At the CIA, Dave Marlowe is an inspired choice for a critical job

In December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor’s self-immolation to protest government corruption sparked the Arab Spring, with levels of unrest unprecedented since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The White House was pressing hard for the latest intelligence and analysis on which President Obama would rely to respond to the fast-moving crisis.

On one occasion, my Near East Division team at the CIA was briefing Director Leon Panetta on one of the countries caught up in the increasingly high level of turmoil, unrest which threatened to topple the ruling government. Dave Marlowe, then serving as the senior officer directing operations in the Counterterrorism Center, was there to brief on how terrorists might exploit the civil unrest, which was a virtual petri dish spawning threats to our nation.

Mr. Panetta was asking pointed questions about one country in particular, from where it so happened Mr. Marlowe had just returned from a posting as station chief. I turned the briefing over to Mr. Marlowe, who delivered a smooth, pithy and deeply substantive assessment on the country’s leadership, which eloquently answered all of the director’s questions and prompted Mr. Panetta to challenge his own assumptions. 

During subsequent tours of duty at headquarters and overseas, I witnessed firsthand how Mr. Marlowe exquisitely led his officers and brilliantly served the CIA mission, both in the most senior headquarters assignments and in some of the most challenging and dangerous overseas hot spots.

CIA Director William Burns could not have made a better choice than Dave Marlowe for his new deputy director of operations.

The Directorate of Operations (DO) is the clandestine arm of the CIA responsible for recruiting spies, stealing secrets and conducting presidentially authorized covert action programs. The DO produces human intelligence, which is the foundation for the CIA’s all-source analysis. 

The U.S. is facing a dizzying array of complex national security challenges, all of which have a significant intelligence component. Mr. Marlowe will be on the hook to ensure the DO provides sensitive source reporting on China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, transnational terrorism and nuclear proliferation. 

That day in Mr. Panetta’s office, in subsequent meetings with successor CIA chiefs, and in frequent briefings on Capitol Hill and at the White House, Mr. Marlowe has always demonstrated the highest level of intellectual honesty and integrity. He told his subordinates and our bosses what they needed to know — even when it was not always what they wanted to hear. His low-key delivery and dry sense of humor dialed down the tension, even when the pressure was at their most intense, as in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

When I served at CIA, Director David Petraeus always emphasized the importance of getting the big ideas right. 

For CIA overseas field stations especially, that means being crystal clear about our mission. But the biggest “big idea” of them all centers on taking care of our people, ensuring they have all the tools they need to do their jobs, and respecting and rewarding their sacrifices. 

The September 11 attacks were the seminal moment for Mr. Marlowe’s generation of CIA officers. One silver lining of that dark day was that it put some of our most promising officers through a crucible, a test through which they developed into some of today’s top CIA talent. Mr. Marlowe inspires confidence, loyalty and a commitment to the mission because he took the tough assignments and served on the front lines overseas. He is a testament to how the best CIA officers of his generation emerged stronger and more capable by confronting and conquering the adversity we faced after 9/11. 

The most effective leaders set the highest standards for themselves and their followers; demonstrate high emotional IQ, especially empathy for others; and have the vision to communicate expectations for fulfilling the mission, which for the CIA has never been more critical to our nation’s security. 

Much has been written about the CIA director’s important responsibility for the President’s Daily Brief and for delivering to the president the intelligence community’s assessment of the greatest threats to our national security, the options for countering those threats, and how well the chosen policy ultimately serves U.S. national security. 

But there is nothing more consequential for the director than promoting the best officers to the positions of greatest seniority and impact. Running spies behind enemy lines, for which Mr. Marlowe is now responsible, has always been the key to detecting threats before they can be visited on our shores. 

Good on Director Burns for choosing the right person for this sacred assignment. 

• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.

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