Former CIA operations chief Andrew Makridis reflects on CIA career – “Intelligence Matters”

This week on “Intelligence Matters,” Michael Morell speaks with former CIA chief operations officer Andrew Makridis about his 37-year career at the CIA. Makridis reflects on his front row seat to history as a presidential briefer to President George H.W. Bush. He offers his analysis on how the CIA has changed and improved since the Iraq WMD intelligence failure and Wikileaks breach. 


  • The PDB: “We spent almost an hour a day in the briefing from 8 to 9, the last part of it was mostly terrorism, but it’s an hour of the president’s day. And you really felt like you were really contributing. And to be honest with you, I don’t know what you thought about it Michael, about being a briefer, but the days that I thought I was successful or that that the agency was successful were days where you created a discussion.”
  • What went wrong at CIA with Iraq weapons of mass destruction? “When I looked at some of the WMD parts of Iraq- that describes the trap. We had people who really knew an area very, very deeply but maybe were unwilling to look left and right of that to say what other possibilities could there be … What changed post-Iraq WMD was really starting to take a look at how do we do analysis, how do we make sure we look at all the alternatives, how do we build that into how people do analysis as opposed to an afterthought or a nice to have?”
  • Cybersecurity at CIA post-WikiLeaks: “For the longest time we operated on this, we have a moat and a drawbridge. And once the drawbridge is down, you get over the moat, you’re in the castle. And that’s really not the way anything operates today. If you take a look at the world of cybersecurity, it’s a zero trust where they’re inspecting you at every moment, not physically, but every time you’re querying for information. So it’s moving in that direction. I’m happy to say that in the several years since that time, huge progress has been made.”

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MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It’s fantastic to have you on the show.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Thanks, Michael.

MICHAEL MORELL: I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time. And you just retired from the CIA. Your last job there was the number three at the agency, so-called chief operating officer. So congratulations on a great career.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Thank you.37 years went by pretty fast.

MICHAEL MORELL: 37, wow, I only have 33, so you got me there. So what I really want to do is focus on your career, because I think it’s been such an interesting one and I really think our listeners will be interested in it. And if we have some time we can talk about some of the issues of the day. If we don’t have time, we can always have you back again. So I want to start by asking how did you end up at the agency and what was your first job?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: I came to the agency as a student, as a grad fellow. I got my bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, and I was working on my master’s degree in computer science. And I was doing a teaching assistant gig. And one day when I came into school, there was a little note in my inbox. That’s not an electronic inbox, its the old fashioned wooden box. And it said, hey, there’s an information session tomorrow night. The government agency thought you might want to attend. It was all sort of very mysterious. And they never really named the government agency. And so I thought, okay, well, what the heck? So I went to the session and it was like a 90 minute information session. And it was probably 50 minutes before they actually uttered those three initials. CIA. It was very different time period in the 80’s than today. Today, we go out to universities and put a banner out. Here’s our table, come talk to us.

 I came in as a student in through the CIA student programs, which Michael, as you probably remember, is just a super way to get exposure to the agency, see if it’s the right fit for you. They can also see if you’re a good fit for them. And it’s something that’s been going on for decades and it’s going strong. So a great way to enter the agency. So after doing time as a student over that summer, then I came back as a full time employee. And what I did, my initial job was deploying computer systems to our field locations. And so again, this is the mid eighties, so cutting edge then compared to cutting edge today is a little bit almost laughable. But these were some of the first computers that we were putting out in the field. And so that was interesting. But that evolved into a little more of cyber operations. Very rudimentary. Again because we’re talking about sort of the model T of computers versus the Teslas that people have today. 

And there was no Internet, at least not a public Internet. It was the research thing among universities. So nothing was done remotely because you didn’t have that kind of access. So what I ended up doing was exploiting people’s computers, especially the ones that they carried around with them. I think at that time they were called portable as opposed to laptops because some of these things weighed over 5 pounds. So this wasn’t something that you just picked up and carried around easily. You go places where people don’t want you to be, and yet you take things they don’t want you to have. So it was a really interesting time period and a couple of very interesting jobs as an introduction to the organization.

MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, was there personal risk involved in what you were doing?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: That’s an interesting question. Yes, there was. But let me just put it in a little bit of context here. Let’s call it risk with a little r compared to risk with a capital R, which, you and I know officers at the agency take every day in dangerous locations, meeting with dangerous people in war zones. So I want to make sure that we get this in the right context. Yes, there was some risk involved because, again, you were in places where people didn’t want you to be and clearly you were stealing information. So you had to be careful. In any of those kinds of jobs, there’s occasionally times when you have your heart beat a bit faster because you have a bit of a close call. The interesting thing, Michael, is that at least for me, you don’t think about it at the moment. You’re just trying to get done what you got to get done. It isn’t till afterwards that it sort of sinks in like, oh my gosh, that was pretty close. I could have been in trouble if things had gone in a different way. So sometimes the nerves don’t strike you till later.

MICHAEL MORELL: For sure. So  Andy, then you, you transitioned to being an analyst. Why the switch? And what kind of issues did you work on early in your analytic career?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: The switch- I spent my first four years at the agency doing what I just described, and it was really living out of a suitcase, which was fun and exciting at first. But after a while it became more and more difficult. You go to places that I would tell people you typically wouldn’t go to on vacation. And the way this worked at the time was there’s a big whiteboard in the office and you would come back from one assignment and you would look for your name on the board to figure out where you would go next. And sometimes you had a week, sometimes two weeks, sometimes you had three days. And so that’s got to be an intense rhythm. And I wanted to try something different. I said at the top here, I have an engineering degree. And so I thought, maybe I should try to figure out where I can apply that more directly. And so I moved to do weapons analysis, and this was still the time of the Soviet Union. So it was weapons analysis of the Soviet Union, and in particular, it was Soviet space and their offensive space capabilities. At that time, again, in the late eighties, the Soviets had a very robust space program. They had well over 100 satellites in space somewhere on the order of 70% of them were military for military purposes. They were weaponizing space in many ways. Some people may remember they had copied the space shuttle and were preparing to launch that. I think they call it the Buron, which I think is snowstorm in Russian. They tested weapons in space. So it’s a really busy period. So I spent my time doing that until, of course, 1991. And then, Soviet Union went poof. It was gone in an instant. And that’s when I sort of moved over to do more of the proliferation work.

MICHAEL MORELL: And you did some work on North Korea, correct?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: That’s where I spent most of my time on North Korea’s missile program. And that was also becoming a really robust program. It had really started in the eighties and then by the early to mid nineties they had made some significant advances and they were on a pretty hefty drumbeat about launching missiles. At the same time they were making progress on their nuclear program. You had the combination of those two and all of a sudden North Korea becomes even more concerning than it would just normally be.

MICHAEL MORELL: So remind me, Andy, where the North Koreans got the technology to make these missiles.

ANDY MAKRIDIS:Most of their capabilities- they were trained in Russia, Soviet Union. A lot of them went to universities there or to special training academies. So that’s where they learned their missile technology. And then they were on the market purchasing components. If you took a look at many of their early missiles, you could see their Soviet heritage. And so that’s primarily the places where they went. And then certainly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was that issue where there were Soviet scientists basically for hire, looking for work. And the North Koreans took advantage of some of those opportunities and brought Russian missile and nuclear engineers into North Korea to further advance their programs.

MICHAEL MORELL: So if I remember correctly, it was during this time that you first met somebody that you and I both admire very much, George Tenet, who was the deputy director of CIA and then the director of CIA. Is that right?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Right. He was the deputy when I met him.

