AUSTIN (KXAN) — The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Pompeo, spoke Thursday before a packed audience at the University of Texas at Austin. Pompeo discussed national security and alliances as the keynote speaker for the fourth annual Texas National Security Forum.
Pompeo was appointed by President Donald Trump and sworn in on Jan. 23, 2017. Previously he was a congressman in Kansas, serving on the House Intelligence Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Students and community members attended the event and panelists fielded a wide range of questions, many of which were about cyber-security, North Korea and Russia.
UT Austin’s President Greg Fenves gifted Pompeo a Texas jersey with “Pompeo” printed on the back.
The CIA leader explained that he briefs President Trump nearly every morning and that in a recent briefing, he mentioned he’d be speaking at UT Austin.
“I told the president I was coming out that way and he just said, ‘make sure you recruit a few good ones,'” Pompeo said. He made a pitch to the UT Austin students in the audience, urging them to consider careers with the CIA or with public service in general.
Pompeo also praised President Trump’s support of his agency.
“He is prepared to allow us to take risks, as long as we’re doing it well, as long as we’re working to mitigate them, as long as they make sense,” Pompeo said of the commander in chief.
Pompeo said he is taking several steps with the president’s support to make the CIA faster and more aggressive. For example, he said, they are deploying more officers into the field.
The director also talked about the changing nature of work in the CIA. The CIA was structured around dealing with nation states, but now some of the agency’s greatest challenges come from non-state actors and information sources, like WikiLeaks.
Going forward, Pompeo said he wants to create a culture of decentralizing and risk-taking in the CIA. He is also looking for new ways to bring the agency to focus on retention and training.
“We have enormous authority and power at the CIA, and you all have all made a very good decision to entrust that to us, we have to earn that,” he said.
Pompeo noted that the U.S. Government understands that Russia is a threat to be taken seriously
“We can do a lot better than we’ve done in the last 4,6, 8 years,” he said of the way the U.S. has addressed Russia.
He also critiqued Iranian intelligence agencies. “Iran is a powerful nation state that remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”
Pompeo couldn’t reveal much about his strategies for handling international threats, but did offer a few details on North Korea.
“We are intent on delivering the president with intelligence not only on Kim Jung-un but the leaders around him, what’s going on in the commercial space,” explained Pompeo.
Some students in attendance felt Pompeo didn’t directly answer questions about President Trump’s comments about North Korea
“I was hoping he would have answered that more clearly, because at this point I don’t think anyone knows what the administration is actually doing,” said Galia Popov, a UT Student. As an Asian Studies major, she is very concerned with the U.S.’s relationship with North Korea.
Popov is interested in working in international affairs and loved having the opportunity to ask questions to ask Pompeo questions directly at the forum.
UT PhD student Alyssa Peterson attended the forum because she is also a member of the National Guard. She has been deployed before and wanted to hear from leaders like Pompeo about their future focuses.
“I wanted to know what is happening in the higher levels of our government, especially considering national security, because eventually it’s going to trickle down to me,” Peterson said.
Other distinguished speakers Thursday included Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, former United States Permanent Representative to NATO; Leslie Ireland, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Intelligence and Analysis; Marcel Lettre, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; John McLaughlin, former Acting Director of Central Intelligence; and General Mark Welsh, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
The forum is hosted by several programs at UT: the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the Intelligence Studies Project, the Clements Center for National Security, and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.