November 19, 2016

Is Mike Pompeo the best choice to lead the CIA?

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo (right) to become the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Is he the best choice for this key position?

The CIA is more than an intelligence collection, analysis and production agency, although that is its primary role. In addition to managing the National Clandestine Service's intelligence operations, it is the lead organization of the United States government authorized to conduct covert operations.

Covert operations are among the most sensitive operations of the country. According to Executive Order 12333 issued by President Ronald Reagan, covert action is defined as special activities, both political and military, that the US Government could legally deny. These include assistance to groups attempting regime change in countries hostile to the United States - Syria comes to mind. The agency also conducts lethal operations ("targeted killing") against designated terrorist leaders - Anwar al-Awlaki is an example.

Directing and leading the CIA is a demanding job requiring experience and expertise in foreign policy, military operations and intelligence collection. Has the Agency always been led by directors with such credentials? Obviously not - usually the directors have had one, maybe two of these skill sets, but it is difficult to find someone with all three.

Unfortunately, at times, the director's sole "qualification" was being a political favorite of the president.

First, let me say that Congressman Pompeo has an outstanding record. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), served as an armored cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, earned a law degree from Harvard University, practiced law for a short period of time, and started or managed several successful businesses in the energy and aviation industries.

As a member of the House of Representatives since being elected in 2010, he has served on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (including the subcommittee on the CIA), and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. He also was a member of the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.

Based on public records, I don't see any intelligence or foreign policy experience during his time in the military, as a lawyer or private industry. Although he has served on the House committee that oversees the intelligence community, that in and of itself does not translate to intelligence experience.

The Congressman's military experience as a armored cavalry officer will serve him well, but his experience with military intelligence was probably limited to receiving tactical or operational level intelligence reports from the military intelligence company assigned to his armored cavalry regiment. As a captain, his exposure was at a fairly low level and likely at the Secret level - in other words, no access to highly classified material or special access programs.

President-elect Trump, as with previous presidents, should have the Cabinet members, advisers and agency chiefs that he believes will provide him the best advice and leadership. He obviously has faith and trust in Congressman Pompeo to serve as his CIA director.

That said, I cannot help thinking that there are more qualified individuals from the armed forces and Defense Department, the intelligence community or the foreign policy ranks that have more applicable experience to lead this vital organization.

I do, however, wish Congressman Pompeo the best in his new position.

Disclosure: During my career as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, I had several assignments to the CIA.