The Intelligence Community Explained by a National Security Council Director


By Theresa Whitfield

Juan Cruz, the Senior Director for western hemisphere policy on the National Security Council spoke to Catholic University students on Wednesday on various aspects of intelligence. Cruz engaged students in the room with his unique perspective, and spoke about the current and future issues of intelligence.

Before Cruz worked as a policy maker, he served as a career CIA officer. He began as an operations officer doing espionage, and as a case officer. He rose through the ranks and eventually became chief of the Latin American Division. With this extensive amount of knowledge of intelligence in these regions, he was perfectly set up to take on the role of Senior Director for western hemisphere affairs. With this job, Cruz has dealt with policy issues involving Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico. Cruz is different from most policy makers, because he has hands on experience which he gained from decades of working in intelligence.

“My job is to collect information that is hard to get and that people don’t want me to know,”Cruz said, describing his job.

Cruz began the night by laying out one of the most basic questions raised about intelligence: What is the point? The idea of paying someone to break their vows to their organization or country and lie to their people to use to someone else’s advantage seems rather underhanded. But all countries do it, whether they admit it or not.

“Intelligence is important because it prepares us to be the smartest, the very best, in times of crisis. One thing we want to make sure we never repeat is what happened in Rwanda,” Cruz said.

Cruz spoke about the most effective ways he has seen people respond to intelligence they are getting briefed on. Experienced intelligence analysts know that the most effective way to brief someone is not to try to tell them everything you know, but tell them information that will resonate.

“It is not the smartest person in the room, it is not the most knowledgeable, it is not the person with the best career, or even the most amount of information,” he said “It all goes back to how you communicate and how you interact with that person.”

Cruz gave an example of a meeting he went to in the Oval Office where President Trump was getting briefed by Rex Tillerson, former Secretary of State. By far, Tillerson was the most knowledgeable person in the room. Also in attendance was General Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security at the time. Tillerson, with his southern draw, briefed the president with excruciating detail. Cruz expained to the students that this was clearly ineffective to the president, being a fast paced New Yorker that responds to quick and ready information.

“The president moves at one hundred miles an hour while Tillerson moves at three,” Cruz said.

What Cruz saw was the president being uninfluenced by his Secretary of State. But when General Kelly spoke to him, even though he did not have all the extensive details Tillerson had, he was able to convey the information directly and to the point, and the president responded to this. This story highlighted the importance of being engaging in conversation, and Cruz explained that the key to success is maintaining and building relationships.

Cruz spoke on three challenges the current and future issues of intelligence face. The biggest problem was language ability and cultural acuity. Many people are not able to speak foreign languages and are not familiar enough with other countries. Another problem he brought up was the failing writing skills of many junior officers, because they are unable to translate what they see and hear to writing which will be shared with others. The last big challenge he mentioned was the digital footprint one leaves on social media. With this digital footprint, it diminishes one’s ability to hide or to pretend to be someone they are not.

Later on, he touched on the danger of unwelcome intelligence. A relevant example of this today would be the discovery that North Korea is still developing a nuclear arsenal, directly going against everything the United States had believed and hoped for from them. When policy makers are briefed by intelligence analysts and don’t listen to what they are being told, their decisions can be very detrimental to our success.

Cruz effectively briefed the students by sharing a small portion of a big part of our country’s success, and the issues he raised gave all a better understanding of the truth behind intelligence.

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