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Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at INSA

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by CIA Director Mike Pompeo at INSA Leadership Dinner

July 11, 2017


Good evening everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you tonight. I’d like to start off with a story taken from our Agency’s recent history. It’s an episode that really brings home the courage and character of the men and women I’m so privileged to work with every day.

A very brave warrior came to us after serving 24 years in the Army. He served with an office in our Directorate of Operations that tackles some of the most sensitive and difficult tasks assigned to our Agency—a group for which he was eminently qualified.

He brought with him a sterling military record, one of the finest his Agency recruiters had ever seen. He was elite—a Ranger. And even among the best, he stood out. He had character, intellect, grit, and courage. He excelled at battlefield techniques, physical fitness, and marksmanship.

Perhaps most importantly, he had an uncanny knack for getting the job done, however difficult the task. Needless to say, CIA was thrilled when he joined our team.

His first overseas assignment was in Afghanistan, working on counterterrorism. After only a few weeks, missions with him followed an almost predictable routine. Everyone knew the planning would be meticulous; the execution would be precise; the mood would be cool and composed; and the objective would be achieved.

He was asleep one morning, having just finished a mission the night before, when an explosion shook the walls of his room, jolting him awake. He quickly gathered his equipment and met up with his colleagues.

Several hundred yards away, a car bomb had detonated at the main entrance of a compound housing Afghan soldiers. He threw on his gear, jumped in an armored truck, and sped to the compound with his team.

As they arrived, a second car bomb detonated, and enemy fire came streaming in from every direction. Instead of seeking cover, he leapt from his truck and ran through the dust and smoke toward the center of the action. “He had no fear,” one of his colleagues said.

Near the main gate, he saw two Afghan soldiers lying on the ground. They were wounded and in the open, so he rushed over to pull them to safety. After reaching the soldiers, he was hit—once in the shoulder and once in the leg.

Despite his wounds, he refused to retreat. He moved forward to engage the enemy, taking position behind a small set of concrete stairs. From there, he fought furiously to check the enemy advance until his colleagues could join the battle.

The attackers raked the pavement and shredded tree limbs with gunfire. They attacked with hand grenades, RPGs, machine guns, and suicide vests.

As he fought valiantly to subdue them, a grenade landed next to him. There was nothing he could do to deflect it.

It exploded, inflicting a mortal wound.

While he was being carried away on a stretcher, a friend called out to him. As if reporting for duty one last time, our officer shouted, “Here!”

Even at the end, this gallant patriot stood ready to serve, just as he always had—wherever and whenever our country needed him.

* * * *

So what does it mean to be the Central Intelligence Agency in 2017, when threats to civilization—like terrorism, proliferation, and cyber warfare—are so tangible?

My answer is that our mission demands determined and aggressive espionage, conducted with valor and audacity by people like the hero I just described. America’s Central Intelligence Agency must be relentless, so that the very notion of our presence brings fear to the hearts of those who would harm our country.

And the threats our nation faces are very real. I’ll offer a quick rundown, not necessarily in order of magnitude.

First, there’s the scourge of international terrorism. Even as Mosul is falling and Raqqa comes under increasing pressure, a dire threat remains. We still have to do to ISIS what we did to core al-Qa‘ida—we have to shred their leadership. Which is not to say that al-Qa‘ida has gone away as a threat—it’s still out there, with planning cells and capability.

But we still have a lot of work to do against ISIS, especially given its willingness to forego major, al-Qa‘ida-style attacks in favor of widespread, smaller assaults that are easier to pull off. Frankly, our government has done an amazing job of countering this threat. We should be proud of that, but never complacent. Like France and Britain, America has plenty of trucks and sidewalks.

Next, there’s North Korea. Pyongyang is pushing 24 hours a day to develop an ICBM that can reach the continental United States with a nuclear warhead. As we witnessed last week, North Korea conducted its inaugural launch of an ICBM, underscoring the gravity of this threat. CIA is working hard on collection and analysis to support the President’s priority—finding a space where the North Korean regime decides that developing this weapon is not worth the risk or expense it entails.

For 20 years, America has whistled past the graveyard, hoping that North Korea would turn colors and become part of Western civilization. There’s no evidence that’s going to happen, absent concrete policies that press the North Koreans to de-nuclearize.

In Iran, we face an adversary on the march. Unlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a powerful nation-state that remains the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism. Its strength and influence have increased notably in recent years, especially when you look at what’s happening in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.

Tehran clearly aspires to be the hegemonic power in the region. And though we’re currently focused on destroying ISIS, Iran presents our biggest Mideast challenge over the long term.

Finally, we confront an array of insidious adversaries—states and non-state actors—that seek to erode democracy and the rule of law around the world. This includes groups like WikiLeaks, a non-state hostile intelligence service that recruits spies, rewards people who steal legitimate secrets, and uses that information to subvert Western democracies. And it certainly includes the Russian government, which has long been the world’s foremost practitioner of active measures, eagerly exploiting the vulnerabilities of free and open societies.

The cyber domain has greatly facilitated and accelerated these activities, making them far more damaging. Instead of having to rely on moles or agents, our adversaries can just sit in a room and send ones and zeroes across. And it’s much easier for authoritarian governments to use these tools than it is for democracies.

Bottom line—it’s hard to sit in the Director’s suite at CIA and not see the world as a dangerous place. The threat to the civilized world is for real, folks.

Americans in the heartland—places like Kansas—mostly get this. The sense that there’s evil in the world that must be defeated is not hyperbole or hyperventilation. It’s a rational response to the latest ISIS atrocity, the use of chemical weapons against Syrian children, or the brutalization of an American college student for an alleged misdemeanor.

* * * *

So, returning to my question from a moment ago, what does all this mean for CIA and how we accomplish our mission in 2017?

First, it means we have to do everything in our power to provide the strategic understanding our policymakers need to keep our country safe. When I’m in meetings at the White House, intelligence sets the stage for nearly every policy discussion that takes place.

That puts tremendous pressure on CIA. It means we have to be relentless in stealing secrets from our adversaries. And we have to be world-class when it comes to bringing together intelligence from across the government, figuring out what it all means, and presenting our findings to policymakers clearly and concisely.

And when we deliver our assessments, we must do so with complete candor. CIA has to speak the truth to whomever we serve, without fear or favor. That’s what the President and senior policymakers expect of us, and what we demand of ourselves. Whenever I swear in new officers, I tell them they have a duty to deliver the truth in every corridor they enter.

Second, to accomplish our mission today, we need officers of majestic intellect from a range of disciplines. Intelligence work is tough stuff. It requires the capacity to absorb vast amounts of information. It requires the perceptiveness to spot trends lurking beneath the data.

And it requires the creativity to come up with solutions to tough problems—how to penetrate a hard target, how to deploy a team or capability into hostile territory, how to solve the technical challenges that arise when you’re operating on the cutting-edge of technology.

The more brainpower we have in our organization, the easier all these jobs become. That’s why we’re focusing so much on recruitment. We want our nation’s best and brightest to think of CIA as the perfect fit for them—as a place where they can reach their full potential while at the same time helping to build a better, safer world.

Third, if we are to succeed against today’s threats, we need a nation that understands what our Agency does and does not do. Here, the onus is on CIA to explain our mission clearly to the American people. The truth is, there are some incredibly stubborn myths out there that need to be debunked, especially regarding the scope of our authorities.

For starters, we have to make clear that CIA is a foreign intelligence Agency, that we focus on collecting information about foreign governments, foreign terrorist organizations, and the like—not Americans.

Moreover, we have to counter the narrative that CIA is a rogue Agency that is somehow untethered from the rest of government. As a former member of the House Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that CIA is the subject of rigorous oversight from the Hill, as well as from the executive and judicial branches.

CIA also has to push back against stories in the news media that are misleading or just plain wrong. This is difficult to do in the intelligence business. When I served in Congress, we could respond to an inaccurate story by quickly putting out the facts, either in a tweet or a press release.

But at CIA we’re often limited in what we can say, given the need to protect classified information. In many cases we can’t set the record straight because doing so could harm national security.

