Personal branding: CIA Officer on Oprah Winfrey Show



Watch Gina Bennett 
on video

Executive summary: The American Central Intelligence Agency knows better than most the importance of being branded: The CIA officer Bennett was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show during a tribute to "superwomen." Bennett was selected as a representative of all the women in the CIA and the Intelligence Community who work hard to keep America safe. Bennett captured the show’s interest after she wrote the book "National Security Mom: Why “Going Soft” Will Make America Strong",a comparison of parenting to national security.

Edited by Peter Horn

The American Central Intelligence Agency knows better than most the importance of being branded, thus gaining support from the public and keeping the votes from the politicians for future intelligence expenditure budgets. That is according to the CIA's News and Information Service on the internet.

"Imagine trying to get five kids out the door for school in the morning and briefing the President all in the same day. A mother who could accomplish these feats in a span of 24 hours might be considered a “superwoman.” The Central Intelligence Agency is fortunate to have one such “superwoman” among its employees: Gina Bennett," the story goes.

On the Oprah Winfrey Show
"CIA officer Bennett was recently featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show during a tribute to "superwomen." Bennett was selected as a representative of all the women in the CIA and the Intelligence Community who work hard to keep America safe. The show asked for a photo of Bennett and her family to illustrate how important a supportive family is to a working mom;" the story continues.

Bennett originally captured the show’s interest after she wrote a book, "National Security Mom: Why “Going Soft” Will Make America Strong", which is a humorous comparison of parenting to national security. Bennett’s publisher submitted a description about her to an Oprah show producer without her knowledge. The show’s producers decided to feature her in the slideshow and called her to tell her the good news.

“I was completely shocked when the Oprah Winfrey Show called,” Bennett said. “I thought it was a hoax at first.”


Changing the image of CIA
“It was especially meaningful [to be part of the show] because I knew that I was merely a representative of the many hardworking moms at the Agency,” Bennett said. “With so many negative or sensational images of the CIA inundating the public, I was excited to know that this one image would help send a very different and positive message about who we are.”

For the Safety of the Nation
When the alarm clock goes off in the early hours of the morning, one thing motivates Bennett to go to work: the safety and security of total strangers.

“It may sound strange, but there are times when I know that nothing bad is going to happen in small part because of the work that I’ve done,” she said. “Then I feel like I’ve contributed something truly valuable."

Work-life balance
Bennett stumbled on the idea for her book while preparing a presentation for a mentorship program about how to balance work and family.

“I was struck by the idea that what I do at home and what I do at work are very similar,” she said. “I was reminded of the saying that everything you ever needed to know you learn in kindergarten. I felt that all I needed to know about national security I learned from my kids.”

Although the idea came to Bennett easily, the writing did not. She spent most of her career writing in the Intelligence Community for policymakers and switching to writing for the public was not an easy task.

“It was a challenge to think about how to convey issues related to terrorism and national security without getting into the weeds and without sounding too ‘government-ese.”

Briefing the President
Like many other working mothers, Bennett has learned to master the balancing act that is life.

“I am lucky to have a husband who has a flexible work schedule and kids who accept responsibility when we need them to,” she said. “They also understand that they are partners in helping both me and my husband succeed in what we do. They may not fully understand our careers, but they appreciate being a part of them.”

That’s not to say that everything goes smoothly all the time. During her 20 years of government service, Bennett has had her share of chaotic days. Once, while volunteering at her children’s elementary school, she was called in to brief President George W. Bush.

“There I was in jeans with photocopier ink all over me entirely absorbed in helping a kindergarten class. A few hours later I was briefing the President,” Bennett said. “When I got home I had to deal with my child’s disappointment with my leaving her class so abruptly. To this day, I’m not sure which was the tougher crowd.”

Bennett also emphasizes the importance of having a family-friendly work place.

“My management has always put my family first,” she said. “I think that’s one of the extraordinary things about working for the Agency. It is a family itself so it understands the real needs of family.”

Ms. Bennett now hopes to start working on another book about reviving a sense of civic duty in children that will be geared toward parents and educators.

Diversity statement
The Director of CIA, Michael V. Hayden in a statement of diversity: "(...) By hiring men and women with a broad range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, language expertise, and educational experiences, we effectively minimize the likelihood of groupthink. For us, diversity is a mission-critical objective."

The mission of the CIA: "The CIA is an independent US Government agency responsible for providing national security intelligence to senior US policymakers." The CIA is separated into four basic components: the National Clandestine Service, the Directorate of Intelligence, the Directorate of Science & Technology, and the Directorate of Support. They carry out “the intelligence cycle,” the process of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence information to top US government officials.

In addition, the CIA has several staffs that deal with public affairs, human resources, mission innovation, protocol, congressional affairs, legal issues, information management, and internal oversight.

The CIA has estimated between 10,000 and 20,000 workers and "only 10 per cent are clandestine officers involved in operations—the traditional spy stuff that includes recruiting sources, executing covert missions, and gathering intelligence" according to one source. 

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