Following his Friday Landon Lecture at Kansas State, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with multiple media outlets, including student media. In an interview with the Collegian, Pompeo discussed the evolution of education and his experience in serving the U.S. government.
Kaylie McLaughlin, editor-in-chief of the Collegian: “You went to West Point and Harvard Law, so how do you think higher education has changed since you graduated?”
Mike Pompeo, secretary of state and former U.S. representative for Kansas: “Oh, that’s a good question. You have so much more information that is so much more readily available. Certainly when I was an undergraduate, it was the library, the stacks in the basement that you were going to go dig information out of and now you can sit at your desk in your dorm room or your house or wherever it is and the world is at your fingertips. And that’s certainly changed. It gives you more opportunity, but it has costs as well.
“The other thing that I think has changed, I think there’s a recognition that you, no matter what walk of life you’re headed to, some core capacity to handle these technological issues is an absolute imperative. Whether you’re going to go be a novelist or a playwright or whatever it may be, the capacity to help, to understand and have a knowledge base that helps you manage information is an absolute imperative.
“And the other great thing is that you can communicate with people all around the world in ways that you couldn’t before, so you have exposure to things that are much broader and deeper than you’d have back when I was a college student in the early 1980s. We had typewriters when I started too.”
Pete Loganbill, news editor of the Collegian: “You moved to Kansas in 1996, is that right?”
Pompeo: “The late 1990s. It might have been 1997 … it was right around that time.”
Loganbill: “When you were U.S. Representative from Kansas, what was your favorite part about representing Kansas in Congress?”
Pompeo: “The part that brings the most joy is always when you’re back in the state talking with voters, constituents, friends, hearing what their lives are like, what they’re experiencing, the things the federal government’s doing that is good for them or helping them and the things that it’s doing that’s just driving them crazy. Those moments, whether you were talking to a group of farmers out at an ag facility or you’re with manufacturing folks or families or people who are really challenged and were looking for the federal government to help provide them a path forward, those were the things that I remember most about my six years as a member of Congress. Not the votes, not the time in Washington, but the time back home.”
McLaughlin: “What was it like being asked by the president to do a job?”
Pompeo: “Oh, it’s crazy.”
Pompeo: “So I didn’t know President Trump and got a call that said ‘Hey, would you be willing to consider joining the administration,’ and then not too long after that, I was at Trump Tower being interviewed by President-Elect Trump to be his CIA director. And it was certainly life-changing for me. It took the level of responsibility and duty that I had to an entirely new level, and it also put me in a place where I was part of a team: the President’s National Security Team. And I had to make sure that I was operating and functioning as a part of that team in a way that was going to help President Trump make good decisions for America.”
Loganbill: “How does your job impact students?”
Pompeo: “Oh, goodness, in so many ways … We don’t deal directly with education issues, we have a Department of Education that does that, but we have intern programs and we provide curricular ideas to schools at every level all across the United States.
“And of course, the things that we do, the diplomatic things we do around the world impact young people’s lives in so many ways and frankly, shapes the future that they’ll have, not only here in the United States, but around the world. Boy, I hadn’t thought about it that way. But there’s not much that we touch as diplomats that doesn’t have the capacity to truly, fundamentally shape how America will proceed and how successful we will be in the world. And that in turn has an enormous impact on people’s decisions on family and work that are very important to every single student.”
McLaughlin: “You probably don’t plan to be Secretary of State forever, what kind of stuff do you have planned after?”
Pompeo: “I don’t have anything planned.”
Pompeo: “No. So I don’t know how long I’ll do this, but there will come an end whether it’s in a year and a half, or in five and a half years if the president’s reelected and he chooses to keep me on as Secretary of State, I don’t know. But I haven’t given a heck of a lot of thought to what I’ll do next.
“I hope I can still find a way to do public service again at some point in my life, but I also loved my time [when] I ran two small businesses here in Kansas and I loved that. It was very different from what I do today, but I was part of a team, leading an organization and I always enjoy that.”
Loganbill: “How has your CIA experience informed your time as Secretary of State?”
