Susan Pompeo’s role as ‘first lady of the CIA’ draws critics, defenders

Her use of office space and support staff has raised questions inside the agency’s headquarters.


Susan Pompeo, the wife of Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, has taken an unusually active and prominent role at the organization, and has fashioned herself as an unofficial "first lady of the CIA," according to people with knowledge of her activities. 

Pompeo, who is a volunteer at the CIA, uses office space on the seventh-floor headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where senior leaders, including the director, have their offices. A support staff of CIA employees assists her in her duties, although that is not their full-time job. And Pompeo travels with her husband, who President Donald Trump nominated last week to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, including on trips he takes overseas to meet with foreign intelligence officials. 

Last year, Pompeo accompanied the CIA director on a trip to Great Britain, where he met with his counterpart Alex Younger, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, according to people familiar with the trip. Pompeo also went with the CIA director on a tour of Fort Monckton, a military base in southern England where MI6 trains its personnel. 

While it is not unheard of for directors' spouses to take on volunteer work, particularly advocating for families, Susan Pompeo's presence at the agency, along with her use of office space and help from staff, has raised questions internally about the nature of her duties and why agency resources are being used to support her, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak about a sensitive subject. 

The misuse of government travel and other perquisites of office has been a persistent theme of the Trump administration. But an agency spokesman said that all of Pompeo's work and travel has been reviewed by appropriate agency authorities, and, when necessary, the Pompeo family has reimbursed the CIA. 

Pompeo does not control a budget and is not paid for her work, which is focused on her role as honorary chair of the Family Advisory Board, a group that includes the spouses and domestic partners of agency personnel and addresses quality-of-life issues and the needs of personnel stationed overseas, said Ryan Trapani, a CIA spokesman. 

The staff who assist her with her work on the volunteer board also maintain their duties as CIA officers, Trapani said, noting that while Pompeo does use CIA office space, she does not have a permanent, dedicated office of her own at headquarters. 

"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," Trapani said. "She has graciously volunteered her time, much like former directors' 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." 

Some of the Pompeo family's activities also have raised concerns among some people about the director's use of his position, people familiar with the matter said. 

Over the Christmas holidays, the Pompeo family stayed at the CIA's storied training facility in Virginia, known as the Farm. Trapani said in a statement that the Pompeo family "stayed at an Agency-owned facility for three days over Christmas 2017." But he said they opted to do so instead of traveling out of state and incurring additional costs to protect the director and his family, which includes one adult son who doesn't live with his parents. 

"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," Trapani said. 

"These 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," Trapani said. 

Pompeo isn't the first director's spouse to take on a portfolio of agency-specific issues on a volunteer basis. Stephanie Glakas-Tenet helped to revive the Family Advisory Board, which was moribund when her husband, George Tenet, was sworn in as director in 1997, said Bill Harlow, who served as Tenet's spokesman. Glakas-Tenet didn't have an office and a staff, Harlow said. But he said her work was important in part because the families of CIA personnel experience unique stresses: They often can't talk about their work, or sometimes say why they're in a particular country. 

There is no role at the CIA comparable to the first lady. And there is no expectation that CIA directors' spouses will become involved in the agency's work. Some have taken little or no role, either because they had their own careers, were caring for young children or simply chose not to get involved, according to current and former U.S. officials. 

But Pompeo has long been a partner in her husband's career in public service. 

"We decided we would do this together," she told the Wichita Eagle about Mike Pompeo's decision to run for Congress in 2010. "We set out to do this like we would do any venture. I loved the campaigning part of it, much more than Mike did." 

At their home in Kansas, the Pompeos shared an office. "We had our desks in the office facing each other, and we worked in there all the time," she told VIP Wichita magazine in March of last year, as the couple was preparing to move to Washington. 

Michael Hayden, who served as CIA director from 2006 until 2009, said his wife, Jeanine, was also a partner in his work, not unlike Pompeo. She traveled with him abroad on many trips, he said, visiting with people at CIA stations, visiting schools that their children attended, and checking on the medical facilities that people used. Her job, he said, was to be an advocate for the workforce, and to tell him what could be improved. 

The trips were often grueling, he said, and his wife spent time working on the ground just like he did. 

"My wife, Stephanie [Glakas-Tenet] and Susan Pompeo clearly did things to contribute to the agency's mission," Hayden said. "If you're looking for a balance here, the CIA, and the government, got two for the price of one."


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