MICHAEL MORELL: And what did you think of him? He’s a bigger than life character.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: When this briefing got scheduled to talk about some North Korea issues, it’s a big deal, to sit down and spend time with the deputy director or the director of the CIA for that matter of course. It was myself and a couple of other people from my team. We must have spent a solid week preparing for it. And it was all material we knew. But all of a sudden, you’re playing at a different level. So we spent about a week going through the briefing, from dry runs to what kinds of questions could he ask, so on and so forth. So we had a briefing and they went fine. And then as we finished, George pointed at me and said, can you stay back? And you’re not really sure when that is the first time. 

MICHAEL MORELL: Good or bad right? 

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Could be good or bad. It’s like the teacher saying, hold on. Everyone left the room. He’s a very- everyone who has met him knows this, he is a very warm and cordial person. So he looked at me and he just stared at me for a second. And then he says to me, Τι νομίζετε. Which is Greek for, what do you think? And so I didn’t prepare for this question. So it was both asking me what I thought about the discussion because it was a controversial issue we were talking about. But it’s also a quick test in my Greek to make sure-

MICHAEL MORELL: Make sure you are for real that you are a real Greek 

ANDY MAKRIDIS: And I passed. Yeah. So George as I said is such a warm and disarming guy. If I could just digress for one moment, Michael. I had him come back in. This was a few years ago. To talk about something. And we went to the cafeteria to have lunch because we wanted to go to the cafeteria. And as we were sitting there, two of the people that work in the cafeteria that had been there forever came out to say hello to him. So I think that gives you a sense for how George connects with people of all types. I found him to be really intuitive, clearly very smart. He asked hard questions, but they were fair questions. And the nub of the questions always cuts to the heart of what the issue was. They weren’t superfluous questions. He’s very strategic in his thinking. You can tell he’s piecing things together. And then I guess maybe lastly, especially when you first get to know me,  I had the sense that he was not only assessing what I said, but he was assessing me. In the sense of, does this is guy know what he’s talking about. Is he comfortable with what he’s saying or is he just reading a script. All those those other factors that go into trust building. 

MICHAEL MORELL: And for those listeners who don’t know, George is Greek and he’s very proud of his Greek heritage. Hence the story that you just told. Andy you soon become a manager of analysts on missiles and nuclear issues. And then you have this sort of out-of-body experience where you become an executive assistant for John McLaughlin, who’s then the deputy director to George Tenet, who is by that time director. And I want to sort of ask you, what does an executive assistant do for a senior agency officer? What was the day to day like? And what did you learn in that experience?

ANDY MAKRIDIS:  It was a fascinating job. In some ways, you become a little bit of the alter ego for the person that you’re working for, trying to put yourself in their shoes to try to understand what it is that they need, when do they need it. So you become a bit of a filter. You’re sometimes the front door for people that need to see your your principal, whoever that person is. You’re also an organizer, because as you know from those jobs, it’s a fire hose. You end up spending a lot of time doing triage and trying to understand, of all of these important things, which things rise to the top and what do I have to make sure that my principal sees. In this case, it was John McLaughlin. 

That’s a tricky thing because you also have to figure out when to show him things or her because if you’re showing something to him two weeks early. It’s going to get lost and forgotten. If you show it to him the day after. Well, clearly, you missed the boat. So it’s sort of trying to get that timing right and also trying to really understand how he or she thinks and works. People work differently. Some people want to see lots of material. Some want to see a little bit. They want you to filter more or less, depending on their personal likes and dislikes. So you have to figure that out pretty quick and you have to become pretty quick. You have to be right. There is a bit of a break in period where hopefully you have a principal who gives you a little bit of slack like John McLaughlin certainly did with me. 

