The CIA Director would “love to have [me] join the team”; I won’t be…but maybe you should

At the Aspen Security Forum last week, I asked CIA Director Mike Pompeo about what message he might have for young people considering a career in government.  His response was insightful…and amusing.  Here’s the text (video here):

DUNLAP: Director, thank you very much. Charlie Dunlap from Duke Law School. You probably are aware of the atmosphere on a lot of campuses, what would you say to young people going into government, how would you — I was in the military for 35 years, so you see all kinds of administrations. What is the best message to try to get the best and brightest to go into government at this point in time ?

POMPEO: I will speak for the CIA. We’re doing it. We are getting the best and brightest [to] come in, and we have unbelievable people. I get a chance to see the pool [of] candidate[s] about once a month, the folks who are applying to come apply their craft whether it’s as a spy in the streets of Moscow or they want to be a physicist helping us figure out the trajectory of a North Korean missile system, we are getting some of the most talented people in America to come join us. And in spite of the fact that we pay them a fraction of what I know some of these young people can make they do it because they have a deep belief in our Constitution and in our country… What did they do on the 21st of January, they went back to work.

They went back to work delivering for our most senior policymakers the information they need to make good decisions. And so when you get out of law school come apply, we would love to have you join the team.  (Laughter)  (Emphasis added.)

Many of the more than 400 attendees at the Forum offered different views of Director Pompeo’s remark to me: 1) he was good-naturedly joshing about Duke (he’s a Harvard Law grad); or 2) he genuinely mistook me for a student (the light was shining directly into the eyes of the speakers)!  General Raymond “Tony” Thomas, who leads U.S. Special Operations Command (whose later presentation – “SOCOM: Policing the World” was terrific, tour de force), asked me mirthfully “Aren’t you like, president of Duke, or something?”  Not quite.

Wanting to believe my “youthful” appearance confused him, my official position about the above is #2,!  (And, just for the record, I am a proud 1975 grad of Villanova University School of Law and an active member of the Pennsylvania bar!)

In all seriousness, Director Pompeo’s message is an important one for these turbulent days: the vast majority of people in government are professionals, and do their job in a “deeply apolitical” way.  They serve “because they have a deep belief in our Constitution and in our country,” and do so “in spite of the fact that we pay them a fraction of what I know some of these young people can make.”

We’re pleased that Duke Law has had great success in assisting grads getting into the military and “other government agencies.”  As it happens, my friend from my Air Force days, CIA lawyer Erin Wirtanen, has been a frequent speaker at our LENS conferences (see here), and I hope to have her back for the 2018 conference (mark your calendars for Feb 23rd and 24th  2018) if not sooner.

A message similar to that of Director Pompeo was delivered by the Director of National Intelligence, the Hon. Dan Coats (albeit not in response to a question from me!). Here’s an extract of what he said at Aspen (video here) in response to a question about the difficulty of gaining security clearances and morale in the intelligence community in light of the President’s criticisms:

SEN. COATS: …So we’re on the way [towards solving the security clearance problems], and I’m glad you brought up the morale thing again because what I really wanted to mention is I’m — maybe one of my biggest surprises is the commitment of people in the intelligence communities knowing that they could get [an] easier job that would pay them two and three times as much, get them out of Washington traffic and are staying.

And I asked them why? Brown bag lunches with people that from entry-level to midlevel, you know, young people with incredible credentials, talent. Private sector after them saying I want to work here. I said say [to them] why, why did you choose this, you could have gone somewhere else[?]. [They said] “The sense of purpose,” [they] said “you can’t buy the sense of purpose.” The purpose of serving your country, the purpose of doing something that has real meaning to you, it’s different than working for a company that’s producing a product that you can sell in the market, you know, [I] don’t denigrate that in any way, but you can’t find that sense of purpose and some people with PhDs, people with, you know, graduated from MIT and working in other — you know, Cal Berkeley and so forth and so, all these capabilities not only are saying I don’t want to leave, are saying, well, I want to join you and so I’m trying — we’re trying to eliminate things that would hinder that desire to be part of this effort particularly as time — people see this world on fire and they want to do something about it.

And so we have a talented workforce that I’m just amazed with their patriotism, their commitment…So I’m just really proud to be able to have the opportunity to lead that kind of people in — tell you the truth I wasn’t sure what I was walking into, but I can give you tremendous stories {in fact], somebody in the audience here who — I think I almost recognized Andrew (phonetic); Andrew was on the way to work. He works for one of our agenc[ies]. He saw a woman being assaulted on the road he pulled his car over, he went after the assaultant, he got his nose busted and eyes busted and beaten up by the assaultant. Another FBI agent saw what was happening, they’re part of our IC. He pulled over. He had little bit better capability than Andrew did. (Laughter) (Emphasis –and some editing/punctuation! – added.)

The “Andrew” to whom Sen. Coats refers is my friend from the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security, Andrew “Swede” Borene whose LinkedIn bio describes him as the “executive advisor to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) as a SETA consultant from Booz Allen Hamilton.“

I urge you to read the full story of the incident to which Sen. Coats refers (“FBI awards Marine vet for saving woman from violent assault”), to include the part that says how  in saving the woman, Swede “incurred significant head trauma and had to undergo surgery to save his eye.”  Coincidently, the day of Sen. Coats’ speech was also Swede’s birthday, so we had lots to celebrate that evening!

So, for those of us who aren’t in a position to apply – or may be past that prime age…..(no comments please!), let’s support our recent graduates and post-graduates and encourage them to explore agency or military work for our Nation.

For the best and brightest of you who are thinking about your futures right now, consider that your country needs you.  Don’t let the tumult of the headlines and today’s polarizing politics deter you from considering an extremely rewarding career where not only do you get to do things that have real meaning, but you also get to associate with great people like Swede. Think about it.

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