Mike Pompeo's CIA Will Not Reflect America's Diversity
The CIA has never been a bastion of progressive thinking. It wasn’t until 1994 that an employee could even admit that he or she was gay or bisexual. I remember working at the CIA when Bill Clinton lifted the ban on LGBT men and women serving at the CIA. A friend came out to me one day, and I responded with a hug, saying, “That must be such an incredible weight off your shoulders.” He burst into tears.
In the intervening years, through Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama—and through all their CIA directors—LGBTQ CIA employees were able to form support organizations, organize programming and sponsor events in the intelligence community. The CIA also began to recruit openly gay officers. Their integration was seamless.
But now Mike Pompeo is CIA director. An evangelical Christian, the former congressman has a record that proves he is no friend of the LGBTQ community. And his behavior since becoming CIA director does nothing to change that conclusion.
Early this summer, the CIA’s LGBTQ organization invited Judy and Dennis Shepard to address the group at its annual event. The Shepards are the parents of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who in 1998 was attacked, tortured and tied to a fence post, where he died of his injuries. His parents went on to found the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which promotes education, outreach and advocacy programs related to LGBTQ issues. For the CIA, the Shepards were asked specifically to talk about diversity and LGBTQ rights.
They never made it to Langley, though. Even after the schedule was confirmed, the details were arranged and the Shepards purchased their airline tickets, Pompeo disinvited them, “questioning what value their appearance would bring to the CIA’s mission.” It took months for the CIA to reimburse their airline tickets. The Shepards were replaced by Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the only out lesbian in the Senate. The CIA’s inspector general is investigating the incident. (It’s great that Baldwin was able to speak. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that the Shepards had already been invited and were disinvited, probably because Pompeo had a problem with what they may or may not have said at the event.)
This is just one manifestation of Pompeo’s war on diversity at the CIA. Foreign Policy magazine calls the agency “more white, more male, more Jesus.” Pompeo apparently wears his fundamentalist Christian faith on his sleeve. He signs internal memos with “Have a blessed day” and participates in at least four different prayer groups. And he’s done literally nothing to promote diversity in any of its forms at the agency.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asked Pompeo whether he would support the rights of LGBTQ employees. He responded that he would “treat all employees in a way that is fair and equal.” But, Foreign Policy reports, when he arrived at the CIA, he “publicly and privately snubbed calls for his commitment to diversity, according to multiple sources.”
Furthermore, during his first address to the CIA workforce, Pompeo was asked repeatedly about his commitment to diversity. A source who was present told Foreign Policy that after the third question, Pompeo, “visibly lost his temper. He snapped back, saying he didn’t know what people wanted him to do besides seek out the best person for the job.” A separate source said, “He didn’t seem to understand the need for a workforce that reflects America.”
Reflecting America has long been a problem at the CIA. Even in the early years of the Clinton administration, it was possible to go an entire workday without seeing a single person of color walking the halls.
It was during the George W. Bush administration that former CIA officer and Farsi linguist Jeffrey Sterling was denied an overseas posting because, as his supervisor told him, “We think you’ll stand out as a big black guy walking around speaking Farsi.” Sterling responded, “When did you realize I was black?” He ended up filing a racial discrimination suit against the CIA, which was dismissed with prejudice only because CIA attorneys told a federal judge that it would have to divulge classified information to defend itself. The fix was in.
For all his faults, Obama CIA Director John Brennan did try to diversify the CIA workforce. But it seems that Pompeo has set those policies aside.
The CIA’s failures are well known. Indeed, Tim Weiner won the National Book Award for documenting those failures in “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” But one thing that ought to be easy to get right is to hire a diverse workforce, to make that workforce look like America, whether it’s black, brown, white, gay or straight.
The agency won’t, though. The CIA does what it wants, when it wants. It answers to nobody—not to the cheerleaders on Capitol Hill who call themselves members of the oversight committees or to the federal courts, which bow down to the CIA’s leadership in the interest of “national security.” This problem won’t get any better as long as Mike Pompeo is running the place. It’ll only get worse, even if he is having a “blessed day.”