By Deb Riechmann
WASHINGTON (AP) — CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, Oct. 4, outlined his vision for more aggressive intelligence work around the world, saying he’s sending more spies to the field and moving decision-making down the chain of command to better protect national security.
Pompeo said he’s trying to cut red tape and create a culture at the agency that says: “If you are in a process and you’re not adding value, get out of the way.”
“This risk of the absence of agility and speed is a price our agency can’t afford to pay,” he said in a speech at an intelligence conference at George Washington University. “It’s one that America cannot afford either.”
Pompeo, a former businessman and conservative Republican congressman from Kansas, took the helm of the CIA in January at a time of heightened strikes by Islamic extremists, aggressive behavior from Russia, accelerating threats from North Korea’s nuclear program and tense relations between President Donald Trump and the intelligence agencies.
Pompeo didn’t elaborate on how many more agents are being sent into the field, but he said it’s important to get personnel closer to where adversaries are training and preparing to “take America down.” He has said before that he wants to decentralize the CIA to make it more nimble.
“The closer we can get to the center of it, deploying our people, tools and resources into the heart of the fight, the more quickly we’ll engage those who threaten us and the more likely it is we will keep America safe,” he said.
He said he has impressed upon every CIA officer a need to push decisions to the lowest level possible because the leaders at CIA stations and bases across the world should be calling the shots to the maximum extent possible.
“If they need to consult with us here at headquarters, we want them to coordinate with those who know the most about the issue — and with no one who doesn’t need to be involved in the process,” Pompeo said.
“If it’s a tactical issue, that’s rarely me or anyone in my senior leadership team,” he said. “We have to make sure those decisions are made by officers closest to the issue at hand. After all, they almost always have a firmer grasp on the details and they should therefore be the ones leading the way.”
He also said he’s trying to reduce the number of people who have to sign off and review plans. Moreover, he said the agency is investing in technology to help sift through mountains of intelligence and zero in on the best information.
Pompeo also said that President Trump was an avid consumer of U.S. intelligence.
Later at the conference, former CIA directors discussed public trust in the agency and transparency of its operations. CIA Director John Brennan, a member of a panel, criticized Trump for not accepting the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the presidential election.
“When the 1st customer denigrates that work, how then can the American people embrace the work and the mission of the intelligence community,” Brennan said. “So there’s a real disconnect there.”