• Transcript
  • Show Notes

On this special episode of the United Security podcast, Ken Wainstein talks with Courtney Elwood, the General Counsel of the CIA for nearly the entirety of the Trump administration. 

They discuss Elwood’s formative years and her career in government, from her time clerking for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, to her service in the George W. Bush administration, to the unique dynamics of being the top lawyer at an agency focused on covert action. 

This podcast is produced by CAFE Studios. 

Tamara Sepper – Executive Producer; Adam Waller – Senior Editorial Producer; Nat Weiner — Audio Producer; David Kurlander — Editorial Producer, Sam Ozer-Staton — Editorial Producer

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS 

UPBRINGING

  • Patricia Sullivan, “Brig. Gen. Edwin Howard Simmons; ‘Collective Memory’ of Marine Corps,” Washington Post, 5/9/2007
  • Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, United States Marines: The First Two Hundred Years 1775-1975, Viking, 1976
  • Eve Zilbart, “Washington and Lee Struggles With New Realities,” Washington Post, 9/16/1985
  • Dale Russakoff, “Lani Guinier Takes Law School to Task as Hostile to Women,” Washington Post, 1/29/1995

CLERKING

  • Augustin Martinez and Ashley Oldfield, “Judges of the Fourth Circuit – Hon. J. Michael Luttig,” Wake Forest Law Review
  • Linda Greenhouse, “Ideas & Trends; The Chief Justice Has New Clothes,” New York Times, 1/22/1995
  • Joan Biskupic, “’The Biggest Heart in the Building,’” Washington Post, 7/25/1997
  • United States v. Virginia, Oyez, 1996
  • Chief Justice Rehnquist’s concurrent opinion in United States v. Virginia, Legal Information Institute, 6/1996
  • Douglas Kmiec, “Young Mr. Rehnquist’s Theory of Moral Rights–Mostly Observed,” Stanford Law Review, 5/23/2006
  • Courtney Elwood Speaks at Chief Justice Rehnquist’s Memorial Service, C-SPAN, 6/15/2006

BUSH ADMINISTRATION 

  • David Pilling, “Why George W. Bush is Africa’s favourite US president,” FT, 7/17/2019
  • “U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations by President George W. Bush During the 107th-109th Congresses,” CRS Report for Congress, 1/23/2007
  • Kate Anderson Brower, “Inside the White House on September 11,” Fortune, 9/11/2016
  • “Summary of USA PATRIOT Act,” Leahy.gov, 2001 
  • “David Addington: Cheney’s Powerful, One-Man Legal Office,” PBS Frontline, 2007
  • Dan Eggen, “For Gonzales, a Familiar Cast at the Table,” Washington Post, 7/5/2005
  • Peter Baker, “The Truth About Bush (and Cheney),” Politico, 11/22/2013

GENERAL COUNSEL 

  • John Bellinger, “Excellent Nominations for CIA GC and DoD GC,” Lawfare, 3/17/2017
  • “Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Courtney Simmons Eldwood to be General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 4/26/2017
  • Olga V. Mack and Katia Bloom, “3 Benefits Of Working For The CIA — General Counsel Of The CIA Spills The Beans,” Above the Law, 10/24/2016
  • Michael E. DeVine, “Covert Action and Clandestine Activities of the Intelligence Community: Selected Definitions in Brief,” Congressional Research Service, 6/14/2019
  • “50 U.S. Code § 3093 – Presidential approval and reporting of covert actions,” Legal Information Institute 
  • Tim Weiner, “C.I.A. Bares Its Bungling in Report on Bay of Pigs Invasion,” New York Times, 2/22/1998
  • George Lardner Jr., “Covert Acts Restricted Under Act,” Washington Post, 7/27/1991
  • NSD 79, FAS.org, 1/19/1993
  • Charlie Savage, “Ex-F.B.I. Lawyer Who Altered Email in Russia Case Is Sentenced to Probation,” New York Times, 1/29/2021
  • David P. Oakley, “Partners or Competitors? The Evolution of the Department of Defense/Central Intelligence Agency Relationship since Desert Storm and its Prospects for the Future,” Joint Special Operations University, 3/2014

What does it take to be the top lawyer of the CIA? 

Former General Counsel of the CIA Courtney Elwood reflects on the state of American intelligence 

Up until two weeks ago, Courtney Elwood was the General Counsel of the CIA. In her first interview since leaving government service, Elwood talks with her friend Ken Wainstein about the lessons she learned from her post and about the biggest challenges that the CIA faces over the coming years. 

Elwood also talks about her time in the George W. Bush administration, during which she worked closely with both President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the tense period following 9/11. Elwood and Ken’s candid conversation provides a new perspective on the legal and ideological debates of the Bush years. Their reflections on the balance between security and privacy are a powerful addition to the chronicle of our collective recent political history.

Ken Wainstein:

From CAFE, this is United Security. I’m Ken Wainstein. So today we’re continuing our series of interviews that we’ve been doing over the last month or so. And as you recall, we have had interviews with several national security officials and experts from the Obama administration. We had Matt Olsen and we had John Brennan. And then most recently we had two episodes with Jim Clapper. All of whom were in a number of different administrations, but ended up their last service in the Obama administration. I’m delighted to be joined today by Courtney Elwood. Courtney served as the General Counsel of the CIA for nearly the entirety of the Trump administration. Courtney has had a varied and successful career in government. She started a career as a clerk for the longtime Supreme Court Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, held a number of positions in the Bush White House and most recently served as CIA’s top lawyer. Courtney Elwood, it’s an honor to speak with you. Welcome to the show.

Courtney Elwood:

I’m very pleased to be here. This is fun.

Ken Wainstein:

It is fun. And it’s great to have you. So thank you for taking the time. And I know you’re probably very actively decompressing right now, and so I’m glad you could fit this into your decompression regime. And so why don’t I just take a minute just for efficiency’s sake, just to tick off your resume. And then I’m going to go back and I’m going to ask you about sort of each step along the way. So Courtney was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. Actually raised right near where I was raised and we went to the same high school. Unfortunately, she came along a good bit after I did. I was in a much earlier class although I’m older. But we both went to a wonderful school in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. She then went from high school to Washington and Lee University in Virginia, graduated from there and went on to get a law degree at a place called Yale Law School.

I think I’ve heard of it. That being New Haven, Connecticut. And then from there, she went on to be a law clerk to two different judges. First, she was with Judge Michael Luttig on the fourth circuit court of appeals. And then from there went to the Supreme Court where she clerked for the chief Justice, William Rehnquist, heard of him as well. And that was two years of clerkship before she then went into private practice at a law firm here in town, DC that is. Kellogg Huber, Hanson, Todd, Evans & Figel, a very strong firm here in town until 2001 after the inauguration of President George W. Bush, she went into the White House to be an associate counsel to the president. She did that for a while before taking maternity leave and having a child, and then coming back in to be deputy counsel to vice president, Dick Cheney, once again, back in the White House.