The other thing that I found myself doing that I’m sure that you did when you worked upstairs, Michael, is when you go into these meetings, you try to read the room and you try to sort of figure out, is there anything that’s not being said? And why isn’t that being said? And then you start to do some behind the scenes work to figure out, what’s going on here, or is there something more to this? I think building a network, sometimes maybe job one. Because there’s the org chart way of doing things and looking people up in the phone book and all that kind of thing. But you and I both know that’s not really the way things work. You have the right people, the right contacts, and you can figure out what’s going on across the agency because in many cases, the principals sort of looking at you to get an idea of what are people thinking, what’s going on. To get to the gist, because as you get at these jobs and the more senior the job the less contact and it’s hard to figure things out. I worked for John. Michael, both you and I know John McLaughlin. He is certainly one of the best, a real gentleman. He told me his words of advice to me when I started were, Andy, I just want to tell you that you have one thing that you should remember above all else. And I said, sure John, what’s that? And he said, one day you’ll be released back into the general population and you won’t have protection of the Warden. So conduct yourself accordingly.

MICHAEL MORELL: That’s good advice. I wish George had given me that advice when I was his EA.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: I have to say, a lot of this got put to the test on 9/11 because I was up there working for John on 9/11. And he was in a VTC, a video conference in another room. And after the first plane struck, we were like, what? Was that an accident? What happened? And then the second plane struck and it was like, okay, now we know it’s not an accident. So I had to go to another room down the hall and find him. And people were already beginning to talk about it. And then I saw the monumental decisions that they had to make. George and John right then and there. There’s no time to, let’s have a meeting to discuss, do we evacuate the building? Who do we tell that has to stay? Do we leave the seventh floor, which we did, because that’s the most vulnerable place you can be right on the top floor of the building. And so some of those things that I learned along the way- the networks became hugely valuable because at that point, you’re acting on instinct and you’re calling and talking to people. There’s no time to start flipping through phone books to find who’s the chief of that or who’s a deputy over there. 

MICHAEL MORELL: George Tenet then asks you to replace me as the daily intelligence briefer for President Bush. Do you remember your first day when I took you on what was my last day and introduced you to President Bush?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Oh, my gosh. It’s indelibly burned into my brain.

MICHAEL MORELL: Mine too, actually. Go ahead. Tell the story.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: So up until that day. You’re right, I hadn’t actually met the president yet. I helped you prepare in the morning and that kind of stuff. And what everyone kept saying, including you, was just, great brief. The President- you will love briefing him. 

MICHAEL MORELL: He’s a great guy. He’s nice. He’s really nice.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Yeah, exactly. So I’m like, this is cakewalk, right? And so, of course, we showed up that day. And that was the day that you had to tell him that we didn’t get Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora.

MICHAEL MORELL: And that he escaped across the border.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: That he escaped across the border. And his reaction was strong, is that the way to put it? 

MICHAEL MORELL: Angry, deeply frustrated.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Deeply frustrated, rightly so. And I don’t know, Michael, because I couldn’t see my face, but I’m sure you could. What was going through my mind was, oh, my God, what have I gotten into here?

MICHAEL MORELL: Because one of the things that you didn’t say was he blamed me initially, right? He said, how did you let this happen? And I’m thinking I wasn’t anywhere near the place. What are you going to do about this? And he met you right in the much broader term. But yeah, no, he shot the messenger.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Yes, I remember that. I was thinking, Oh my God, I’m going to be collateral here somewhere.

MICHAEL MORELL: So what were your impressions of him? You briefed him for a couple of years. What were your impressions of him? 

ANDY MAKRIDIS:  I thought, first of all, once you spend time, you realize, okay, I understand now how you got to become president. Much like George, he asked really good questions. And you could tell that he was piecing together a puzzle of what actions am I going to take? He’s got the input from the intelligence community, but he also has lots of other people talking to him, some people calling him personally, foreign leaders telling him things. So I found him to be pretty astute. As he was weighing these things out, because you could sort of- you could sort of see what he was wrestling with. In the whole time of three years that I did that job, the most difficult day, Michael, was that first morning. 

