Today, it is law enforcement, but our turn is coming.
It is no secret that the intelligence profession in the U.S. is woefully under-representative of people of color. It is also no secret that the same mistrust that many people of color in the U.S. (understandably) have of law enforcement also extends to the more secretive world of intelligence. People of color have been wrongfully surveilled in the name of intelligence gathering and national security during the height of the civil rights movement and have been labeled as “black identity extremists” and terrorists in recent years, merely for promoting civil rights.
I have been in the intelligence world for almost 20 years. Yet, I can count on one hand the number of intelligence colleagues I have in the U.S. who are people of color. It shocked me to realize it, and I hope it shocks you too. I absolutely love my colleagues of all stripes, but it is hard to accept that only a few look like me or can relate to some of my most basic experiences of being a person of color in the U.S.
Just as systemic racism can be insidious, invisible, and imperceptible, so can poor tactical and strategic decisions based on intelligence developed by a homogenous group that hasn’t taken the full picture into account — not necessarily because it chose not to, but rather because it was not equipped to.
Unlike bias in law enforcement, which often exposes itself directly to its victims, bias in the intelligence profession shows up subtly through faulty analytical conclusions, targeted investigative strategies, or ill-informed policy recommendations. In a country where racism, colorism, classism, and other-ness biases permeate the culture, those who are structurally understood to be at the bottom ranking will generally be those who get hurt by a lack of diversity.
We have enough experience as a country to recognize that those who don’t have a seat at the table are most definitely on the menu. As protesters around the country continue to demand reforms in our law enforcement services, and as major organizations call attention to the dearth of diversity in the national security realm, it is only a matter of time before people start to think about how representative other elements of our society that are meant to protect us are — the intelligence community being one of them.
In the intelligence world, we use what we call “indications and warning” techniques to look ahead and forecast what might be coming down the pike, while there is enough time to address it. We should use this current situation (outspoken anger against law enforcement abuse and the wider issue of systemic racism that fuels it) as a glaring indicator that large swaths of the population are not content with the status quo. People want to know that those whose job it is to ensure their safety and security won’t abuse or misuse their power, and that even if some do abuse or misuse their power, that there are enough diverse voices around to be a check on the biases that undergird their actions.
What can we as intelligence professionals do at this moment in time?
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected] Our editorial guidelines can be found here.