And from there, she went over to the justice department where she and I had the opportunity to work closely together, where she was counselor and then deputy chief of staff to the attorney general at the time, Alberto Gonzales. I know you had gotten to know Judge Gonzales in your time at the White House when he was White House counsel. And then from there you left government service and went back out to your law firm Kellogg Huber until 2017 at the front end of the Trump administration, you came in as the general counsel of the CIA and remained in that position until 13 days ago. So all those were incredible credentials, incredible experiences, but probably the most even though they were neato torpedo, the most important accomplishments of your life are raising two wonderful kids here in Alexandria. And then secondly, I can’t go through this without mentioning that you were a fabulous co-coach of the Alexandria Girls, six-year old soccer team that totally cleaned up and dominated the league the years that you were co-coach. I’m trying to remember who you coached with.

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. I think that I had a good judgment to let Mr. Wainstein take the lead on coaching. And I think I brought the snacks but-

Ken Wainstein:

That was fun. We were like the Alabama Football Program of Alexandria soccer. We could probably spend 20 minutes talking about the exploits of our soccer girls, but we’ll get back to national security. And then just to round things out, you’re married to one John Elwood who is not a half bad lawyer himself, and a good friend of mine too. He also is a Supreme Court law clerk, held important legal positions in the justice department, the Solicitor General’s office and the Office Legal Counsel, and now is heading up appellate practice set to law firm here in town on an importer. So that just gives a sort of overview of who you are and what you’ve done. With that, I want you to tell us a little bit about your family background, your parents, what they did and maybe the impact they had on you and the direction of your career?

Courtney Elwood:

Sure. So my parents, Ken, like yours were part of the greatest generation. My father was born in 1921 and was coming out of college during World War II and initially joined the army, but quickly decided that was not for him and he went into the Marine Corps thereafter and served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As he emerged from Vietnam, he had done some writing. He had prepared to be a journalist before going into the Marine Corps. He’d some writing while in the Marine Corps. But as he was coming out, he realized or recognized that the Marine Corps didn’t have a historical program, which is hard to believe because the Marines love their history. So he started the Marine Corps history program, started the museums and then devoted the next stage of his career, both still in uniform and then as a civilian, in the Marine Corps history program. So he gave 50 plus years of his life to the Marine Corps.

Ken Wainstein:

General Simmons, correct?

Courtney Elwood:

Yes.

Ken Wainstein:

And just on that, so he was World War II, Korea and Vietnam?

Courtney Elwood:

Yes.

Ken Wainstein:

And did you mention that he was in the Chosin Reservoir?

Courtney Elwood:

I didn’t. He did have combat in all three Wars, but certainly the Korean war was probably, well, certainly the most difficult for him. He was both at Chanjin and at Chosin. And I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate growing up quite what that meant. He didn’t talk, he didn’t dwell upon his experiences in the Wars. He wasn’t regaling us with War stories at the dinner table, but I’ve come to more appreciate it as I’ve become an adult. And I also learned even, and I can talk about this later, during my time at CIA, I encountered people who my father mentored, who I had no idea about his relationship with these people. They figured out who I was and came to me and told me about their own personal experiences with him and how he influenced their lives and led them to the CIA in one way or another.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. What an incredible service to have been a in combat three to four Wars and just… But I read not too long ago, a long description of the battle too as a reservoir and just how brutal that was and incredible sacrifice. And in fact, he was still in Vietnam right after you were born, wasn’t he?

Courtney Elwood:

He actually served two tours. He was one of the first in and one of the last out. So he did a tour in 1965 to 66. And while he was on that tour, my sister was born. He came home. I was born in 1968 and then he returned from 1970 to 72.

Ken Wainstein:

So you spent a year or two without your dad?

Courtney Elwood:

Sure. I don’t remember but I do know that it was much harder on my mother dealing with all of us.

Ken Wainstein:

I imagine. So how about your mom?

Courtney Elwood:

So my mom is another sort of great American story. She was the daughter of immigrants. Her mother was born in Italy. Her parents divorced when she was 18 months old, which at the time was sort of unprecedented. And so she was raised by her sort of mother’s family who spoke Italian at home and all of her nearly a dozen aunts and uncles who all live together in quite poor conditions, but a very full family household. She slept in a bed with four of her aunts and uncles. She was very poor, but was very loved. But then she was sent off when she was about 11, probably because of the depression to live in California with her father, who she was sort of estranged from. She bounced around in California. And then she was at around by the time she was 16, but she didn’t sort of let any of those adverse conditions sort of lead her to a life that she didn’t want to live. So she kept trying to find out where she belonged and was quite adventuresome and would bounce around from California to Colorado.

She did a stand up in Alaska and she ultimately ended up joining the foreign service as a secretary because I think she wanted to see what the world was about. And so she spent most of the 1950s and posts around the world and Manila the far East, a little bit in Hong Kong and then in London and ultimately in the Dominican Republic where she met a Naval attache named Edwin Simmons. She thought he was sort of a pompous jerk ass at the time, but when they returned to Washington-

Ken Wainstein:

Most of us are.

Courtney Elwood:

… they got reacquainted and they were married about a year later in 1962.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s a great story. So she and your dad, they’re both depression kids, lived through that experience and having parents at the same age and having spent time, not only with them, but also their friends at the same vintage, I think there is a common trait that they just sort of they were accustomed to not having much. No one around them had much and so they didn’t really complain later on in life because everything they had was better than what they’d grown up with, which was a tough thing to deal with, but it probably was a blessing for their outlet for the rest of their lives. And I think it is a trait of that generation.

Courtney Elwood:

I think that’s very true. I think that’s very true. I think in some ways it’s harder on our own kids who feel like they don’t know how to define themselves relative to their parents who have achieved so much.

Ken Wainstein:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Interesting. And then she ended up owning an antique shop here in town, didn’t she?

Courtney Elwood:

She did indeed. I was in kindergarten, again, she was a little itching to get out of the house and have her own adventure that she could still have. And so she started a business with two other friends. They each pitched in $200 and then she had an antique store for 30 years in Alexandria.

Ken Wainstein:

So let’s head up to your college time. I’m sure you had a number of different schools you could have chosen from, you opted to go to Washington and Lee down in central Virginia. And in fact, you went down there as only the second class of women that the school had admitted after it had started admitting women the year before. So this question is why did you decide to go to W&L? I mean, obviously I’m sure there were good odds for dating purposes, but beyond that, what other things about W&L drew you there as opposed to other schools?

Courtney Elwood:

As the most things I think in my life, it’s a bit of serendipity as well as a little bit of conscious decision-making. As you know, Ken, my sister was at Sweet Briar College with your wife, then girlfriend. I think you started dating her when she was at Sweet Briar, I don’t know. I had visited my sister as Sweet Briar College which was just as an all women’s college, about an hour away from Washington and Lee. And as a high school student, I would visit my sister at Sweet Briar and we would go over the mountain to Washington and Lee, and it was super fun, right? It was exciting and fun, particularly for a high school student. And so when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to college, I naturally thought of the University of Virginia, but I had literally 30 kids from my high school went off to University of Virginia.

So I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing. And that this Washington and Lee option seemed all exciting. It was new because it was only the second class of women. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to be the first class of women at W&L, but it seemed like a nice option, a small liberal arts school. And then I also believe that the interview or the visit to the school has a lot to do with it, even though it’s perhaps not the most rational decision making to base it on, boy, it was a beautiful day and a nice guy showed me around and he drove me around in his Saab convertible. And it was a done decision at that point. And it turned out to be a great one.

The school was very small and it allowed me to be a big fish in a little pond, particularly as a woman there. And the ratio was seven men to one woman. And therefore it was a bit of an opportunity to be a pioneer. And if you spoke up in class as a woman, you were immediately labeled as sort of like a crazy feminist. I mean, literally people would say, “Well gosh, I won’t date Courtney Simmons because she speaks up in class.” Which is insane, particularly in retrospect, but it was the way it was. But I flourished there. And the professors were attentive and interested in me and I was able to excel there and I ended up really enjoying it. I took a year abroad, came back and finished there in 1990.

Ken Wainstein:

Did you find that attitudes changed, these view of women during the time that you were there? I mean, I think W&L, it’s known for being sort of generally conservative. Gender wise, it was obviously because it was all male school. Did you see that maybe people adjusted to the idea of women speaking their mind in class?

Courtney Elwood:

Yes and no. I mean, there was always this small group who sort of would get in your face at a party or in things to say you don’t belong here. And it always infuriated me when they were either my classmates or men that were younger than me, because I was like, you chose to come here knowing there were women so I don’t understand your position. And there were some dinosaur professors who literally would have different office hours for men and women. They would start at the beginning of class and say, “Ladies, my office hours are 3:00 to 5:00 on Wednesdays. Gentlemen, come see me any time you want.” But that was a minority.

I think most of the professors were thrilled to have women in the class because they didn’t raise the standard. And by the time I graduated, I remember being at one of the local bars, The Palms and having a fairly drunk alumni come up to me. And I was like… You sort of tense up. And he said, “Man, you’ve made my diploma worth so much more because it’s so much better than it was before I got there.” So I think there was a recognition over time that admitting women raised the standards of the university and civilized it in a certain way. It’s not quite as much debauchery in the life.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. The civilizing force have a side story impact on a whole bunch of men in one place.

Courtney Elwood:

And it was incredibly conservative. And I probably didn’t appreciate how conservative until I went off to Yale Law School.

Ken Wainstein:

There’s a contrast there.

Courtney Elwood:

Oh my gosh. Yeah. I was joking with somebody who called from Washington and Lee recently that I think the only time I saw any sort of outrage or protest at W&L was when they switched from Coke to Pepsi in the dining hall. There was no-

Ken Wainstein:

Really important causes in life.

Courtney Elwood:

Yes. Exactly. There was no other cause between 1986 and 99.

Ken Wainstein:

Apartheid, those kind of things, no big deal.

Courtney Elwood:

None of that.

Ken Wainstein:

But don’t touch our Coca Cola.

Courtney Elwood:

Exactly. And obviously I knew that it was male dominated and there were these pockets of pretty serious chauvinism, but I don’t think I appreciated fully the context until I went to Yale Law School where immediately upon arrival, there was huge controversy because the women and men were not being called upon in exactly the same ratio, right? So in class, women were not being called on in the same numbers as men. And this was a huge outcry. And I thought you have no idea. You really have no idea what discrimination is like. So it was good. And it was an important lesson for me on the context within which you are sitting is so important. Because at W&L, I was a crazy liberal because I spoke up in class.

And so everybody said, “Oh, she must be a liberal.” Right? Because I spoke up, whereas at Yale, because I came from the South and probably dressed conservatively, I was immediately labeled as a conservative. And also because I probably espoused some principles in class or questioned some assumptions that others did not. So I did take from that the context within which you’re sitting, is so important to how you are defined on a political spectrum or ideological spectrum.

Ken Wainstein:

And then when you finished up at Yale, you went off to clerk, as I said earlier, you clerked first for Judge Michael Leudig in the first circuit. And I think you said you were his first woman clerk. I think you told me that previously, is that right?

Courtney Elwood:

That’s true. Yeah. I was.

Ken Wainstein:

And was that notable for that particular reason?

Courtney Elwood:

I think it was. So one of the reasons I think Judge Leudig was drawn to my application was because he too went to Washington and Lee. So he had gone to an all male institution and sort of been through sort of male dominated career path. And so having a woman in his chambers probably was a bit of a change for him, which he adjusted to. And I learned a ton from him. He is demanding of himself and those around him and exacting in his work, which taught me a lot.

Ken Wainstein:

Okay. So you did that for a year, and then you went off to the big, big league to be a clerk at the Supreme Court for then Chief Justice Rehnquist. So I guess first, how does one become a Supreme Court clerk? I mean it’s not like I get out of law school and walk into the Supreme Court with my D- average and land a law clerk position, what’s the process for people who haven’t gone through it?

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. So the process is… I’m a big believer that they’re not just 40 people who are qualified to be Supreme Court law clerks, there’s hundreds. And there’s a bit of serendipity again, and being chosen by one of the justices. You applied at the time and I know the times changed, maybe it’s a different period of time now, when you’re in your third year of law school. So even before you’ve done your first clerkship, you toss in applications, I applied to all the justices. And then you’re lucky, you have recommendations obviously, people speaking on your behalf, but for the chief, you never know what’s going to spark his interest. One of the things about the chief is he asks you to go back to high school, looking back on your resume. So he wanted all of his applicants to go all the way back to high school, because he wanted to see sort of the whole person.

And then there would be something in your application that would catch his interest. So one of someone of his clerks just had a deep interest in the Boxer Rebellion and that was interesting to the chief. And so the chief hired that person because the chief pick people who he wanted to spend a year with and not people that necessarily were the first in their classes. And the other thing I admired about the chief, and there were many things, is he also didn’t pick only from the sort of Yales, Harvards, Stanfords of the world. He looked broadly and was quite well known for hiring people out of the University of New Mexico or University of Arizona or other law schools, because he rightfully believed that if you were exemplary at one of those institutions, you would be a wonderful law clerk. And he looked for more than just the caliber of your scholarship or your legal skills in when he chose clerks.

