Pompeo: ‘Reckless’ to keep CIA saddled with too much bureaucracy

Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on iTunes or PodcastOne.

A year into his role as the Central Intelligence Agency’s director and amid a government reorganization under the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo says he’s reshaping the CIA’s workforce by cutting out as much of the agency’s red tape as possible.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, Pompeo said under his tenure, about 40 percent of the decisions previously made at the director level are no longer made by him.

Advertisement

“You might say, ‘Wow, that’s reckless.’ I would tell you it was reckless to do it the other way,” Pompeo said. “We made careful decisions about what pieces to keep. If it has significant risk, cost — political, military — risk to the lives of our officers, that’s important for the director to have.”

In delegating more authority out to other agency leaders, Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas and an Army veteran, said he’s brought the CIA’s workforce up to speed, and made it more capable of keeping up with adversaries.

“If I had an experience set or if it needed full input from all of the intelligence community or the broader U.S. government … then I keep that decision,” he said. “But if it was coming to me just because I was the next fella on the chain of command, then that’s a mistake, because I would inevitably slow it down, and I would not be in a position to add any value to the decision-making process.”

While Pompeo spoke at length about the threats posed by North Korea, Iran and Russia, he also discussed the threat of being outmaneuvered by cybercriminals who don’t have to navigate through the same hierarchy that the U.S. intelligence community does.

“Having led two small businesses, having been a leader in the military, I could see that there was a bureaucracy that was preventing them from being unleashed, from doing the very things that they were directed, commanded and indeed, America needed them to do,” he said.

Throughout his tenure as CIA director, Pompeo said he’s encouraged the rest of the agency’s leadership to follow in his example, and delegate more responsibility to the agents in the field.

“I have tried to impart that same thing everywhere in our organization. I have asked every leader to make sure and empower the people who work for them. And I have tried to encourage the people that work for them to go grab that authority. If we do that, we’ll be as fast as our adversaries,” he said.

Without going into too much detail, Pompeo described a recent example in which CIA officers in the field were forced to close down an operations outpost, but managed the risk without losing its intelligence foothold in the region.

“The team came, said, ‘Here’s what I think we’re going to lose.’ We all found it unacceptable … I said, ‘We’re going to be out, we’re going to move out of that station. We’re going to set the date, and we’re not going to lose a thing. Go figure out a way to do it.’ And remarkably now, some months later, I can tell you that our intelligence posture is actually equal to where it was. We did some remarkable things, some creative things, some things that absolutely had real risk and continue to, but it’s in a place and on a subject about an adversary that we simply couldn’t afford to have a gap any larger than the one that we had before that facility went away.”

Pompeo went on to say that the CIA needs to accept some instances of mission failure and how best to bounce back from those scenarios.

“Almost by definition, if you move out on the risk profile, you will increase the number of times you will have failure … we’re going to make sure that people aren’t punished for that,” he said.