3 Benefits Of Working For The CIA — General Counsel Of The CIA Spills The Beans
Although shows like Homeland and House of Cards make government work seem cutthroat and even hostile, Caroline Krass, General Counsel (GC) for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has had some contrasting experiences. In a time of often-intense political partisanship, for example, Krass was confirmed by a 95 to 4 Senate vote on March 13, 2014. With a deep commitment to public service, Krass has worked for more than twenty years in demanding and complicated legal roles for several government agencies, including at the White House as Special Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs, at the United States Department of Justice as Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, as well as the Departments of State and the Treasury, the National Security Council, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. While most of Krass’ work as the GC of the CIA is highly classified, Krass was able to share three top benefits with us.
1. Sophisticated discussions about risk. According to Krass, “the CIA confronts a full spectrum of legal issues — from the typical in-house issues related to personnel, contracting, litigation, and ethics issues, to more CIA-specific operational issues.” But, Krass also must train and lead her team of over 150 lawyers to educate their clients on legal risk and risk mitigation and to manage compliance, including compliance reporting. Krass explains that her clients at the CIA are sophisticated in their risk analysis, which leads to engaging discussions. “Taking big risks is an integral part of my clients’ jobs,” explains Krass. “For example, they may be working in a foreign country where their lives and those of others are in jeopardy.”
How does Krass deal with professional risk takers who stare in the eyes of danger and live on the edge every day? She relies on candor and transparency. “We communicate our true thoughts at all times,” she says. “We aim to be very clear about separating legal risks from policy ones.” According to Krass, her job is the same as a counsel’s job in private practice or a corporation; she and her team are charged with explaining how to achieve the desired mission lawfully, as well as the attendant legal and mission risks of particular courses of action. Saying “No, you can’t do this,” without further discussion, is not an option.
2. Leading an impressive team that has seen it all and cares for the United States deeply. Krass is one of only three political Senate-confirmed appointees in the CIA. In contrast, Krass’ staff is composed of career attorneys who have a long tenure with the agency. “The lawyers in my Office provide day-to-day continuity and bring a wealth of knowledge to the table,” Krass says, beaming with obvious pride. “My team is uniquely qualified.” While years of public service prepared her well for the job, harnessing the experience in her Office was a critical early challenge for Krass as, once confirmed, she had to quickly transition from being an outsider to leading the lawyers at the CIA. “I was very familiar with some of the most difficult legal issues facing the organization, but when I joined there were some new CIA-specific issues and new management and leadership responsibilities,” explains Krass. “I am grateful to my CIA team of lawyers and other staff that has worked tirelessly to provide seamless continuity and support.”
3. A job that manages to impress even the most aloof teenagers. Krass explains that for the most part her kids think her job is boring. “Because I’m an attorney, they imagine me just writing memos all day,” she jokes. Now that her kids understand more about her position at the CIA, however, there is a definite “cool factor.” “Recently I brought my son to my office for the CIA’s bring your child to work day, and I managed to impress him,” Krass says, with the delight of a parent who managed to surprise a “too-cool” teenager. “My son is very interested in ancient Rome, the Cold War, and current geopolitical events,” explains Krass. “He was beyond impressed when I showed him the AK-47 that once belonged to Osama Bin Laden.” The benefits of her job go beyond just momentary awe, however. Krass says, “I remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to share this part of my professional life with him.”
Krass works hard to maintain the right balance between her highly pressured job as the GC of the CIA and spending time with her family. It helps when that is the approach of the Commander in Chief. “When I was working at the White House and I left in the middle of the day to see my daughter in a play, the President of the United States was in the audience, watching his own daughter,” says Krass. “Seeing your boss prioritize their family gives you permission to do so, no matter who your boss is — even if he is the President of the United States,” she adds.
Ultimately, Krass says, “I feel very privileged to be the GC of the CIA. My amazing team and I contribute to the security of the United States every day while upholding the rule of law. And that is important work.” Krass’ job is both enviable and inspirational. Although not everyone can work for the CIA, lawyers should adopt her strategies of managing legal risk for their clients, maintaining a highly competent, collegial legal team, and prioritizing family. In fact, perhaps we should consider it a directive straight from the CIA.
This article was originally published by the Above the Law.