Ken Wainstein:

So tell us about him. I mean, he was the chief justice, I guess, from between Burger and Chief Justice Roberts, right?

Courtney Elwood:

Yes.

Ken Wainstein:

So had a long stretch there and obviously everybody loves to observe the Supreme Court and the justices and try to know where they’re coming from or what they’re thinking and how they’re going to rule. You had the wonderful opportunity to actually be by his side for a year. Tell us what kind of person was he? He had a certain persona about him, but you knew there was a lot more there than just the persona.

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. I could talk endlessly about the chief. So he was very much a role model for me, right? So he took his work really seriously, but he didn’t take himself that seriously. And one of his former clerks described him as entirely unpretentious, unflaggingly decent and at times mischievously funny, which is really, I think, a great and apt description for him. So he had this enormous intellect and sort of encyclopedic recall for all the court’s decisions. But at the same time, he had so many interests outside of the law and outside of this work. He was an enthusiastic singer and fascinated by geography and could talk endlessly about the weather. He obviously adored his family.

He followed every sport, basketball, college football, he swam, he painted, he wrote books, even though he was sort of self-deprecating about the quality of his writing. He wrote several books on areas of things that interested him. He backed on everything, like everything, the weather, who was going to win every sport, famously bet on elections, but then decided during Bush versus Gore that he had to-

Ken Wainstein:

Probably not a good idea.

Courtney Elwood:

… not go through with that bet. So he socialized, he played cards. He just was such an incredibly well-rounded person, that it was a wonderful role model to spend time with him.

Ken Wainstein:

And a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, correct?

Courtney Elwood:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ken Wainstein:

So I just got to ask about that. You weren’t there when he put the gold braids on or?

Courtney Elwood:

No, I didn’t. But he just wore them proudly and didn’t-

Ken Wainstein:

I love that.

Courtney Elwood:

He didn’t care when other people didn’t think that was a great idea or not. He thought it was a funny idea. And so he was going to go through with it. And so yes, he wore gold braids.

Ken Wainstein:

Just to bring this up to the current day, what we’re talking about is his decision to put gold braiding or whatever it is full on the sleeves of his robes.

Courtney Elwood:

He just thought that looked great. He didn’t have any other reason for it other than he thought it would look nice. So he had the Supreme Court seamstress and some gold ribbing around his sleeves. So he was a wonderful role model in so many ways including the fact that… And I think related to the fact that he was sort of this well-rounded person, he never let his sort of ideology or differences in judicial philosophy interfere with his relationships with members of the court. So he was a great role model in that regard too. And he’s famously friends with Brennan who Justice Brennan described the chief as his best friend on the court, because of course, before he became chief, he was there for many, many years. I think he was there a long while beforehand. And he was also very close with William Douglas and all members of the court. So I think that was another really important role model in my life.

Ken Wainstein:

Sort of like the Justice Scalia, Justice Ginsburg friendship that people often remark on two people with very different places on the political ideological spectrum, legal philosophy spectrum but very dear friends. So fast forward up actually to Justice Frank’s Memorial service in 2006 you spoke. You were one of the speakers, that must have been quite an honor.

Courtney Elwood:

It was. I was very touched. I spoke at a service at the court and then I was also a pallbearer, which was very moving.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s awesome. Okay. So let’s move up to your time in the White House. So you joined the White House right at the front end of the George W. Bush administration, that’s early 2001. And this is pre-911, obviously. Let me just sort of ask you generally, how did you end up sort of in the George W. Bush orbit and in the White House, more serendipity?

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. I would love to say that I plotted all this out, but I didn’t. I was not a big campaign volunteer. I supported George Bush in that election, but not actively, but I just got a phone call. So I was sitting at my desk at Kellogg Huber and it was December after Bush versus Gore was decided and somebody called me and said, “Hey, somebody gave me your name. We’re interviewing for the counsel’s office, would you be interested in it?” And not having given it an enormous amount of thought to going into the administration, I had kind of thought in the back of my mind, hey, if I were going to go in, that would be a really cool place to go, right? To have an insight into the White House. And so I was incredibly fortunate that somebody just recommended me to Al Gonzales and his team when they were starting to staff up the counsel’s office.

Ken Wainstein:

Incredible experience to work in the White House. So just to ask the question that probably everybody asks you and I’ve gotten asked over the years, what was it like working for President Bush? What was your take on him as a man or as a leader?

Courtney Elwood:

He’s one of those individuals who I’ve encountered who when he steps in a room, he commands it, right? And he doesn’t command it because he’s sort of loud, or there’s not a negative energy around him. He’s a very positive thinker. And sort of this warmth about him and a genuine concern for humanity, right? So whether it’s… At the end of my time working in the counsel’s office, I was pregnant and obviously pregnant he was very interested immediately when he saw me talking about having a baby, right? And he’s a very busy man and I wasn’t unique in that role. He really genuinely cared about the people that worked there. And also sort of humanity more broadly through his work in Africa, through his activities domestically, he had a genuine compassion and a compassion conservative got to be a bit of a sort of meme to use today’s parlance.

But I think it really fit him very well. He was incredibly sharp. And as you say, he would sort of go to the heart of the issue very quickly. One of the regular meetings we had as associate counsel with him was about judges and picking judges. And he would always come prepared. He would have always read the materials and he would challenge us, right? He wasn’t a rubber stamp. We would present whoever the candidate was. And he would challenge us. He really was sincere about wanting to have a diverse pool of applicants and nominees. He would challenge us to go back and look again if he didn’t think that we had sort of brought the best candidates to him and he would do it kindly but directly and you had to be sort of always on your toes.

Ken Wainstein:

You always had to be on your toes with him.

Courtney Elwood:

And you always had to be an early.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s right. And early doesn’t mean one minute before, he’s 10 minutes before otherwise you walk in and they’re sitting there waiting for you and staring at you as you walk in the door, which is not the position you want to be in walking into the oval office. He was always functional. He ran a great meeting. You got everything done and you got out the door so that you could go carry out whatever had been decided in the meeting. He set just the right tempo. So let me ask you about 911. You were in the White House on 911?

Courtney Elwood:

Eventually. So everybody remembers their story. I’ll preface this with a little anecdote. So my husband, John, had gone to work for Mike Chertoff in the front office of the criminal division at the Department of Justice. And so John, I remember about two or three months before 911, carried off and divvied up the portfolio for each of the people that was working in the front office. And I remember John calling me and saying, “I have terrorism in Mexico. This is going to be awful.” Right? He thought there’s nothing going to happen. Snooze that, fast forward to 911, the day of 911, I was sitting in my kitchen and watching the Today Show waiting for a chimney repairman. And I saw the first plane hit and I called John, who was in the criminal division and said, “Oh, this is terrible.” Thinking it was just some terrible tragic accident.

