The president of the United States sets the national security agenda for the country. Through an unclassified and publicly published document, anyone in the world can access and view these priorities online. In the 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, President Trump refers to an America First mentality, and states, “We are prioritizing the interests of our citizens and protecting our sovereign rights as a nation.”
This statement begs the question: the interests of which citizens?
According to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics say they have serious concerns about their place in America. This is not surprising, considering last August, a man drove from Allen, Texas to El Paso and targeted Mexicans in a shooting that left 23 dead and 23 injured. This man openly stated that he was influenced by the rhetoric of the President, who has repeatedly vilified Latinos. It’s also not surprising that, although Hispanics comprise 18.5 percent of the United States population, only 6.8 percent of the individuals employed in the U.S. intelligence community are Hispanic. Why take an oath to defend the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic, when you yourself are considered an enemy?
Imagine how tired and lonely Latinos must feel in the national security field, having to dig through documents, listen to audio recordings, and track threats against people who look like them, who speak their language, who raised them to be proud to serve their country. Those internal warring ideals are heavy, and the intelligence community must learn how to recognize unconscious bias throughout the entire intelligence cycle.
Preventing domestic terrorism and hate crimes requires intelligence officers who can collect and analyze data, and coordinate with other departments and agencies to share information, and identify vulnerabilities and capabilities of adversaries (yes, even U.S.-born, white Americans can be adversaries). Fearmongering hampers the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to attract and retain the best and brightest talent. To increase the number of Latinos in the national security ranks, Latinos need to feel like their interests are prioritized, not pummeled.
Strategic recruitment, development, and retention of Latino talent is required for national security initiatives to flourish. A lack of investment in diverse perspectives is an opportunity for threat actors to capitalize on America’s weaknesses. The definition of who can defend and protect America should be reimagined and expanded in order to attract more Latinos to the national security profession.
Take the National Security Agency, for example. When the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans (SACNAS) National Conference came to San Antonio in 2018, NSA invested in a day-long event full of history, code-breaking, and crypto challenges for students. In addition to learning about jobs at the Agency, students walked away with cool prizes like NSA-branded headphones. This small investment knocked down major misconceptions and imparted a positive impression upon students that homeland security is not about kicking doors down – the government needs Black and brown nerds who love math, science, and engineering, too. When young Latino students feel like there is a safe space for them to grow within the intelligence community, they remember these experiences and may consider joining the national security field.
Look at the Fiscal Year 2018 annual demographic report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). This report specifically and publicly reports on the hiring and retention of minorities, women, and persons with disabilities in the intelligence community. Through engagements with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Annual Conference, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Leadership Conference, the intelligence community likely reached hundreds of Latino students who otherwise might not have imagined themselves working in those agencies.
Intentional investment in these engagement strategies demonstrates that consistent outreach work is necessary to recruit and hire a diverse workforce. And this work does not end at a conference booth or a virtual hiring fair. Ongoing efforts are required to attract and retain Latino talent, including tracking and sharing information about pay grades, and striving to increase representation at the senior executive levels.
Here in San Antonio, several universities and colleges have earned designations as National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAEs), institutions where their cybersecurity programs are assessed by NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and found to be of the highest quality and rigor. These institutions include Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio College, St. Philip’s College, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and the University of Texas at San Antonio – all of which are Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), too. When the intelligence community broadens its outreach beyond elite, Ivy League or Tier 1 schools, the intelligence community provides access to opportunities for more Latinos from different neighborhoods across the U.S.
Representation matters, and maintaining morale is not just an issue for men and women in the military. Low morale is a concern for the entire federal government. However, ask any civilian or military professional why they serve their country, and their heartfelt answers often describe a calling, a commitment to community, and a desire to contribute to something bigger than one’s self. Invest in a diverse workforce as a national security imperative, not as a feel-good checkbox. The evolving threats, the increasingly connected world, and the lower costs of attack have thrown the doors wide open for adversaries. Let’s expand the definition of who can defend and protect our country and give bad actors one less vulnerability to exploit.