075: Carmen Medina – Her Path To A Life In The CIA

075: Carmen Medina – Her Path To A Life In The CIA

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075: Carmen Medina - Her Path To A Life In The CIA

Guest Overview 

Carmen Medina is a former CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence. A veteran of the Intelligence Community, she is also the author of Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.

Puerto Rican born, to a fun-loving father and an achievement-driven mother, Carmen excelled through an itinerant childhood to lead school debating teams. Her forensic debating skills and serendipity led her to a University scholarship and ultimately set her on her path to a 32-year career in the CIA.

In Part One Carmen unpacks her chaotic and unsettled upbringing and childhood, the role of her education, how debating helped her develop the skills that served her well over her CIA career. 

We discuss her experience of interning at the CIA in 1978, a time before desktop computers, operating as a human algorithm, to running the South Africa desk, and leaning into the male-dominated CIA culture to make her voice heard.

In Part two we discuss her perspective on power, the current state of the world and her hope for the future. We also cover the role of curiosity and creativity in her work at the CIA, applying empathy to be heard by policy and decision-makers in today’s polarized political environment

And finally, we end with her life insights as she answers our quickfire questions. 

I hope you enjoy this refreshing and fun episode and learn from the kindness, reflective wisdom, and optimism of Carmen Medina. 

Thanks to Munish Walther Puri for the connection.


What we Discuss 

The impact of her itinerant upbringing from being an Army child 

The role her mother played in setting her standards for achievement

How her father made Carmen appreciate the fun in life 

The role of her grandmother in being a rock of stability

Developing a skill and talent forensic debating at school

Being the first in her family to go to college and university

Dealing with male prejudice of her father questioning her need to learn

How a serendipitous debating experience led her to secure a scholarship at a Catholic University in Washington DC 

How she transitioned out of Law to Georgetown for a Masters in Foreign Service 

Getting accepted as an intern at the CIA 

Being asked to stay on a full time 

Starting out as a watch officer before the era of Desktop computers 

We discuss how her role was pre-internet days she acted as a human algorithm or search engine 

Her point of view on the veracity CIA based films Argo and Zero Dark Thirty

How Carmen was promoted to the Africa Division to cover South Africa while apartheid was still in full force. 

The experience of joining a male-dominated CIA at age 24 and being determined to avoid being pigeonholed as just another token woman. 

The challenges of conveying an image in the workplace as a woman. 

The role of curiosity and creativity in her role as an analyst

 Her curiosity in soft power over hard power 

Her prediction that peace would happen without violence 

The brittleness of power 

The evolution of the CIA’s intelligence on how societies work

Embracing cognitive bias 

Her optimism and how reading a book called Complexity changed her perspective 

Her perspective on the world 

What if the Romans had discovered the Internet and Electricity?

Carmen’s view on talking truth to power

Respecting decision makers cognitive style and personality and providing a broader context so they listen, and in a framework, they appreciate 

The role of empathy 

Her Principles 

Inequality of opportunity 

Expecting and demanding failure 

Taking ownership of your impossible 


Social Links 

Rebels at Work



Links In The Show 

Olive Shriner 


Zero Dark Thirty 

Zanu PF 

Bob Gates 

Iran US Embassy

Complexity Mitch Walthrop

Browser Newsletter 

FW de Klerke 

Steve Blank 

James C Scott Two Cheers For Anarchism 

Don Burke CIA

Babylon Berlin

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