I was serving in Eastern Europe when no clear winner emerged in the presidential election on the night of Nov. 7, 2000.
Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore by the slimmest of margins, but it was only on Dec. 13 after the Florida recount and U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Vice President Gore conceded “for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy.”
President-elect Bush then declared, “I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation.”
The peaceful transfer of power from one party to another — the hallmark of our democracy since the presidential election of 1800 when Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent President John Adams — made a most powerful impression especially on those living in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics, who had regained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union only a decade before the Bush-Gore election.
The effective functioning of our democracy even during those trying political times stood in stark contrast to Russia, which at the time was undergoing a decidedly undemocratic transfer of power from Boris Yeltsin to KGB operative-in-the-Kremlin Vladimir Putin.
Over the course of my government career, there were seven presidential elections four of which resulted in a handover from one party to the other. I witnessed firsthand how the U.S. intelligence community, the military and the State Department colleagues served as the glue that helped hold together the federal government’s national security apparatus.
The president-elect has his hand-picked team advising on policy, but at the heart of a smooth transition are the national security professionals, who take an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.
Intelligence is first and foremost about detecting threats to our nation so they can be preempted before they are visited on our shores. Policymakers depend on the intelligence professionals to assess the threats and track how well policy measures achieve the mission.
Intelligence officers vote. But their exercise of civic duty is divorced entirely from their profession. Regardless of which party holds the executive branch, they faithfully carry out their mission, which can include serving tours of duty in combat zones under commanders in chief for whom they did not vote.
The biblical quotation John 8:32 is fixed in stone at the CIA’s Langley headquarters: “And Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free.”
For the intelligence community, analytical precision and an apolitical approach are sacred. Professional intelligence officers ruthlessly fight personal biases, which can distort the interpretation of events. Intelligence analysis must be an inductive process, where conclusions are drawn solely based on facts and source information.
CIA officers deliver their analytic conclusions without any consideration for how many or which Democrats and Republicans are in the room. Over the course of my career, I regularly testified to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and briefed the White House and cabinet officials. I could comfortably put my head to the pillow at night knowing I had done my best to deliver what our elected officials needed to know — especially when it was not what they might have wanted to hear.
In the late 19th century, Congress voted to reduce the number of political appointees in the federal government. As a result, the bulk of federal employees were not party loyalists focused first and foremost on the president’s political agenda, but rather a highly skilled technocracy hired and promoted based on merit. For many of my generation, it was President Kennedy’s eloquent inaugural words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” which inspired us to pursue a career in public service.
Our nation greatly benefits from having a cadre of professionals who do not turn over each time there is a new party in charge of the executive branch but rather gain experience over time as subject matter experts in their craft, professionals on whom policymakers rely to make the most educated executive decisions.
Americans should rest assured that our intelligence professionals are on the watch, relentlessly focused on their sacred mission even during this ephemeral period of political turmoil following the Nov. 3 election. Committed to preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States, they are as thankful to be walled off from the chaos and tumult of Washington, D.C., politics as they are deeply proud to be a reliable and ready resource for both Democrats and Republicans.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the CIA. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.