And then saw the second plane hit and knew immediately that it wasn’t an accident and then said, “Well, I need to get to work.” So I obviously didn’t wait for the repairman. I drove into the city, saw the Pentagon, continued over the bridge and was entering the White House complex and one of the security guards, it was much easier to get close to the White House at the time, said, “Lady, I don’t know why you want to come in here right now because there’s a plane on its way.” I don’t know, being a fool, I guess at the time I didn’t stop. I just thought, well, no, I need to go and help in some way. So I went on in and I think didn’t really understand the gravity of the matter until I was in the West wing and I was going up elevator with the guy who’s the head of legislative affairs at the time.

And I sort of said, “Oh, the security guy said there was another plane coming.” And I saw Nick’s face just get completely white. And I thought, “Oh, shit man.” I think at that moment I realized what was happening. And we went upstairs to the council’s office, actually met up with Brett Kavanaugh. At the time we were both up there, we were quickly shuttled down to the basement in the West wing where we waited for a while in the mess hall. And then you know it’s serious when the secret service comes in as they did and said, “Get out. Ladies, take your shoes off and run.” So we did. We all ran out of the gate, waited in Lafayette Park for a little while until we sort of organized and then moved to a conference room, sort of a corporate office building made themselves their office space available to us.

Ken Wainstein:

But the danger was very real and that’s when Flight 93 was still in the air, right? But for the passengers taking it down in Pennsylvania, it might well have come in to DC, which was it’s obvious destination and the Capitol or the White House were the most likely targets. Okay. So after 911, it’s sort of all terrorism all the time. A very real belief that there’s a second wave coming, we’ve got to prevent the second wave of attacks and then we have to find out who was involved and who was responsible for the first attack and try to build up our counter-terrorism capabilities. So, as I recall, one of the things you focused on in those initial weeks and months was getting the Patriot pass through Congress, which is… Tell us in brief what the Patriot was, sort of how it came about, what its purpose was and how successful you think it was.

Courtney Elwood:

So the day after… The next day we were let back into the White House. And I was invited up to the counselor’s office and told to work with other members of our team, including Brett to go up to the hill and start beginning to negotiate what would eventually become the Patriot, which was an attempt to just ensure that the intelligence community and the law enforcement community had the authorities they need to prosecute this what would become known as the War on Terror? It was a dusting off of some want to have provisions that both FBI had in their file cabinet and the justice department had in its file cabinet and the intelligence community and the CIA had.

And in an attempt to ensure that the wall which become known to soar was known as the wall between the intelligence community and the FBI was broken down, that there was additional authorities that allowed not unfettered surveillance authorities or draconian authorities to take people into custody or anything of that nature, but really modifying existing statutes in a way that provided additional latitude, some additional collection authorities, call detail records and the like. And at least on the Senate side, there was now pushback. In other words, we were working with Lahey and Lahey staff and everybody was working towards a common goal. Yeah, there was negotiation around particular language, but nobody was advocating against sort of the idea of the needed reforms broadly speaking.

Ken Wainstein:

It’s interesting when you sort of go back and look at the Patriot Act with the perspective of how many years it’s been now. People often will talk about the Patriot, label as an overreach. Partly because I think it’s a misunderstanding as to what the Patriot contains and what it doesn’t contain. Some people think that the rendition program was in the Patriot. No, it wasn’t. So was this sort of this set of capabilities, many of which the law enforcement tells this communities, as you said, had wanted for many years and they now were able to get the authority from Congress because of what had happened on 911. And then as you said, bringing down the wall.

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. I think that in the immediate, I would say, six months to a year after the Patriot Act, it’s suffered from some sort of bad communication, right? So I remember sitting with my-

Ken Wainstein:

Like the name itself.

Courtney Elwood:

Yes. Sitting with my husband watching one of these law dramas on the thing. And somebody’s saying, “I can throw you in jail for six months and forever, because haven’t you read the Patriot Act?” So it got some bad PR and it got picked up in the movies and TV shows without much basis in sort of what it actually said or did. And I think it reinforced for me and I’ve seen this again and again in my time in government is the importance of a communication strategy can be as important as the underlying activity that a government agency is engaged in.

Ken Wainstein:

Sure. So the Patriot Act kept you busy after 911, getting it passed. And then of course, after that, getting implemented throughout the executive branch and then defending it. Fast forward, you take off some time to have your first child and then get called back to the White House, but this time to OVP. And why don’t you tell us what OVP is?

Courtney Elwood:

The Office of the Vice President. So Vice President Cheney and his counsel at the time, David Addington. So David had worked very closely with all of us in the Counsel’s of the President’s Office, White House Counsel’s Office, and was sort of an integral part of the team. So when I was leaving in May of 2002, he said, “Hey, if you want to come back and work for me.” He didn’t have anybody working for him at the time and that he would be happy to have me. So I was excited to do that. That was a great opportunity, a different portfolio. The vice-president obviously has this role in the executive branch, but he obviously is also the president of the Senate. And at the time 40% of the Vice-President’s staff are Senate employees. So did all sort of ethics advising. It was during the re-elect. So a lot of the sort of political action questions, the hatchback questions and the like. I worked with the vice-president staff on, which was a completely different portfolio, but a fun one.

Ken Wainstein:

And Vice-President Cheney having been secretary of defense was a strong voice in national security specifically, right? And played an active role in the inter-agency process as related to national security matters.

Courtney Elwood:

He did all that though that was not my portfolio. So I didn’t see him up close on those issues, but certainly he was a respected member of the team, but this sort of caricature that he was sort of the puppet master is not consistent with my experience at the White House certainly.

Ken Wainstein:

So what you’re referring to when you say puppet master is this sort of image that was put out there by some critics that Vice-President Cheney was sort of calling the shots in the White House as opposed to the president calling the shots. And I can tell you from my time at the White House, I certainly didn’t see that at all, that was that they ended the administration, but it sounds like you didn’t see that toward the beginning of administration either.

Courtney Elwood:

I didn’t and that image makes me reflect on… So at CIA, as you walk into the CIA Museum, and it was on my way to the elevator bank that I used to take up to the seventh floor, there’s an image of President Bush and Camp David immediately after 9/11 sitting with Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet. And it’s a very powerful image and it makes it very clear both that he was in command and the pain that he had on his face about the experience and that Dr. Rice was a really important voice on national security matters. And it is… I don’t want to say it’s sexist to ignore her, but I do think it’s very raw to ignore her role in national security at the time vis-a-vis Vice-President Cheney because I don’t think that Dr. Rice would take the back seat to the vice president.

