Mike Pompeo, a Hawk Who Pleased the President, Moves From Spying to Diplomacy

WASHINGTON — In 13 months as C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo sometimes displayed the aggressive partisanship he had developed as a Republican combatant in Congress, disturbing some colleagues with hawkish policy pronouncements and political spin that were jarring in his role as intelligence adviser.

But the agency appreciated his clout at the White House. His tough talk and stellar resume as a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School pleased President Trump, who formed a close bond and easy rapport with Mr. Pompeo in daily intelligence briefings.

Now, if confirmed to replace Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state, the 54-year-old former Kansas congressman will become the first person to have served as both the nation’s top spy and top diplomat. In the new job, Mr. Pompeo will no longer be constrained by the strictures of impartial intelligence analysis, a development likely to thrill his conservative political allies and alarm his critics.

“Mike allowed his public speeches to be more infused with policy than is traditional for a C.I.A. director,” said Michael V. Hayden, who served as C.I.A. director from 2006 to 2009. “But the agency was very pleased that he was so close to the president. And I’ve heard no one say that he’s made the agency skew its analysis to make the White House happy.”

Mr. Hayden said Mr. Pompeo “has shown that he sounds and thinks more like the president than Tillerson ever did. That should make the relationship better.” Mr. Tillerson “acted as a counterbalance to the president’s spontaneous reaction to things,” Mr. Hayden said, a role that he suggested Mr. Pompeo will be less likely to play.

Amy Zegart, a Stanford scholar who studies the intelligence agencies, said Mr. Pompeo, who has largely filled major jobs with C.I.A. veterans rather than outsiders, has protected the agency in a tumultuous time, a significant achievement given the fact that Mr. Trump came into office blasting the agency’s competence and reliability.

“President Trump came into office knowing nothing and trusting nothing about the C.I.A.,” she said. “Pompeo has gained the president’s trust and for the most part kept the Trump circus out of Langley. That’s a big deal.”

Mr. Pompeo, who was elected to Congress in 2010 in the Tea Party wave, has been especially outspoken on Iran. He shares Mr. Trump’s view that the nuclear agreement with Tehran is deeply flawed. Shortly after Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Pompeo wrote on Twitter, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

He has not moderated his rhetoric at the C.I.A. Five months ago he called Iran a “despotic theocracy” and “a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East.”

In October, he slipped up in discussing the volatile issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, claiming that American intelligence agencies had concluded that the meddling did not affect the outcome. In fact, the agencies did not give an opinion on the impact of the Russian hacking, leaking and propaganda. The agency issued a corrective statement and Mr. Pompeo has not repeated the mistake.

On covert action, though the details of most operations remain secret, Mr. Pompeo has taken an aggressive approach. In Afghanistan, the agency has sent small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan troops to hunt and kill Taliban militants across the country. This marks a shift for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan, where the agency had primarily focused on Al Qaeda and helping the Afghan spy services.

“We can’t perform our mission if we’re not aggressive,” Mr. Pompeo said in a speech in Texas last fall. “This is unforgiving, relentless. You pick the word. Every minute, we have to be focused on crushing our enemies.”

Mr. Pompeo is likely to be one of the most conservative secretaries of state in history. He was an outspoken critic of Hillary Clinton on her handling of the terrorist attack on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and was the co-author of an addendum to the House Benghazi committee’s report because he felt it did not go far enough.

He also repeatedly attacked the Obama administration’s record on climate change, and has been skeptical of the human role in causing warming. Since becoming director of the C.I.A., he has not spoken publicly about climate, though the agency did help put forward a Worldwide Threat Assessment that states climate change contributes to national security threats.

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and a close friend of Mr. Pompeo who has traveled abroad with him often, said that despite his sometimes harsh language and strong views, Mr. Pompeo is a good choice for the State Department.

“Mike consistently in our foreign travels has been diplomatic but firm,” Mr. Cotton said. “He won’t dodge hard issues, but he won’t needlessly antagonize people.”


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