The most serious threat facing the United States isn’t North Korea, Russia, Iran or ISIS, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Monday.
It’s the national deficit.
“If I listed the biggest threat – not in the near-term, but in the short-medium term – it’s the fact that America is $20 trillion in the hole,” Pompeo said.
“When we think about budgets …and you see the ever-shrinking available dollars that are going towards America’s entitlement programs, I wonder in five years or 10 years what the discussion will look like if we don’t figure out how to get that right.”
Pompeo’s warning about the deficit comes at a time when President Donald Trump is pushing for tax cuts that many economists say will increase the federal deficit by as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
Pompeo addressed a hometown audience for the first time since assuming leadership of the CIA in January, speaking to the Wichita Downtown Rotary at Botanica.
Pompeo, who has kept a low profile since taking over the nation’s international espionage agency, joked a bit about his new position.
“I graduated from West Point. Our motto was, ‘I will not lie, cheat or steal,’” he said. “And basically, that’s what we do.”
He talked about the CIA’s overall mission and his new routine as director, describing daily White House briefings with President Donald Trump.
“Sometime early in the morning I am handed the most exquisite information that America has in its possession,” Pompeo said.
Trump prefers him to deliver the briefing in person, he said. Pompeo usually is flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, he said.
“It’s an enormously humbling time for me,” Pompeo said. “I’ve done it now 100-plus times, I would guess, and it takes my breath away.”
Pompeo, who offered a tepid endorsement of Trump when the business mogul became the Republican presidential nominee, commended Trump’s energy and patriotism Monday.
“He is largely the human being that you see,” Pompeo said. “He is energetic. He has instincts that are incredible, truly.
“We’ve got folks that have been staring at problems an awfully long time, and he will provide insights, thinking about things in a way that we haven’t,” he said. “He sends us back to the drawing board to do better, just in the way good leaders do. …This is a patriot of the most extraordinary level.”
Pompeo spoke for about 20 minutes before offering a joking segue into a question-and-answer session.
“With that, I’m happy to talk about – well, frankly, almost nothing,” Pompeo said. “But I’m happy to listen to your questions.”
One audience member asked, “How do you know you don’t have any Russian spies working for you?”
“We do,” Pompeo answered, which drew a pause and then awkward laughter. “We operate every day on the assumption that we’ve got bad people inside the gates.”
Pompeo graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served in the Army and got a degree from Harvard Law School. In 2010, the conservative Republican won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Kansas’ 4th District.
Asked about stability the ranks at the CIA, Pompeo addressed recent reports.
“You may be referring to these stories about the president hating the intelligence community and everybody being in angst. I have not seen that,” Pompeo said.
“Indeed, I would argue that today they are thrilled with the change in administration. Not because of me, but because we’re allowing them to do what it is that they signed up to go do.
“My predecessor talked about the fact that we didn’t steal secrets. … I came in saying, ‘Hell yeah, We steal secrets.’ That’s what we do. It’s in our charter.”
Pompeo left Botanica immediately after the meeting and did not take questions from reporters.
Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias