By Brandon Blackburn:
Perhaps to the chagrin of my mother, the longest relationship of my adult life has not been with a person, but with an institution. One that stands for finding the hidden truths that threaten the values and freedoms of the people it was established to protect. An apparatus that has more strengths than flaws, more successes than failures.
But there are only a select chosen few, relative to the general population, who know and understand its greatness. They are men and women who represent the greatest microcosm of our country in their backgrounds and the way in which they come together for the greater good. This is the CIA that I know.
Set up among the various duties spread across four directorates, the Central Intelligence Agency’s engine is fueled by mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. It is where success is not possible without the bookish intellectuals working in lockstep with the brawny knuckle-draggers while putting politics aside, for they know that without the other, their work would have no dividends to yield.
They are the tip of the spear for our country’s national security. Without them, our military and diplomats cannot strategize, plan, nor execute. They are the ones who not only know the threats and evils that exist in this world, but who face and confront them head-on. Their office is a cubicle that encompasses the entire globe. They report to duty with little protection. They hide in the daylight as they conduct their business in the shadows.
They are the case officers who sacrifice relationships and normalcy for a life of anonymity and uncertainty. The analysts charged with providing history-altering assessments while knowing only a fraction of the story. The human resources staff who protect the identities of those undercover. The logistics and communications officers who can build support infrastructures in less time than it will take you to read this article.
They make it their calling to assume the role of worrier and protector, all so that you don’t have to. They want you to be consumed with the menial in life; when you are, it means they have done their job. They are stars on a wall — one hundred and seventeen, to be exact — who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This has been done in places and during events you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, during wars and confrontations in places such as Germany, Tibet, and Khost.
And in return, they ask not for gratitude, but that you live your lives enjoying and appreciating the same freedoms they themselves have had to put on hold in their own lives.
They interact with the lowest of society’s low, from politicians to sources whose allegiance can sway with the slightest shift in the wind. They do not have the ability to defend themselves under the scrutiny of public persecution, whether by the uninformed media and general public or by agenda-driven government officials. They rally behind their directors and presidents, even when the same cannot be said for their leaders. They do so because they know that though the individuals and administrations change, the ideals of America sustain.
In preventing those who wish you harm from achieving their goals, they have done more to improve your life than you will ever know. They will not receive praise in the public eye, as the nature of their work means you will never know when they are among you. They will rarely see their successes receive the same front page attention as their failures. And despite it all, they keep their heads down and hearts full as they do their job.
While you may only know and judge them on half-truths and outright lies about their work, they stand resolute.
For they know the truth, and as the good book and the wall at CIA headquarters says, the truth shall set you free.
Brandon Blackburn is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former CIA Counterterrorism Officer with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and an MBA with a concentration in International Business. During his time with the CIA, Brandon served multiple tours in the Middle East, to include Iraq and Jordan, and in Afghanistan. Brandon consults with businesses and media on national security related issues with his consulting firm B4B Enterprises. He can be followed on Twitter @Bran_Blackburn.