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by Michael Morell, former Acting Director, Central Intelligence Agency

Michael Morell is the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. During his 33-year career at the CIA, Michael served as Deputy Director for over three years, a job in which he managed the Agency’s day-to-day operations and analysis, represented the Agency at the White House and Congress, and maintained the Agency’s relationships with intelligence services and foreign leaders around the world.  

Michael is currently Senior Counselor and Global Chairman of Beacon Global Strategies, a Senior National Security Contributor for CBS News, the host of the national security podcast Intelligence Matters, an Expert Voice on Axios, and a Contributing Columnist for the Washington Post. He is the author of The New York Times bestseller “The Great War of Our Time:  An Insider’s Account of the CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qaida to ISIS.”

I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for thirty-three years. From day one I was motivated by the mission of the Agency – keeping the country safe – and that motivation only grew over time as the significance of what I was doing expanded. I was also driven by the dedication of the men and women who undertook the task of keeping the country safe each and every day. Early in the morning, around seven a.m., almost half of the Agency's parking lot is already filled. And late into the evening, at seven p.m., still half of the parking lot is filled. I had officers turn down well-deserved promotions or spend months away from their families and friends because they were so committed to a particular operation or initiative.

I have never worked with more dedicated people. People frequently ask me about specific movies and television series about the Agency. "Is Homeland real?" they ask. "Did Zero Dark Thirty get the story right?" My answer is always the same: "no, not really, with one exception, and that exception is the passion that CIA officer bring to the job." I usually explain that the passion for getting the job done that is demonstrated, for example, by the character Carrie in Homeland or Maya in Zero Dark Thirty is a dead-on accurate portrayal of the passion of many CIA officers, particularly those who work in our Counterterrorism Center.

That dedication, I think, was captured simply and beautifully in the written answer to a question on a job application by the son of one of the finest scientists in the history of CIA. The question was "If you had the opportunity to meet someone from the past or present, who would it be and why?" His answer: "If I had the opportunity to meet anyone, past or present, I would elect to meet the man my dad becomes when he goes to work every day at CIA. I love my dad because he is the very definition of fatherhood: stoic, strong, capable. His career at CIA has always been out of my view, save for the awards and promotions he has brought home. My father is one of the countless unsung heroes of the clandestine service. I would love nothing more than to meet my dad at work, because as far as I'm concerned, I would be meeting Superman."

Throughout my career I found particular inspiration and motivation from the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice – those CIA officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. The most special place at the Agency is the north side of the main lobby at CIA headquarters – the location of our Memorial Wall, with started etched into the marble, one star for every hero who made that sacrifice. I worked by a simple motto – that what I did every day needed to live up to the sacrifices represented by those stars. And I posed that challenge to the new officers when I led them through their oath of office on their first day at the Agency.


The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vice President Biden, the Biden Institute or the University of Delaware.

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Biden Policy Dinner Guest Blog by Michael Morell

Biden Policy Dinner Guest Blog by Michael Morell

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