President-elect Donald Trump added to the growing list of nominees to fill his cabinet when it was announced that he had named Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) as his pick to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Pompeo is the latest in a list of controversial (to some) nominees that include Jeff Sessions (R-AL, U.S. Attorney General), and retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn (national security advisor). Opponents of the nominations have alleged that Pompeo as head of the CIA would only further solidify what they view as Trump’s lineup of hard-line conservatives who have a history of making statements and advocating policy often considered xenophobic and extremist. There is a good chance that the average American has heard of Mike Flynn and maybe even Jeff Sessions, but just who is the man who is set to be at the helm of the world’s premier intelligence service? (Stop snickering.)
Mike Pompeo is 52, a product of Orange County, California, and has been a U.S. representative for Kansas’s 4th District since 2011. He’s a member of the Tea Party. According to his congressional webpage, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating first in his class in 1986. He served as a cavalry officer in Europe during the Cold War years, and also served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the Fourth Infantry Division. Upon leaving active duty, Pompeo attended and graduated from Harvard Law School. He later returned to Kansas, where he founded Thayer Aerospace, a company focused on providing components for commercial and military aircraft. (Thayer was renamed Nex-Tech Aerospace, and was then acquired by HM Dunn in 2012.) Besides his time at Thayer, Pompeo was also president of Sentry International, an oil field equipment manufacturing, distribution, and service company.
While he currently serves on two major committees—energy and commerce—he is probably best known for his service on the House Intelligence Committee, which provides oversight for America’s intelligence-gathering mission. In 2014, he was appointed to the House Select Benghazi Committee which investigated the September 11, 2012 events in Benghazi, Libya. In his role on the HIC, Pompeo railed against what he saw as the “blunting” and dumbing-down of America’s intelligence and law enforcement surveillance powers, and he has written that the intelligence community “feels beleaguered and bereft” of political support. He made similar remarks in a 2015 speech at the Hudson Institute when he took on critics of the Patriot Act.
Not surprisingly, Pompeo is also a critic of the Obama administration and its policies, most notably President Obama’s push (which has yet to happen and likely won’t) to shut down the detention facility (Camp X-Ray) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is a major opponent of the deal made with Iran to (in theory) ensure that their nuclear program is restricted to civilian, peaceful purposes only.
In a March 2015 interview with CNN’s Michael Smerconish, Congressman Pompeo slammed Democratic then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her use of private servers to store and transmit classified emails. He acknowledged at the time that he did not know if Clinton had broken any laws, but he said whether she had or not, her actions were unethical and went against all guidance that the White House had provided, and that Clinton herself had issued to State Department personnel. Some believe that Mr. Pompeo’s tough questioning of Clinton while investigating the Benghazi attacks boosted his profile among Republicans.
Besides Trump, Pompeo has at least one other supporter who is pleased with his nomination. Former National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency director, retired Air Force general Michael Hayden, called the nomination “heartening,” and said that Pompeo was a “serious man who carefully studies the issues that he is responsible for.” A former colleague of mine who is still employed at the CIA, when I asked him about the atmosphere around the agency after the announcement, stated, “My boss was in a panic when he told me this morning, and I am so far removed from the 7th Floor (where the senior CIA leadership reside) that I have no idea how they are reacting. As for the rest of us, it is business as usual.”
And shouldn’t that be the point? A candidate has been elected and a new administration is on its way in. Although the CIA and the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus was founded to operate in the shadows (sorry to sound like I’m writing a bad novel, here), it is also mandated (believe it or not) to operate and carry out its mission above any political influence and to inform policy, not dictate or formulate it. In Congressman Mike Pompeo, the CIA will be gaining, if he is confirmed by the Senate, a leader who is overtly and obviously partisan, for better or worse. Some will not agree with the nomination and leave the CIA or other intelligence agencies (though I doubt it will be as many as have threatened to, and not because they necessarily voted for Trump). Still, be it Pompeo or anyone else, it is up to those around him and the “rest of us” tasked with conducting the agency’s mission, regardless of who we voted for, to do so with a “business as usual” mindset.