The rest of time we had Afghanistan and Iraq, Iraq WMD, all that. And the president was very gracious. We spent almost an hour a day in the briefing from 8 to 9, the last part of it was mostly terrorism, but it’s an hour of the president’s day. And you really felt like you were really contributing. And to be honest with you, I don’t know what you thought about it Michael, about being a briefer, but the days that I thought I was successful or that that the agency was successful were days where you created a discussion. Not that they always agreed. Just saying, they agree today. They like the book. That doesn’t really tell me. It’s the days where all the sudden, even if it was like we don’t agree, but you got it. You had a discussion going. So you realized I scratched an issue. I’ve raised an issue they may not have thought through fully or there’s an angle here that they didn’t sort of get to or see. But I found the president to be very intuitive and a really good judge. And I can tell you at the end here about my last day, which sort of shows this intuitive piece.

MICHAEL MORELL: Go ahead tell us about that.

ANDY MAKRIDIS:  My last day or actually was the day I was going to tell him I was leaving. It was after Christmas, and we were flying down to Texas, and we were on the airplane. And I finished the briefing because we took the briefing on the airplane. And then when we finished, I sort of closed my book and I said, Mr. President, if I can just talk to you for a minute, I have one more thing to discuss with you. So I had never done that before.

So he looked at me and he said, is this the I’m leaving discussion? I was like, oh God. And it was a very difficult discussion because he asked questions like, is there a better job at CIA than this one? And so thankfully, Andy Card came in and rescued me.

MICHAEL MORELL: That’s fantastic. That is so George Bush. Andy, after you finished the briefing job, you took over the analytic group that covered the technical aspects of nuclear weapons programs around the world. And this was just in the aftermath of our failure, our analytic failure on Iraq weapons of mass destruction. And just very quickly, I’d like to get your assessment of what you think went wrong in Iraq and how did we learn from our mistakes and how did it change the analysis done at the CIA?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: As you and I know, both on the analytic and operational side, we didn’t do a great job. We let the president down, the nation down. We certainly let George and John down because we just didn’t have the rigor. And I think what happened on the analytic side is, if I could just quickly summarize it in one in one way. There was a book a few years back by a guy named Phil Tetlock. He is a professor at UPenn, I believe. And it’s called something like Expert Political Judgment. But in his book, he references something actually from an ancient Greek play about a fox and a hedgehog. And the phrase is a fox knows many tricks. A hedgehog knows one good one. Tetlock took that and started talking about experts. And experts are hedgehogs, right? They know one thing and they know it really well. And he sort of characterizes the perils sometimes or the pitfalls you can fall into if you’re an expert, when you just know that one thing. 

And when I looked at some of the WMD parts of Iraq- that describes the trap. We had people who really knew an area very, very deeply but maybe were unwilling to look left and right of that to say what other possibilities could there be. In their defense. there was, from the previous Gulf War, we knew that Saddam was hiding components for a nuclear program. We found it. And so it’s this is a little bit like, you see in this courtroom dramas where the judge says to the jury, disregard what you just heard. And of course the jury can’t. And so you’ve got that past history in these people’s minds. And then it’s easy to begin to fit everything into that picture without listening to the foxes, let’s say, who are saying, there’s other possibilities here. And so I think that’s what really happened.

MICHAEL MORELL: That’s a great way to think about it

ANDY MAKRIDIS: What changed post-Iraq WMD was really starting to take a look at how do we do analysis, how do we make sure we look at all the alternatives, how do we build that into how people do analysis as opposed to an afterthought or a nice to have? Let’s make that a requirement for all the major issues that we’re following. There are various tools, called structured analytic techniques and there’s a lot of them. And you can apply them, depending on whatever issue you’re working on, so that you begin to paint the full picture. Doesn’t mean you’re going to be right. But at least you have created the envelope in which you think we’re in the situation that we’re in. And so I think that’s the big change. And I think the work that comes out of the agency is significantly better because of those changes.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah, I agree. I agree 100% with that. Andy, one of the issues that followed Iraq by just a few years, and you were involved in this, was what we thought was the discovery of a clandestine nuclear power plant in Syria. And I’m wondering, how tough was it to convince the White House that we had this right. That this was a covert nuclear reactor, when we got Iraq so wrong just a few years earlier?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: The first reaction was exactly as you describe, well, you were wrong about Iraq. How are you confident you’re right about this? So this was just a few years after. But I think one of the big differences is in those few years, the Directorate of Intelligence, now the Directorate of Analysis, put a lot more rigor into the things we just discussed. And so we did one of the most thorough scrubs that I’ve certainly ever participated in or seen of looking at all the possibilities. So this building was out in the eastern desert in Syria, near a place called Dolorosa and near the Euphrates, nothing out there. The building was built in a wadi. In the depressions, you can actually see it from the road. Not much of a road. You got a construction of a building. And by the time we actually saw the building, it had what we call curtain walls. But the building looked pretty innocuous. If I looked at it today, it looks like a data center. It’s got the same kind of construction with very few windows. You know, it’s that kind of look to it. Now, of course, it was a bit suspicious. There was no power. What kind of plant are you building with no power to it? There was a pump house being built down near the river, the Euphrates. Clearly to run water back and forth. And so you start to think about cooling right away. And then we were able to acquire photos of the inside. And as soon as the nuclear analysts that worked for me saw that, they said this is Yongbyon. Yongbyon, for your listeners, this is a North Korean nuclear facility. And so we put all that together. And I think we were able to make a compelling case. But it all sort of rested on the fact that we had done all that work in the intervening couple of years. To bring that rigor that we just discussed into the analysis.

MICHAEL MORELL: I should tell my listeners that the CIA actually produced a video of all of this analysis and put it out publicly when President Bush announced what we had found and after the Israelis had actually destroyed the reactor, and they can actually go to the Internet and Google CIA presentation on Syrian nuclear reactor and they can actually look at a piece of CIA analysis, which which is a pretty rare thing. So Andy, then you had a variety of senior leadership posts, most involving analysis of weapons work and then the CIA’s own science and technology programs. But one of the assignments you had as a senior officer was running, not a technical office, but a regional office, actually, the Office of Asian and Latin American Analysis. And I just wondered how different it was managing political analysts and leadership analysts and economists compared to scientists and engineers.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: That’s a great question. There’s one really important distinction between them and and it is because of the kind of work they do. So when I ran the Asia Pacific Latin America Africa office, as you mentioned, there’s political scientists, economists, leadership analysts, they deal with ambiguity in a much better way than engineers. Engineers are driven to solve for the answer. And if there’s ambiguity, they’ll put in a safety fact or whatever the case is. But they’re driven to solve because most engineering problems are solvable. Unfortunately for political analysts, sometimes those are not solvable problems. So they need to get comfortable with living in a world of ambiguity, which engineers hate. 

MICHAEL MORELL: Interesting.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: You get a stark difference between the two of them when you talk to them, because like I said, engineers will give you an answer that can be very literal sometimes. And so sometimes you’ve got to be careful about what questions you’re asking them. On the other side, with the regional analysts they can be more broad and they can give you a broader set of answers, but oftentimes they don’t give you the answer. So that’s what struck me the most for managing these two. And so when I went back from the Asia office back to run the technical office, I talked to my engineers. I said, you guys got to get a little more comfortable with ambiguity because I’ve just watch how that works. And it’s important because we’re not going to have the answers to all these questions. And it’s a very difficult transition for someone who is used to just doing the math.

MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, one of the senior assignments you had was leading an assessment of WikiLeaks and the risk it posed to our national security and to the agency itself. And I just want to ask you what that was like, because that’s quite different. Contrary to what some people might believe, this is not a media organization or something that claims to be a media organization is not the focus of the agency’s work.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: We had a breach. And I think one of the prosecutors in New York, I think he called it one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in U.S. history. So it was an insider issue. A significant amount of material was taken out of the agency. And so there was two parts to this. There was the who did it. And that was the purview of the counterintelligence folks and the FBI because it was a crime. And then there was the what happened, how did it happen, and how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again part.  And that part fell to the group of people that I was leading. 

It’s sort of a human nature issue, right? We get pressed for doing things and doing things quickly. And so we began to take shortcuts. And not only do people in the agency do this, but people in general do this. For expediency sake, they’ll make things easier on themselves. And for an organization that was supposed to be careful to not do that, we fell into that trap. So by doing so, we made it a lot easier for someone who had ill intent to get a lot of material because not all the watertight doors were closed, a variety of things that happened. 

For the longest time we operated on this, we have a moat and a drawbridge. And once the drawbridge is down, you get over the moat, you’re in the castle. And that’s really not the way anything operates today. If you take a look at the world of cybersecurity, it’s a zero trust where they’re inspecting you at every moment, not physically, but every time you’re querying for information. So it’s moving in that direction. I’m happy to say that in the several years since that time, huge progress has been made, I think, at the agency to really make sure we lock down, secure our systems, to be able to do things quickly and securely. It’s not a trade. I think for a while there we were looking at it as a trade. We can get it done fast, but we have to take shortcuts. Well, that doesn’t work. 

So I think learning how to operate in a secure way and still getting the mission critical things done is important. Let’s face it, the organization where the information came was so pressed because there were so many demands on their time, they sort of felt like they were in a corner. And there were ways around this. And I think the systems and the and the changes that the agency has made since then have really helped make this a much more secure environment while still getting the job done.

MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, finally you end up as the agency’s chief operating officer. This so-called COO, which is private organization, don’t call it COO they call it C-O-O. I just thought I’d mention that. So what does the COO do at the CIA?

ANDY MAKRIDIS: It’s a huge range, right? And Michael, you know this really well. It’s everything from the strategic budget. What are the future tech needs of the agency, the future of the workforce? What’s the strategic plan? What are the impediments to getting things done all the way down to what’s going on with parking, which is always a thing.


ANDY MAKRIDIS: And that was next. I was going to say space inside the building. And people are always jockeying for position. Or the cafeteria,  issues with the cafeteria. One of the people that used to have the job said it was like being the mayor of a big city. 

MICHAEL MORELL:That’s a great way to put it. 

ANDY MAKRIDIS: You’re confronted with the full range of let’s think about the budget in five years to how do we speed up service in the cafeteria. It’s a jack of all trades job and you’ve got to be able to move from topic to topic to topic to topic and not let your- especially for an analyst- not let your instincts to just go deep on everything you know take over.  Because you don’t have the time. 

MICHAEL MORELL: Let me ask about COVID which perhaps was the biggest issue that you had to deal with when you were the chief operating officer.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: March of 2020, this is another thing I remember pretty vividly. I remember Friday, it was March, Friday the 13th. We started feeling like there was- you were sitting on the beach and there was a big wave coming at you and you started to realize that’s a lot bigger than it looks and I’m not going to be able to get out of the way. Gina Haspel and Vaughn Bishop, the director and the deputy at the time, we got together and they gave me a lot of running room and said, just do what it takes to make sure that we can operate and we keep the place safe. We convened a bunch of meetings. We cut the workforce in half, alternated weeks because, of course, we couldn’t work from home. So in order to keep that social distancing piece in a building that, as you just referenced, it was already full space wise. We had to do some extraordinary things. 

