The disparaged agency that CIA Director Mike Pompeo now heads will require a deft hand at the tiller. A handful of intelligence experts, including a former CIA director, have some advice for Pompeo:
Pick a deputy from within the agency. Bring only a couple of trusted aides from the outside. Educate President Donald Trump relentlessly about the CIA. Don’t get big-footed by the national security adviser.
Pompeo, who was sworn in Monday night to head the CIA, has already shown his chops at handling challenges. A conservative Kansas Republican, Pompeo graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, patrolled along the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall, got a degree from Harvard Law School, then won seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he left this month to occupy the director’s chair on the seventh floor at the CIA’s Virginia headquarters.
Lifting morale at the CIA will be no tea party. Trump bashed the intelligence community repeatedly during his campaign, blaming it for a series of foreign misjudgments and suggesting it had been manipulated by political interests opposed to him.
On his first full day as president, Trump made an appearance at the CIA, his first official act, and he suggested that reports of his rift with the CIA were an invention of the “dishonest” media.
“The reality is that there’s been a running gunfight,” said Leon Panetta, a former Democratic legislator and White House chief of staff who served as CIA director from 2009 until 2011.
“A lot of criticisms were made that, obviously if you’re a professional in the intelligence community, it creates the sense that the president doesn’t trust you,” Panetta said.
Panetta is one of a number of former CIA directors who spoke with Pompeo before he was sworn in to offer suggestions on how to navigate through the roiled waters.
“I’ve shared the advice directly with him,” Panetta said, noting that his chief concern was that the new director not stock the seventh floor with his own people from Capitol Hill.
“The important thing that I recommended to him is that if he goes in with a limited number of new people, it will reinforce his relationship with professional staff. They will know he’s not there to clean house,” Panetta said.
Another former CIA director, Porter Goss, declined to outline what he’d told the new director. Like Pompeo, Goss was a Republican lawmaker who left Capitol Hill to lead the CIA.
“I’ve shared that with him directly, and I’ll keep it private,” said Goss, who was CIA director in 2004-05 and earlier had chaired the House Intelligence Committee. “I have a huge amount of confidence in Director Pompeo and I think he’ll do a wonderful job.”
Pompeo has not yet selected a deputy, a post that would need White House approval.
“If he wants to establish his bona fides, he’d pick someone from within,” said a retired senior agency official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, saying that choosing a career intelligence officer would show some respect to those within its ranks.
“It’s a difficult period but Pompeo is a professional,” the retired official said.
Bob Graham, a retired Democratic senator from Florida who served a decade on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including a period as its chairman during and after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said Pompeo had taken over at a time of bruises and hurt feelings within the agency.
“It’ll take a little time for scar tissue to evaporate,” Graham said, adding that since Pompeo is Trump’s “own handpicked, Senate-confirmed man” that will open a conduit to the White House.
“My recommendations No. 1, 2 and 3 are to develop a relationship of trust and respect with President Trump,” Graham said, adding that Pompeo must coax the president to trust intelligence reports and “not waste time and billions of dollars of taxpayer money.”
Trump has already shown a deep affinity for retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, his choice as national security adviser. Flynn’s office is only a stone’s throw from the White House in the Executive Office Building. Pompeo, ensconced at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, more than 7 miles away, vies with Flynn for Trump’s ear.
“He’ll need to be seen to show he has an effect on the Flynn-Trump decision-making,” the retired intelligence official said. “He needs to show results both to Trump and back to the CIA.”
That means presenting intelligence findings clearly to the White House and showing when there is disagreement within the intelligence community.
“It is the director’s job to assimilate all those views, then present to the president a) This is what I think, but b) There are three other points of view represented by professionals in the agency and they are 1, 2 and 3,” Graham said.
Even with the most objective presentation of options, senior CIA officers under Pompeo may find themselves in conflict with the “America first” worldview of Trump.
“Fundamentally, the intelligence officers that I know are globalists in their outlook. They actually believe that American security depends on our interdependence on other countries,” said Jeremy Bash, a Harvard-trained lawyer who is a former chief of staff at the CIA.
“They like living overseas. They raise their children overseas, and they believe, and they know and they understand that you have to be involved in the world, that if you just pull up the drawbridge and retreat and have a nativist, nationalist approach to our security, it won’t work,” Bash said.