CLOAK & DAGGERNo, Jason Bourne Is Not the Real CIA

By Christina Pazzanese

Published 21 September 2022

Ex-directors, officers, scholars mark agency’s 75th anniversary with discussion of truth, lies — especially of Hollywood kind.

The work of the CIA is fast-paced and very loud in the popular imagination. It involves high-speed chases, leaping out of planes or from the tops of buildings, gun battles, and exploding buildings. Actually, says former CIA officer Alex Finley, “Generally, the rule is: If the gun comes out or something goes boom, something has gone horribly wrong in your operation.”

For decades the agency has played a critical role in U.S. foreign policy decisions, various conflicts and crises overseas, from the Berlin blockade in 1948 to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. But its full history and work, especially its successes, are rarely fully seen or clearly understood by the public. Part of that is the agency’s fault and part is simply the nature of the business, former officials and scholars said.

Marking the agency’s 75th anniversary, retired CIA directors, station chiefs, and officers, as well as scholars and national security journalists gathered for a series of panel discussions to discuss the intelligence organization’s complex, yet vitally important task during a daylong event Friday at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

“The mission of the Central Intelligence Agency is to know the truth, not small truth, not someone’s truth, but the truth of what is, not what you prefer; to see beyond the horizon … and to allow leaders to act before events dictate,” said Sue Gordon, who spent 27 years at the CIA and was principal deputy director of national intelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) from 2017 to 2019.

The agency has “a killer mission” and very strong institutional culture that resembles a men’s pick-up basketball game. “When you play pickup basketball, if you don’t do something with the damn ball, you’re not getting it again,” Gordon told Paul Kolbe, director of the Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project, which organized the event.

As for today’s challenges, “I think information disorder is the greatest threat we face,” said Gordon, now an Intelligence Project senior fellow. At a time when information and misinformation is flowing faster than ever, the CIA has to stay on top of a rapidly changing technological landscape, particularly at its senior levels. “I think we’ve got to get better.”