Ken Wainstein:

Or to anybody.

Courtney Elwood:

Or to anybody.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. Okay. So let’s move forward in time. So you go back to private practice after your time at OVP and then 2017 you’re in private practice, got a very good practice, things are going well. It sounds like you get another call about coming back in.

Courtney Elwood:

I did. And again, I’m going to sound like I’m just sort of bouncing through my life and not planning, but I do remember this occasion very well because I remember it came out of the blue. And it was Tuesday, January 24th, 2017, and the night before on a Monday night, so January 23rd, I was at a 50th birthday party. Sort of remember when we could all go to parties, we socialized and of course having been three days after the inauguration, the conversation sort of moved to Trump and the new administration, and it was a party that had many of people I worked with at the Bush administration. So nationally people were talking about, “Hey, are you going to go back in or not going back in?” And I said in sort of my usual like emphatic, “No doubt.” I had absolutely no interest in joining the new administration.

And I made that very clear. I just had no interest in doing that. And that was still my position the next day when I got a phone call from an old friend who asked me if he could put up my name to Mike Pompeo who was going to be the director of CIA. And he wanted to put my name forward as being the general counsel and my position at the time was the same as the night before like, “Hey, thanks. But no, thanks.” I’m sitting this one out. Yeah, no, I don’t need to think about it. And then I gave my old friends some other names to consider, and then I did… I took my dog, who’s sitting here by my side, out for a walk. And I was on that walk and I remember exactly where it happened. I was on South Lee Street, not far from your old house when I got… I mean, it was like a burst of cold air.

And I thought of my father and I thought that he had given 40 years and endured three Wars for this country and that there’re men and women every day in the military and the national security risking their lives. And a lot was not being asked of me to give up a couple of years of my life to be their lawyer. So I went back to my desk where I’m sitting right now and I typed an email to my friend and I apologized for being so sort of apathetic about the opportunity he was presenting to me and that I was not being asked to risk my life, but frankly merely my reputation. And that if he thought I was a good person for the general counsel of CIA or any other national security position that I’d be honored to serve. And four days later I was driving into the Campus of Langley for the first time to interview with Mike Pompeo.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s a wonderful story. Thank goodness for the blast of cold air. As somebody who’s very closely to the agency and cares a lot about it, I’m very glad that your dad’s still up to you. So you meet with Mike Pompeo, you get the nod for that position, but it’s a position that requires Senate confirmation interestingly. As I understand it, in the CIA the positions that require Senate confirmation are the director and the general council and the inspector general. Interesting that the general counsel position is one that requires confirmation. For instance, the position I held at the FBI general counsel did not, what accounts for that?

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. There were a few times in CIA’s history, really going back a long, long way, where infamous missteps by CIA… There’s been upon review of view that the lawyers were not independent enough. So originally sort of post 1947, they found the lawyers among the operators and the analysts, “Hey, oh, you have a law degree, why don’t you also be our lawyer?” So that was original. And then there was a period of time after some crisis or mistake where they said, “Okay, you need to have more lawyers coming from civil life not being from CIA.” And then it was not until the 1996 or 97 that the general counsel position became Senate confirmed. And I think it was also underscoring of the need for an outside voice and independence. Because as you know, Ken, having spent a lot of time around CIA, it is a very insular place. And even the lawyers, they start their career there and then they’ll spend decades there. That there was a need for outside voices to come into the general counsel’s office. And that was underscored by the need for Senate confirmation.

Ken Wainstein:

So the agency has sort of, generally speaking, two different categories of personnel, the folks who were on the analytical side, who were analyzing the intelligence and then the operators who were collecting intelligence. And it’s your job as CIA General Counsel to provide advice to those two groups. And you touched on this a moment ago, talking about the origins of OGC. I’ve been on your general counsel advisory group and on that same board for your predecessors, and one of the perennial issues is sort of how best to situate the lawyers and CIA to provide good effective advice to the operators.

Is it better for them to be housed with the operators or to have them up in OGC and then servicing the operators from a distance? I just raised that as an example of some of the challenges that you have, and it’s not different from, let’s say, an assistant US attorney or a criminal prosecutor who’s working with agents who are building a criminal case, same idea, you’re assisting those people and trying to run their investigation at the same time trying to explain what the boundaries are and the limits are, but trying to facilitate their efforts to get to the truth. Tell us about that. That must’ve been an interesting thing to step into given the unique culture of the agency.

Courtney Elwood:

There are more than 150 attorneys at CIA. About half of them are what we call sort of forward deployed or embedded with a component and sit side by side with either the analyst or the operators, or the science technologists. And there have been debates over time about whether or not that’s a good idea or not a good idea. It’s never going back in my opinion, right? We’re never pulling back those people in part because the workforce wants their lawyers close and that’s a good thing, right? So they work side by side. They get to know them. They have a common objective, they understand the objective, they understand their business better if they’re sitting side by side with them. You always have to worry about sort of capture that your lawyers are being sort of co-opted and captured by their component. But one of the ways we mitigate that is that our attorneys rotate. I still say ours, CIA’s attorneys rotate.

Ken Wainstein:

It’ll take a while to get past that.

Courtney Elwood:

So every few years, three or four years, our attorneys move to a different component or back to main OGC or the centralized parts of OGC, sort of the common ethics, contracts law, intelligence support litigation, inside the hub and spokes model. And having them move around, I think, protects against it to a degree. But it is something that the attorneys themselves have to have a very clear idea of what their role is and ensure that they have the ability to say yeah when they need to, “No, we can’t do it that way. Let’s see if we can do it another way.” But sometimes you can’t get to yes. And by and large the workforce wants to do the right thing. They want to stay on the right side of the law. You do have sometimes in the heat of the moment some can get tough on the lawyers and I heard more than once my attorneys speak more than once, “People are going to die if you don’t.”

And you have to be strong enough and you have to know that your leadership within OGC, the Office of General Counsel, and then more broadly in the agency, you have to know that they have your back so that you can say, “Yeah, I’m not going to be pressured into something.” So it’s a difficult job, but it’s a fantastic job.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. And it comes with challenges that other general counsel positions just don’t have. And I use my frame of reference FBI, OGC. I mean, for instance, we had US laws, we had internal policy, we had the attorney general guidelines and executive order 12333 and we just followed that and it was easy. You guys operate a little differently. You got those various rules, internal rules and laws and constitutional requirements that you have to satisfy, but then you also have the workforce that’s operating overseas in contexts where they might be having to take activities that might not align with the foreign laws. And you’re sort of having to deal with that. That’s sort of a unique challenge that you have. Also you have to deal and the agency has to deal with the coordination or cooperation with foreign services.