We had gotten a company out in California to make masks for us because masks were in short supply. We had put sanitizers, hand sanitizers everywhere. There were so many unknowns. We weren’t sure if you could get it off a desk or where you could get it. And so trying to keep the workforce safe because we couldn’t close. We couldn’t just have everyone sort of come down with COVID. That was a time period where we just didn’t know how serious it was. We were thinking about, well what if we have a lot of casualties? How do we deal with that? I mean, as terrible as that sounds, you’re in an unknown, uncharted territory. And so this was a huge team effort. Michael, you know this. Nobody does crisis better than the CIA. As soon as you’re in crisis mode, boy, things click. And so I just happened to be the band leader at the time. But it was a great push. The second part of that was getting a vaccine. Because we had to vaccinate our people as quickly as we could. And I think we were the first government agency to broadly distribute vaccines within the workforce. A huge team effort, a lot of credit to a lot of people who just put everything else aside and got it done.

MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, you created a business analytics unit for the first time in the CIA. And I know that that played a huge role in managing COVID as well.

ANDY MAKRIDIS:  Yeah, it sure did. And it was a little bit of a stroke of luck. We set it up in 2019 because you realize that we weren’t getting consistent business data. How many people here, how many people work here,  those kinds of questions. Who’s retiring, when are they retiring. All the kinds of things that most businesses want. We were not getting consistent answers. So we set up this agency business analytics unit to help pool all that information together so that we could get consistent answers over time. And like being able to do that, to have that set up and have it running for almost a year before COVID allowed us to determine where people were, who was in the building. Contact tracing was magical. And that was all because of the work that business analytics had done, the tools they had developed. So it was a lot of good fortune again, that we set that up in 19. And no one was thinking how critical it would be when you have to manage a workforce that’s facing a pandemic.

MICHAEL MORELL: Then there was the Afghan withdrawal. Andy, walk us through the role that you played there.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Once the president made the announcement about withdrawing from Afghanistan, we began the serious planning of how do we move people out. We’d been there for 20 years. And so a lot of material accrues that you just don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. And so the biggest credit here, Michael, goes to the Directorate of Support, Director of Operations. They did phenomenal work in making sure that we had all the material tagged that we could get out. Material we couldn’t get out we destroyed. Making sure we had all our people safe, helped get Afghans out of the country. And so, my job was if there’s a roadblock, tell me I’ll get it out of the way. They drove, and they did a phenomenal job.

MICHAEL MORELL: Just one more question. You’ve been retired just a few weeks now. What are your plans going forward?

ANDY MAKRIDIS:  I’ll just sort of catch my breath for this month, here in December. I want to stay engaged and challenged. I still feel too young to retire, retire. But after 37 years of managing and leading a complex worldwide organization, I  really do think I have things I could share. So I’m going to look for some opportunities to share those things where applicable. I guess probably more of a portfolio approach to retirement or maybe the next phase. I shouldn’t call it retirement because I suspect you can get very busy. We talked about some of the changes that are coming and we touched on tech briefly a couple of times. And I know we didn’t get to some of the current issues, but I think you and I agree that we’re facing an economic Cold War. And I think the pivot point of that Cold War is tech. And I think nowhere is it more pronounced than the intersection between emerging technology and national security in areas like space, biotech, computing, autonomy, communications. I think those are big key areas. And so having a technical background and having all this sort of national security experience, I’m hoping that somewhere in that intersection of those that can I can find places where I can add value and can help people.

MICHAEL MORELL: I think your phone’s going to ring for sure. I’m pretty confident it is. So we didn’t get to the substantive stuff, Andy, and I’m sorry about that. We’ll have to have you back and talk about that. I’d love to have you on the show again, you would be a great guest host. You’d be a great person to join me every once in a while to talk about what’s going on in the world. 

ANDY MAKRIDIS: We can swap Waco stories.

MICHAEL MORELL: We can swap Waco stories. We can swap pulling brush stories, which we can’t talk about. So thank you for joining us and we will talk with you again. Thank you so much.

ANDY MAKRIDIS: Thank you, Michael. Former CIA operations chief Andrew Makridis reflects on CIA career – “Intelligence Matters”

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