

You can read the full study below.


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