And a lot of your effectiveness is based on how well you work with foreign services who have similar objectives, who have similar enemies or enemies in common. But that raises challenges because some of those foreign services don’t operate in accordance with the same rules or respect for human rights that we would. And there are some judgments sometimes, value judgements that aren’t really based on strict laws that have been made. I assume that you, as general counsel, were involved in those kind of deliberations.

Courtney Elwood:

I can speak on… You have a lot of issues you touched on and speaking about the relationship to our foreign intelligence services that we work closely with or that the agency works closely with, that was one of the sort of, I won’t say surprises, but one of the things I hadn’t had any experience with. So it’s hard to overstate the important role that foreign partners play to the work that CIA is able to do abroad, but it does present as you alluded to a number of sort of legal challenges. As I’m sure you can appreciate, we often deal with issues arising out of the human rights practices of some other governments around the world. And although it can be incredibly depressing to learn the details of other government’s practices, it’s also sort of was quite reassuring to see how seriously the agency took it and it was treated across the entire US government and how much thought was placed and time was placed to sort of dealing with that issue.

So there are a couple ways that we did that. One is that our attorneys or the CIA’s attorneys help administer internal CIA processes for identifying human rights abuses by foreign partners and designing mitigation plans to ensure that CIA provided information or CIA provided assistance was only used for lawful purposes. And then in addition to that, a substantial amount of my time and the attorney’s time was spent ensuring that CIA officers are not in any way at the risk of either civil or criminal liability under US law based on their engagement with these foreign governments. As you were also alluding to, the legal framework for evaluating those issues is incredibly fact-specific and complex. And there was sort of a great deal of information that we had to gather and work through for each new pattern which recurred with a frequency that was again at times depressing.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. And of course that is an ongoing issue, right? I mean, it’s not unique to this era. I mean, you look at the cold war and some of our allies in the cold war that we were linked arms with where people and governments and countries that had abysmal human rights records. And the question is where do you draw the line between sort of aligning your interests and actually coordinating operations? That’s a tough thing to do. So one of the unique areas, not unique to the CIA, but you probably face that challenge more than any other agency’s general counsel. Another issue that is relatively unique to you is the Convert Action Program. So why don’t you just give us a little overview of what convert action is definitionally and then what the process is, and sort of how that process grew out of earlier situations.

Courtney Elwood:

Right. Like so much of CIA, history dictates where it’s sort of the legal authorities and legal constraints have got, right? So you can sort of… It’s always… One of the things that I enjoyed doing during my tenure as general counsel was helping to ensure that the lawyers had a full appreciation of the history of CIA. And we did some fun time sort of doing some history reviews. But let’s step back. It might be helpful for the audience to understand broadly speaking, CIA has sort of four functions under statute. So one is collecting intelligence, another is evaluating intelligence, the analysis function that you alluded to. A third one that people sort of don’t often think about or talk about is that CIA or the director of CIA has responsibility for coordinating human intelligence across the intelligence community. So that role does not belong to the director of national intelligence, it remained with the director of CIA.

And then there’s what we refer to as the fourth function under the 1947 National Security Act. And that fourth function is where you find the root of the authority for convert action, and it authorizes CIA or the director of CIA to perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting national security as the president or the director of National Intelligence may direct. So that’s an incredibly broad authority. So CIA’s positive authorities are incredibly broad, and then that one is the broadest. But as you alluded to, CIA also has not only the positive authorities, but these constraints that grew out of missteps along the way. And the one you alluded to was the convert action statute, which is section 503 of the 1947 Act. And it sets up a process that requires two things. One, it requires the president to have a written finding that meets certain criteria to authorize convert action.

But in order to understand what convert action is, you kind of have to understand not only how it’s defined in the act. So convert action means an activity or activities of the United States government to influence political, economic or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly. And then it has a series of… But that does not include traditional military activities, traditional counter-intelligence activities and the likes. So it’s those things where the US government, the president has decided he wants to or she wants to affect political, economic and military conditions abroad. But the intention at the time is to hide the hand of the US government.

Ken Wainstein:

So to use, as an example, sort of a notorious example would be the Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1961. That was a CIA operation. The front people were Cuban nationals, but it was run, funded and organized by the CIA. And then when everything went wrong and the administration had acknowledged that it was a CIA operation, but that would have been an earlier form of convert action.

Courtney Elwood:

Right. And for some time prior to the amendments of 1991, which really codified the specifics surrounding the notice requirements and the writing requirements of the convert action statute, there was a statutory requirement to keep Congress fully informed of convert action. But during Iran-Contra and the Reagan years, Congress was not kept informed of the activities the CIA was conducting. And as a result of that, there were amendments to the statute, again in 1991, which requires, with greater specificity, the written requirement by the president, and then a notification to the congressional intelligence committees. And then if there are any changes to a prior finding that is significant, then there needs to be another sort of notification process.

And then there’s additional procedures on top of that that are by presidential directive. And one thing that I’m not sure has gotten much attention is there was a very important national security directive in 79, which President George H. W. Bush signed in 1992, 93 time period, which then goes into much greater detail about how convert action findings are going to be promulgated and ultimately presented to him for signature. The process by which those were done, that document which was top secret was declassified in 2018. And I’m not quite sure what led to the declassification other than the 25 year period, but it’s a fascinating document.

And one of the things that I always found really interesting is that there’s a provision in it that says… And I don’t have the language in front of me, but it says something to the effect of, to the extent possible, you shouldn’t undertake convert action, that if it were disclosed, the American public would find not to be sensible, right? So it has this sort of kind of notion that whatever these findings of the convert action should be, it should be activity that the American public would be comfortable with, which I’m not quite sure how you implement that directive.

Ken Wainstein:

How do you define and implement that?

Courtney Elwood:

What part of the American public you look to but actually the notion itself is valuable.

Ken Wainstein:

Right. And the whole finding requirement as you and I discussed yesterday when we were preparing for this podcast today, you were explaining how the requirement that there be a presidential finding before authorization of a convert action sort of traces back to the perceived need for the president to own the convert action. Harking back, you mentioned earlier the Iran-Contra episode, where there was some concern that maybe the president wasn’t fully aware of what was going on, or at least people were not to be fully aware of what was going on when a convert action was being undertaken. And so one of the fixes for that was to make sure that anything that qualified as convert action would be only done pursuant to a finding authorized by the president himself or herself.

Courtney Elwood:

Right. And except in the event of extreme circumstances, it has to be written and signed prior to any activity being initiated.

