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The makeup of a CIA director’s external advisory board is completely at the director’s discretion. Past CIA directors have made use of diverse external advisory boards whose members have a wide array of experiences, including from the business world. The chair of former CIA Director Michael Hayden’s board, for example, was former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
Perspective from successful business leaders about preventing brain drain, discouraging leaks, and running a large organization was valuable, said Bob Deitz, who was a senior counselor to Hayden at CIA and oversaw his external advisory board. “We focused a lot on personnel issues,” Deitz said. “No one was asking these guys how to do tradecraft.”
But that perspective was balanced by expertise from former high-ranking military, diplomatic and intelligence officials, Deitz said, as well as academics with relevant specialties, like longtime diplomat and intelligence official Ellen Laipson. Another former CIA official noted that if anything, Pompeo, a former businessman and member of Congress, would have benefited more from national security and intelligence voices than from business and political leaders.
Former CIA director John Brennan’s board, meanwhile — the members of which were all terminated by Pompeo when he replaced Brennan, according to another former senior CIA official — was composed almost exclusively of national security veterans, including retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley.
McLaughlin, who served on both Brennan and former CIA Director David Petraeus’ board, said he could not recall any members whose experience was exclusively in the business world, and if there were, they were “not the center of gravity for the board.” Pompeo’s board, meanwhile, “was totally business sector,” said a former CIA official, with the exception of one retired general, one academic, and one ambassador. It’s not clear how many advisers were on Pompeo’s board, but previous directors including Brennan and Leon Panetta typically had 14-15 members.
The activities Pompeo planned for the external advisory board also raised eyebrows, including flying the advisers in to tour the CIA’s training facility known as the Farm, where they went shooting, witnessed demonstrations and received classified analytical briefings. McLaughlin and Deitz said their respective boards traveled to the Farm once each for graduation ceremonies. (Pompeo also caused a stir internally when he and his family stayed at the Farm over Christmas 2017, former officials said.)
Pompeo’s advisers were also hosted for elaborate dinners at Scattergood manor, a 5,000-square-foot, four-story Georgian Revival house that serves as the CIA’s liaison conference center, the former officials said. The CIA looked into converting Scattergood into a private residence for the CIA director during Pompeo’s tenure, current and former officials said. One official said the feasibility study was made at Congress’ request.
CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett said in a statement that the agency’s external advisory board meetings “provide a forum for in-depth conversations and lively debate on solutions. To suggest those meetings are some lavish vacation would be a misrepresentation.” He added that the board “is always a cross-section of industry experts and former senior government leaders who provide counsel on a wide variety of issues,” and noted that members spend “countless hours” volunteering to share their expertise.
Previous directors’ board meetings were more prosaic affairs. Hayden’s were held in the director’s conference room at Langley over lunch, Deitz said. “We would get breakfast and lunch; the meetings would break up around 5 p.m. and you were on your own for dinner,” McLaughlin said. Another former CIA official who provided Brennan’s advisers with analytical briefings said those meetings were also usually, if not always, held at Langley over lunch.
That former official added that Pompeo was known to take work trips to New York City, where he would meet with financial sector executives—a trend that has reportedly continued during his tenure as secretary of State. Another former official said the New York trips were logistically difficult, given how difficult it is to move the CIA director around securely. Agency employees also took note of Pompeo’s trips to Kansas, where he was mulling a Senate run.