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Former Deputy Intelligence Director Sue Gordon on the Power in Making Up Your Mind

Sarah Cristobal

Last August, after 30-plus years of carrying out covert operations on behalf of the CIA, Sue Gordon was foisted into the spotlight. Despite her cordial relationship with President Trump, her bipartisan support, and the fact that it was a federal statute to promote her, the president made it clear that he was going to bypass her for the top position of director of National Intelligence, vacated by Dan Coats. So, Gordon reluctantly tendered her resignation, which became headline news. “On the one hand, it was awful because it was my life’s work and I’m good at it, and there’s no reason in the world that the president shouldn’t trust me,” Gordon says now of the dismissal. “I don’t know who was served by this. And I don’t understand the real basis. It hurt.”

But the thing about Gordon is that her optimism and sense of duty should be bottled and sold in stores. A few supporting facts: On the day the president appointed her as principal deputy director in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2017, she found out she had cancer. Her first day of radiation coincided with her first day on the job. During the two years she held the post, she woke up at 3 a.m., was at the office by 5, and worked until 8 p.m. Under her command she oversaw 17 agencies, tens of thousands of people, and was responsible for how tens of billions of dollars were spent. Knowing that she would be, ahem, busy, her husband (to whom she’s been happily married since college) even got a puppy to keep him company at home. It’s worth noting that Gordon’s post is still vacant, yet her faith in her former colleagues runs deep. “The most important thing was not whether Sue Gordon got to keep the position, but whether the president’s going to get good intelligence — and I have a lot of confidence in the community,” she says. “You do what’s right.”

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An expert in intelligence and global risk, Gordon says her next act includes moving into the private sector and working with tech companies to help them understand the responsibility they carry. “This whole digital connectedness has just kind of blown things wide open in terms of who can cross what boundaries, who’s responsible for what, where the information is held,” she says, citing data-collecting sites like Equifax, Google, and Facebook as examples. In addition, she’s got four books she wants to write and plans to spend “a fair amount of time helping to develop leaders” at various universities like Duke, her alma mater.

Her best advice? “One, there is always a solution, but that doesn’t mean it’s free. Two, don’t limit yourself. You don’t know what you can do until you try. And the last is, for God’s sake, learn how to decide. So many people spend their lives not deciding. They wait for the world to turn. You know what has to be done. A decision creates something new, and that’s what entails progress.”

Styling: Caroline Ahrens. Hair and makeup: Megan Kelly.

For more stories like this, pick up the February issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan. 17.