The Role Of Immigrants In The National Security Community
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to talk about something that we noticed in the course of watching those many hours of hearings these past few weeks into President Trump's dealings with Ukraine. We noticed that a number of key witnesses brought up their immigrant backgrounds, including Fiona Hill, a former member of the National Security Council.
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FIONA HILL: I can say with confidence that this country has offered me opportunities I never would have had in England. I grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement. This background has never set me back in America.
MARTIN: She was not alone. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch also made similar points. And that got us thinking about the role that immigrants have played in our national security policymaking, so we've called on Mieke Eoyang. She's a former defense policy adviser to Senator Edward Kennedy. She's also served as a staff member for both the Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Armed Services Committee, and she's with us now.
Mieke, thanks so much for joining us.
MIEKE EOYANG: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So you've worked on national security issues for a while, as we've just heard. This is not an area where we normally hear people talking about their personal backgrounds and family history - in the course of public hearings. And I was just wondering how it struck you when each of these witnesses decided to talk about this.
EOYANG: I thought it was amazing in a real sense of the strength of America that we have people who have a deep understanding of the countries they're working on and have also chosen to serve America and pursue America's national security interests as their career.
MARTIN: What do you think it meant that they all felt it important to speak about this?
EOYANG: Well, I think in this particular set of hearings, what we saw over and over again is that supporters of the president repeatedly attacked these witnesses and attacked their patriotism, suggesting that they were somehow un-American because of their family stories. And I think it was important for them to tell their family stories, to be able to explain why their families had chosen America, why they chose to serve the nation.
MARTIN: You know, that's interesting because you wrote a piece in Politico last year that suggested that that kind of suggestion of, you know, a lack of loyalty is not something that is as unusual as people might think. I mean, the piece you wrote was about diversity in the national security field - specifically, what it's like to be a person of color. You wrote that, quote, "to some, your interest in working in national security itself is suspect. How could you possibly be dedicated to the strength and security of the country in which you were born? You must be a plant."
Do you find that that's an experience that many of your colleagues have had? And do you find that it's - people from certain parts of the world get that more than others? I mean, the fact is, there've been some very significant people in foreign policy in recent memory - I mean, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski - I mean, all those people with immigrant backgrounds, so it shouldn't be that surprising. Do you feel like it's certain people have that suspicion attached to them?
EOYANG: Yeah. I think that there are a lot of people who work in national security who have a mental conception of what it means to be an American and what it means to work in national security. And that mental stereotype often doesn't fit with the person standing in front of them who's working side by side with them. And so for those of us whose faces call into question our Americanness, you're constantly feeling like you have to prove your loyalty to the country even if someone doesn't always speak it.
MARTIN: You said in your piece that the intelligence community lags behind the rest of the federal government in diversity. That is a bit surprising to me because I would have thought that language skills, as - and as you pointed out, a kind of an understanding of cultural nuances - would be highly prized. And yet, you're saying that that's not necessarily the case.
EOYANG: I have found that in the intelligence community, which has a tremendous suspicion of foreign-born individuals because of concerns of loyalty, they don't always understand how to separate their suspicion from reality.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, tomorrow, you're going to be taking part in a press call with Congressman Jim Himes. He's a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, among others. The topic is going to be how revelations from the impeachment inquiry will affect national security. Just - could you just give us a preview of some of the points that you feel that people should take note of?
EOYANG: A lot of the narratives that the president's allies have been pushing throughout this impeachment hearing actually strengthen Russia and are pushed by Russian intelligence services and are designed to drive wedges between America and its allies but also between Americans. And that kind of division weakens our country from within. And continuing to have this fight and to not recognize that that narrative is problematic and that we need to recognize what the American interest is here will harm us in the long run.
MARTIN: That's Mieke Eoyang. She's vice president of the National Security Program at Third Way. That's a research institute, a think tank here in Washington, D.C.
Mieke Eoyang, thanks so much for talking to us.
EOYANG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.