With her short stature and quick humor, Carmen Medina hardly exemplifies what most people likely associate with the CIA. However, she is part of the three-person executive team that leads the United States' all-source intelligence analysts.
"I feel a great sense of responsibility to correct misconceptions about a place I've worked at all of my professional life," she told a crowd at USD's Farber Hall. "This will be my goal this afternoon."
CIA employees are not absent-minded bureaucrats with thick glasses nor the action figures portrayed in television shows like "24," Medina said.
"CIA analysts have a privileged view of history as it is created," she said. "They have the distinction of interpreting the world's events. They explain what's happening in the world and why. In the course of their work, they go beyond the headlines to spot trends before most others do."
Trying to predict the future is not easy, Medina said, comparing it to trying to predict the NCAA Final Four.
"ESPN said that out of the 3 million brackets filled out on their Web site, only four entries got the Final Four right," she said. "Our nation expects CIA analysts to be able to ?get the brackets right' when the really unexpected happens in the world."
When she joined the CIA in 1978, Medina, now 51, admitted that Hispanic women like herself weren't a common sight.
"Someone told me there was one other Puerto Rican working at the agency," she said, admitting it was a bit of an exaggeration.
Diversity is not limited to skin color, Medina said. It also applies to thought processes, different backgrounds and experiences brought to the CIA.
"Our agency had to look not just more like America, but more like the world," she said. "Our mission would suffer if we stuck to a unique cultural environment."
Medina also said it is important for the public to understand the CIA's value system. To foster that understanding, she shared her list of 11 leadership values, ranging from the ability to admit mistakes and concern about the welfare of fellow employees and the need to inspire employees to give more than the bare minimum.
"Would every leader at the CIA ascribe to every one of these values? I'd have to say, ?No,'" Medina said. "But would they recognize most of them? Absolutely."
Questions from the audience following the address hit on several issues in the headlines, including the so-called "outsourcing of torture," when the U.S. allegedly transports prisoners to countries with looser torture laws in order to take more extreme measures to get information from them.
"I'm going to disappoint you," Medina said. "Most of those things are things I really can't comment on. They're really policy issues. I'm not a policy-maker. (The government) has made certain decisions on how the War on Terror should be fought. All I can say is, everything that the CIA does is based on law. There's legislation and executive orders that govern everything we do."
Medina was also asked when it is ethical for public servants to disclose information to the public or to lie.
"I believe in telling the truth," she said, noting that in a position like hers, one has to think about what one is willing and not willing to do ethically. "Your responsibility as a public servant is to the government you serve and to the public. That said, if I could not support the actions or the policies, I would resign. I would not be sneaky or lie."
Even if a CIA agent chooses to leak information against the policies of the agency, he or she will have to lie to someone, Medina said.
"You may feel good about the leaking to the public or the press, but aren't you lying back to the place where you work?" she asked. "You have to live your principles every step of the way. If you don't believe in lying, you don't believe in lying. You don't have a sliding scale as to who you can do the lying to."