Ken Wainstein:

One other area that’s sort of near and dear to my heart is the relationship between the CIA and the FBI. And we’ve talked about the culture of the CIA. One thing that has been much written about over the years is the fact that the CIA has a certain culture and the FBI had a different culture and that caused somewhat of a riff between the two agencies just some saying that the typical CIA officer was a Princeton grad who would then go into the spice service. And the FBI was more often a law enforcement person. The joke was a Fordham grad would go to do law enforcement in the FBI. Sort of over gross generalizations and oversimplifications about sort of the culture and approach that the personnel of each agency. But for whatever reason, as I started working with the Bureau and with the agency, you saw a very different world outlook.

I did see after 911 though, and maybe this was just the imperative of the time, but with a wall down and the agency and FBI personnel working arm in arm, having meetings every morning, starting at the oval office level, and then down through the ranks, I’ve seen a real evolution there, and I’ve seen that sort of different worldview is not so clear cut when you get agency and FBI personnel in the same room. I just wanted to get your perspective on that because you were in the justice department back in the earlier laws and now in the agency as of the late 10s, have you seen the same thing?

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. Well, first I’ll say that if there are any CIA officers listing, they’re going to like that sort of description of them as Princeton grads. I’m not sure that they would agree with it a 100% but they’re going to like it. I was very surprised. Not surprised. I was pleased to see the extent to which CIA officers and FBI agents are working very closely together now. And we have a… Again, I’ll use the wig, CIA has a large number, a much larger than you’d expect number of FBI officers who are embedded and detailed at CIA now. And they really look at their work together as a partnership and very collaboratively. I think that the relationship between FBI and CIA has probably never been more healthy. I think there’s a great deal of trust. There’s a huge amount of information flow and that from the sort of the line all the way to the top Director Haspel and Director Wray had a great, great, great working relationship and relied on each other and spent a lot of time together.

So I think it’s really terrific. I think it’s interesting to me just having been at the justice department that sort of officers have a great mistrust for the justice department while at the same time they have a great deal of trust in the FBI. And I think that comes from having had colleagues sort of in the target of the justice department in the past with respect to prosecutions from RDI and Rendition Detention Interrogation Program and the like, but I’d like to see more trust along the way with the justice department.

Ken Wainstein:

Yeah. Well, hopefully that’ll come too. So let me ask you this, just a $64,000 question, you stepped out of the CIA headquarters on January 20th, what do you see as the main challenge or top challenges for the agency in the years ahead?

Courtney Elwood:

Well, I’ll take the start because I do think that as a lawyer and ensuring that CIA operates within the bounds of the law that you have to protect the health of the office of the general counsel, right? So as you know, Ken, I felt that when I stepped in it was sort of understaffed, under-resourced under-trained. And in two years with the great support from Director Haspel. She was an exceptional champion of attorneys. We have made tremendous strides to sort of build up the health of the lawyers because I do think that’s vitally imperative to the longterm health of the agency. Now some folks at the agency or perhaps elsewhere won’t see that direct relationship, but if you don’t have a well-trained, well-resourced, well-staffed office of general counsel, there will be another mistake made by CIA.

And that will result either in preparement of its authorities or worse for the institution. And that’s not in the greater interest of sort of the national security. So I’ll start with that. But beyond that, I would say that the sort of big issues that I think the new team which I have great admiration for and respect for, will face are twofold. One is sort of handling data just like corporate America or other places in the government is CIA is a wash in data, right? And trying to sort of get its arms around that, ensuring that it is adjusting what should be adjusted, sharing what should be shared, making the best use of the data, and then not keeping it forever are important questions that the agency is going to have to sort of put its arms around in time.

And then the other issue is a broader taking the steps that CIA and FBI have made together, working relationship and broadening that out to other government agencies, sort of improving the relationships, integrating more in particular with the department of defense and to gain the sort of synergies of what CIA can bring to the table and what DOD can bring to the table and ensuring there’s transparency, integration and trust on both sides, I think will yield the type of benefits that we’ve seen in connection with the CIA, FBI relationship and having that sort of happen elsewhere. Because to face the sort of problems that we have ahead, and that we’re encountering now, sort of the 21st century adversary, we’re going to need a real robust whole of government approach to these national security questions. And that doesn’t mean like everybody playing their lane, it means a fully integrated national security apparatus. So those are the two.

Ken Wainstein:

Okay. So look, we’re coming up on quitting time here, but the last question is we’ve gone through this fascinating life that you’ve had so far, you’ve packed a lot into your 25 years, you’ve got a lot years left, what’s the next step for Courtney Elwood?

Courtney Elwood:

In the 13 days of my semi retirement, I haven’t given that an enormous amount of thought. At the moment I am busy attending to much as far as the maintenance around the household. But I do think that in whatever I want to do next, I have a lot of interests that go beyond national security. So it doesn’t have to be in the national security space. I do think that I might want to pursue returning to an idea that I had in the sort of 2016 timeframe about some work in civic engagement. I think that the events of the sad, sad, tragic events of January 6th, a horrifying scene that we all saw just brought to bear the importance of some meaningful civic engagement. And I’m hoping to do it in a very modest way, perhaps starting in the legal community and try to do some good in that area.

Ken Wainstein:

Try to get people talking to each other, not past each other.

Courtney Elwood:

Yeah. Because again, my role models like the chief, I think growing up, I took all that for granted, right? In my own law school career, my work with the chief, my time at Kellogg Huber, who is with people from very different political views but I see that people coming behind me from Yale Law School or in clerkships do not have the same viewpoint. And if people at Yale Law School or in these fancy clerkships are not able to engage with each other civilly and actually listen to each other and learn from each other and find some sort of common ground, I think we’re sort of doomed, right? And so I hope to make some sort of modest efforts in the legal community either at law schools or through many friends who’ve become judges to sort of try to build some bridges in those areas to see if we can do some good.

Ken Wainstein:

Amen. God knows we need it. So look, thank you for this. Thank you for talking about your role models obviously starting with your parents through the judges you clerked for and your colleagues and bosses in government. They’ve obviously all had a big impact on you, and they’ve a lot of good through that impact. And I’m just looking forward to seeing years ahead you as are the same role model to other generations as they’ve been to you and the good that can come with that. And your civic engagement, mission and passion has never been more important. So I wish you the best of luck with that. And I just want to say thanks for the service. Thanks for answering the call each time you received that call, it’s really important that you did. And thanks for being such a good friend and being with us here today.

Courtney Elwood:

Sure. My pleasure. It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Ken Wainstein:

That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks again to my guest, Courtney Elwood. That’s it for this week’s episode of the United Security Podcast, your hosts are Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Adam Waller. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the CAFE team is David Kurlander, Nat Wiener, Matthew Billy, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noah Azulai, Jake Kaplan, Jeff Eisenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margot Maley. And our music is by Allison Leyton-Brown. Thank you for being part of the CAFE Insider community.