Susan Pompeo, wife of Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, has taken on an unusually active role for a CIA spouse in agency affairs since he started the job in January 2017, regularly spending her days at the agency, traveling with her husband, and attending agency social events – seven sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
The Washington Post was first to publish a story detailing concerns over Pompeo’s role, CNN has been reporting on the story for a number of weeks.
Susan Pompeo is the “Honorary Chair” of the Family Advisory Board, according Ryan Trapani, a CIA spokesman. The board serves as a liaison between the agencies and families, whose members serve a two-year term and provide families with access to educational resources. She often attends or hosts events “in support of the agency,” Trapani said.
While Pompeo does not technically have her own office, she frequents the seventh floor director’s suite at CIA’s campus in Langley, Virginia, where CIA employees often “assist Mrs. Pompeo in various ways,” said Trapani. This includes preparing “materials, briefings, meeting agendas and so forth for our programs assisting spouses traveling overseas.” She also works on projects for the Family Advisory Board, as well as providing support services to relocate CIA officers around the world.
The CIA says none of these officers are officially assigned to work for Pompeo, and do not spend all their time with her, her work has led sources familiar with the matter to believe that they were her employees, and that she’d adopted a permanent residence upstairs in Langley.
It is not clear whether Susan Pompeo has been officially hired in a special role in the agency, but Trapani says she is not paid and does not control any agency funds.
“Mrs. Pompeo’s work on behalf of CIA officers and their families has been broadly praised and welcomed, particularly by officers stationed in the field. She has graciously volunteered her time, much like former director’s spouses, to drive initiatives that specifically make the lives of CIA officers and their families better for nothing more than the proud satisfaction of helping the Agency achieve its mission,” Trapani said.
A congressional source told CNN that Pompeo’s role has “definitely raised eyebrows … particularly the use of the office space. CIA explained that away by saying there’s an empty space she uses which is exactly what I’d say if she had an office.”
Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at the Washington University in St. Louis, called Susan Pompeo’s role at the CIA a “red flag,” questioning her use of CIA office space and the assistance she has received from CIA officials.
“If staff are helping her, it sounds like she can direct staff. It’s odd that someone who is not a government official or an employee is allowed to direct actual government employees,” Clark said.
Pompeo’s gatekeeper role
While she has a secret level clearance, which does not afford her access to most sensitive information, sources familiar argued that she keeps a closer eye on her husband’s highly sensitive calendar than previous spouses – modulating the flow of guests in and out. The CIA argued that Pompeo’s role in her husband’s schedule was limited to coordinating personal and family matters, but her presence, one source described as like a “gatekeeper,” has made others uncomfortable.
Trapani pushed back strongly against what he called “false and disgusting rumors being peddled about Director Pompeo, his wife, and their family are nothing more than a disgraceful attempt to politicize his nomination for Secretary of State without regard for the truth.”
Pompeo played an active role in her husband’s political rise, advising him on his four congressional campaigns and serving as one of his most-trusted advisers. Beyond joining her husband at campaign rallies and appearing in at least one ad touting her husband’s candidacy, she played an even bigger role behind the scenes advising her husband on the direction of the campaign.
Former Pompeo campaign aides recalled receiving emails from both the candidate and spouse – sometimes within minutes of each other – offering similar thoughts on next moves the campaign should make. That’s because the couple would often stay up late in the rush of the campaign, brainstorming from a home office they shared.
At CIA, not much has changed. “She was very much treating it like Pompeo was still in Congress,” one source familiar with Susan Pompeo’s current role said.
Mieke Eoyang, a former staffer for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN that spouses typically don’t have access to much sensitive information “or knowledge of exactly what’s on the director’s calendar.” She said that sort of behavior is more normal for congressional offices – a role Pompeo used to occupy. She said there is certainly a “social role” for the spouse “especially in a community like this” but the lines can get blurry.
“There’s a real question about her influence,” she continued.
“This isn’t a family business, it’s national security,” she said.
The Pompeos have also visited residences at Camp Peary, Virginia, the CIA’s remote training facility known as “The Farm,” a visit that caused some internal frustration, four sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN. Trapani did not confirm or deny the travel to Camp Peary but referenced a Christmas trip to an agency building.
“Director Pompeo and has family stayed at an Agency-owned facility for three days over Christmas 2017,” wrote Trapani. “In an effort to reduce the CIA security and support footprint required for them over the holidays, the Pompeos did not travel to visit their families which would have required a significant number of our officers to be away from their families. This trip was taken after review by career agency attorneys, and where appropriate, the Pompeo’s reimbursed the expenses, including lodging.”
The couple’s son, Nicholas, a 27-year-old working at a tech startup in New York, has also recreationally used a CIA gun range at Camp Peary on at least one occasion, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
One former senior CIA official told CNN that “you’re not even supposed to be there without a clearance … it’s absolutely outrageous.”
But Trapani told CNN that non-CIA personnel are allowed to use these types of facilities.
“Career Agency attorneys, as a standard practice, review and approve travel whenever the Director’s family travels with him. Where appropriate, the government is reimbursed,” Trapani said.
Role of previous spouses
At the CIA, being the spouse of an agency employee – from an overseas operator or an analyst to a high-ranking official – can be grueling and thankless.
“We lied about our husband’s jobs, stalled inquisitive policemen, befriended minister’s wives, kept our ears open at parties, deflected the children’s questions, and worried in silence alone,” Bina Cady Kiyonaga, the wife of an East Asia and Latin America operations officer, wrote in her memoir in 2000.
CIA director’s wives have played varying roles, depending on their willingness and availability to work alongside their spouses. Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, CIA Director George Tenet’s wife, Jeanine Hayden, CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden’s wife, and Mary Beth Morrell, former acting director Mike Morrell’s wife, for example, jumped into the role and made deep and sincere efforts to provide support to agency families. Glakas-Tenet compiled a cookbook of recipes and stories from CIA families around the world and Hayden picked up her work, publishing a sequel. Those outreach efforts, particularly for military spouses, were largely well-received at the agency.
At Gen. Hayden’s urging, Jeanine Hayden stepped up when her husband became CIA director, serving as an emissary to families, helping them find and utilize agency resources such as psychiatric counseling and education.
Larry Pfeiffer, Gen. Michael Hayden’s former chief of staff at the CIA, said Jeanine Hayden was granted a secret level clearance simply to be in the building and interact with families, but not for access to any real sensitive or secret information. She was also officially hired by the agency in a “no compensation” position.
“We were absolutely meticulous about that,” Pfeiffer said.
In his book “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS,” Mike Morrell writes that his wife Mary Beth “had her own CIA pass and could normally drive onto the compound and come into the headquarters building without an escort.”
However, there were times when sensitive activity was occurring and she was stopped at the driveway, excluded because she did not have a “need to know.” He also writes about how she was very involved in the agency towards the end of his tenure and got involved in efforts to “support the families of our officers.”
She was later given an award for her service.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.