CIA director: US government will need to 'overhaul' how it engages with partners

By Adva Saldinger 09 March 2016

Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan. Photo by: U.S. Department of State

Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan used his appearance at Global Partnerships Week in Washington, D.C. on Monday to make the case for broader cooperation between security agencies and the aid and development community, both within government and among nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.

Faced with unprecedented security challenges — from extremism to state failure — the United States may need to overhaul the government approach to engaging with outside groups and partners, he said.

For the moment, Brennan noted that his ability to interact with the private sector and NGO community is limited. That’s something he’d like to change.

“If we’re going to address the horrific horrific challenges that are out there associated with terrorism, if we are going to address the devastating humanitarian disasters, I really do believe that our government needs to find mechanisms that are able to tap more effectively into the various capabilities that are represented here today,” he told the audience of government, NGO and private sector professionals who work on partnerships.

National security requires the ability to tap a broad range of capabilities, Brennan said. The U.S. government system needs to be configured in a way that will foster collaboration and bring all the necessary partners and skill sets together effectively.

“I do think we have to be as innovative and game changing and maybe even as disruptive as possible,” Brennan said. “It’s obvious that a lot of the world’s ills have not been appropriately addressed, or sufficiently addressed to date, by existing practices.”

Terrorism specifically, he said, “is often a symptom of the problems that exist within a country — the lack of good governance, the endemic corruption,” Brennan said. Often, NGOs and community-based organizations are working to combat these same issues.

The CIA director cited two priorities for building stronger cooperation: building systems to optimize the contributions of different partners; and improving the way U.S. government agencies work not only with each other but with outside partners.

Brennan’s call comes as he is reaching out to a number of communities not typically acquainted with the CIA. His own background has given him an appreciation for the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, which has a “special place in his heart,” Brennan said.

It was a trip to visit a cousin who was working for USAID in Indonesia in 1974 when he was 18 years old that first sparked his interest in national security and international affairs. A host of experiences since then — a rotation with the State Department, a stint working in the private sector, and his time serving as a deputy national security adviser — have all added to his belief that partnership and more efficient collaboration both between government agencies and nongovernment actors is critical for both security and development.

As a deputy national security adviser at the White House, for example, he considered the situation in countries including Somalia or Yemen, “where humanitarian disasters really loom large” and governance, economic, political and counterterrorism challenges contribute to the problems.

“You cannot pursue one of these initiatives without taking into account what the other implications are as you pursue them,” he said. “It really gave me a much healthier appreciation for what this government needs to be able to do overseas if we’re going to be able to address the problems that we face.”

What is your take on the nexus of development and security and the need for more cross-sector partnerships? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

Adva Saldinger@AdvaSal

As a Devex Impact associate editor, Adva leads coverage of the intersection of business and international development. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, she enjoys exploring the role the private sector and private capital play in development. Previously, she has worked as a reporter at newspapers in both the U.S. and South Africa. Most recently, she has been ghostwriting a memoir for a former child slave and NGO founder in Ghana.

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