CIA Director John Brennan admitted to supporting the Communist Party in the 1976 election last week during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual conference.
Speaking at a panel discussion on diversity in the intelligence community Thursday, Brennan revealed how his previous vote for Communist Gus Hall had resurfaced during his first polygraph test at the agency.
According to CNN, after being asked if he had “ever worked with or for a group that was dedicated to overthrowing the US,” Brennan worried that a truthful answer would end his goal of becoming a CIA analyst.
“This was back in 1980, and I thought back to a previous election where I voted, and I voted for the Communist Party candidate,” Brennan said. “I froze, because I was getting so close to coming into CIA and said, ‘OK, here’s the choice, John. You can deny that, and the machine is probably going to go, you know, wacko, or I can acknowledge it and see what happens.'”
After admitting to his prior support of the Communist platform, Brennan says he was convinced he would be inhibited from moving forward.
“I said I was neither Democratic or Republican, but it was my way, as I was going to college, of signaling my unhappiness with the system, and the need for change,” Brennan stated. “I said I’m not a member of the Communist Party, so the polygrapher looked at me and said, ‘OK,’ and when I was finished with the polygraph and I left and said, ‘Well, I’m screwed.'”
Brennan – who was answering a question on “barriers to recruiting diverse candidates” and whether a history of activism could hurt potential future employees – argued to attendees that the CIA’s mission is to protect US values such as free speech.
“We’ve all had indiscretions in our past,” the CIA director said. “I would not be up here if that was disqualifying.”
Brennan, who was accepted into the agency later that year, pointed to his experience as proof of the agency’s evolution – although he says it has a long way to go in regards to the acceptance of gays and minorities.
“So if back in 1980, John Brennan was allowed to say, ‘I voted for the Communist Party with Gus Hall’ … and still got through, rest assured that your rights and your expressions and your freedom of speech as Americans is something that’s not going to be disqualifying of you as you pursue a career in government.”
Given the political climate and intensifying Cold War at the time, the CIA’s decision to hire Brennan may seem surprising to some.