Her children have an interesting sense of humor toward the way their mother remembers their birthdates. Gina Bennett, a former member of CIA’s Senior Analytic Service, is a seasoned counterterrorism specialist who authored the earliest warnings of some of today’s terrorism trends, including the 1993 report that warned of the growing danger of Osama bin Laden and the movement he was creating. She matches the birthdate of each child by the adversaries she was pursuing at the time.
After retiring from the agency, she is now an adjunct professor at Georgetown and George Washington Universities, an honorary advisor at Girl Security, and author of National Security Mom.
For this episode of the Security Clearance Careers Podcast, we chat about being a woman in a traditional (by Hollywood) man’s role, even though women have been critical to the intelligence field since earlier times of OSS.
She even briefed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while in labor – but this was her fifth child so she was an expert in knowing when it was really go-time. When asked if she thought the culture of the Intelligence Community has shifted in favor of working mothers, she wanted to reiterate that the agency never encouraged her to brief officials while in labor, and that they were very supportive through maternity leave, and even other scenarios like needing to take time off from elder care.
However, Bennett does note that there is an issue on the way we look at a parent’s experience, and how taking a break on your resume to care for your children should be looked at as some of the best experience to support you in a role in national security: it takes physical stamina, multi-tasking, patience, and an attitude to manage all of the chaos. Just because parents are not paid to do everything at home doesn’t mean they didn’t gain skills.
We also touch on the Intelligence Community’s diversity recruitment problem: how can we make national security careers more relatable to the average person, and make it more attractive to minorities? Girl Security, an organization aimed at instilling confidence in girls and gender minorities to embark on the career journey in national security, is helping to bridge the gap. “We can always just create more Girl Security’s,” says Bennett “but there is an institutional problem that needs to be fixed.” The institutions that make up the Intelligence Community were created at a time where society was not as inclusive – we need to ensure institutions, policy, implementation, and practice are all taking JEDI principles into account.
As we hit 21 years around the sun since the September 11 attacks, Bennett shares what she hopes 9/11 does for the future of national security. She wrote the first report warning of Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, years before 9/11, and she was one of the six women in the CIA’s “band of sisters” that tracked him down.
Being a working mother, especially in a field like national security, means managing chaos at home and work in an incredible balancing act all with a smile on your face as there are work fires to put out and temper tantrums to deal with – as she outlines in her book National Security Mom.
“National Security Mom” offers the basics of current terrorism trends and national security policymaking from a parent’s perspective. Written by a mother of five and 20-year veteran of counterterrorism in the US Intelligence Community, this book de-mystifies the underworld of terrorism and offers a unique comparison of how the super-secret intelligence approach to securing our nation is surprisingly similar to how parents secure their homes and families.