Fourth, to be an effective intelligence service in today’s world, we need a Commander in Chief who appreciates our work—and we certainly have that in President Trump. I brief the President nearly every day, and he’s always very engaged in the discussion, pressing for more information and asking tough questions. The briefing is typically scheduled for a half hour or so, but we rarely leave at the thirty-minute mark.

The President is a demanding customer. And we like it that way, because it shows that he depends on us and values what we do. Let me give you an example to illustrate the point.

I got a call from the President one afternoon back in April. He wanted to talk about some disturbing images that were coming in from Syria. I’m sure you saw many of them yourselves—scenes of innocent civilians writhing in agony, the apparent victims of a chemical weapons attack.

The President had a very direct message for me: Find out what happened. So we immediately assembled a crack team of Agency experts. They began piecing together the evidence, working closely with some outstanding partners from across the Intelligence Community.

The next day the President called his cabinet together. As we sat down, he turned to me and asked what we had learned. I told him that the IC had concluded that a chemical weapon had indeed been used in the attack, and that it had been launched by the Syrian regime.

The President paused a moment and said: Pompeo, are you sure? I’ll admit that the question took my breath away. But I knew how solid the evidence was, and I was able to look him in the eye and say, Mr. President, we have high confidence in our assessment.

The President never looked back. Based on the Intelligence Community’s judgment, he made one of the most consequential decisions of his young administration, launching a strike against the very airfield where the attack originated.

So I can assure you that when it comes to having the confidence of the Commander in Chief, CIA and the Intelligence Community are in great shape.

Finally, in confronting today’s daunting array of security threats, there’s one thing we need above all else, and that’s a Central Intelligence Agency that’s constantly improving and adapting to the times. I’m proud to say that in this regard, we’re operating at full throttle.

We’re setting clear priorities and applying the resources to meet them. While our Agency will always have responsibilities for global coverage, we justify our budget by providing unique insights on our nation’s most pressing security challenges. That’s where CIA truly adds value, and it’s where the President and senior leaders look to us for answers.

Our new Korea Mission Center is an example of our renewed focus on priority targets. It’s been up and running for only about two months, but it’s already paying dividends, helping us bring to bear all our capabilities against a very serious and complex threat.

Besides setting clear priorities, we’re also rewarding excellence across all facets of our mission. I spent much of my adult life in the highly competitive world of the free market, and excellence is what kept our business alive.

When you’re running a small business, the feedback is immediate: If you fail to deliver excellence, your customers stop buying your product. In a large government organization, it’s harder to monitor all the pieces as closely as you’d like. You’re less likely to know when a particular unit is not producing the quality you expect.

That’s why we’re insisting that everyone at CIA demand excellence at all times, not only from themselves but from each other. We can’t be satisfied with pockets of excellence, no matter how large or how widespread they may be. We need excellence to be embedded into every aspect of our culture.

Lastly, we’re pushing our officers to take risks and to aggressively carry out our mission. I often meet with Agency officers in small-group settings to talk informally about our work. In every meeting I stress that CIA must always be on its front foot. We have to lean forward and take risks.

That means, of course, that we won’t always succeed. It means there will be bad days. But we have to accept failure in this profession, because risks are inevitable when you’re serving on freedom’s frontier. Frankly, if you’re not coming up short at times, it’s probably a sign that you’re not pressing hard enough.

I drill these messages into our officers because CIA’s most important asset is its people. In the end, our success will depend entirely on them.

Since taking office some 24 weeks ago, I have seen firsthand why CIA officers are considered a national treasure. They accomplish truly awesome things every day, and they do so with courage, determination, and humility.

When I thank them for their remarkable work, they often shun the recognition. They say they’re just doing their jobs. They say they signed up to serve, and that serving their country is its own reward.

Their dedication to a cause larger than themselves is what makes CIA such an extraordinary place. And it’s why I’m so confident about our future.

I have no doubt whatsoever that our country will prevail against today’s adversaries and all those yet to come. And I know that in every phase of the fight, the men and women of CIA will be there to lead the way.

Thank you very much.

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Posted: Jul 11, 2017 07:42 PM
Last Updated: Jul 14, 2017 11:48 AM