Pompeo: “That’s a great question. So, in two ways that I think are very central. First, every day I read the products that are put out by the intelligence community, mostly the CIA, but all of the intelligence agencies. Every morning, I get handed a book that’s got this information and I can read it with a depth that if you hadn’t had that experience, you didn’t know how that information came to be in that place, you couldn’t understand the methods and the tools that were used, you’d read it and you could value it, but I can get deeper in understanding what they’re really saying and what they’re communicating in ways I think, had I not had the experience, I wouldn’t have.
“The second is my work deeply depends on the work that the intelligence community does. When we’re making decisions, we are every day mindful of the facts and the analysis that’s been put out by the intelligence community. It informs everything we do and therefore, the recommendations we make to the president.
“And what’s been great is because I have a special relationship with the agency, the woman who is now the director of the CIA was my deputy … we have a deep understanding of each other, we have a shared view of how diplomats and intelligence collectors can work together to create value, I think that’s been really important. I think that’s helped this administration greatly.”
McLaughlin: “Why did you decide to speak at K-State today?”
Pompeo: “I was invited.”
McLaughlin: “You were invited.”
Pompeo: “I was invited to be part of this really cool, amazing lecture series that is a world-renowned lecture series and I had been to Landon Lectures before, I had seen these really remarkable leaders speak to this forum, so when I got the invitation, I was really excited. I worked quickly to find a date that I thought would work for the campus and the university and the community here as well as my schedule. We locked it in and I have, since that day a number of months back, moved heaven and earth to make sure that nothing got between me being here and the chance to speak to this important forum where leaders come and talk about the work that they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
“And second, it’s great for me too because it’s home. I got a chance to come back to a state that I love very much and a group of people that I love very, very much.”
Loganbill: “How do you balance having a job like this and also just like your family life and stuff like that?”
Pompeo: “Yeah, not very well. Look, when you take on a task like this, you realize that for this moment in your life, you’re going to be very, very focused on the work that you’re doing, and you’re going to sacrifice a lot of those things. And so my wife Susan, a lifelong Kansan, is a great supporter — she’s all in. She tries to travel with me when she can and to help our team, our family members that are stationed all across the world.
“But we know it means I’m going to spend an awful lot of time doing work stuff, but there will be another time in my life and we’ll rebalance it at that point in time. We’ll sort of put it back in the other direction.
“The other thing is, Susan and I both, we love working. For some, maybe to work with the kind of schedule I do, it would be an enormous sacrifice. I feel like it’s an enormous privilege to do what I am getting this chance to do here for a little while. So, not a sacrifice to spend this much time focused on this mission for America and working for the president.”
McLaughlin: “What do you think has been the most difficult decision you’ve been involved in as your time serving the president?”
Pompeo: “Oh, goodness. There have been so, so many. The ones that really strike you most directly are the ones that impact real security issues that impact American lives, where you’re making decisions about whether to send young men or women into harm’s way to help deliver an outcome for you.
“I remember, this was when I was the CIA director, we were working, the Assad regime in Syria had taken a chemical strike, at least we believed that they had, the world believed that they had, and the president wanted to respond to make clear that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, anytime was unacceptable. And he turned to me and said, ‘I need to know for sure what happened, for sure it was a chemical weapon, who did it. We need to be sure we’re right if we’re going to take this action. We have to have it now, we can’t get that wrong.’ And so we spent, he gave us about a day and a few hours to develop it. We had a team of almost 500 people working around the clock to paint the picture with enough depth and clarity so we could understand what it was that had taken place.
“We were lucky in a couple of places and really good in a handful of others, and we were able to definitively then go see the president and 30 hours later, say this is what it was. This is how it happened. This action was undertaken, and this is who did it with multiple strands of data that supported our analytic and say with high confidence that it really happened. This gave him the opportunity to confidently make a decision about how America should respond. … But we couldn’t miss this one, to make sure we had it right was something I remember and the clock was running. The team that was working on this was so great that day.”
McLaughlin: “Well, I think you have one more question. Pete?”
Loganbill: “I do and this is the hardest question so far.”
Pompeo: “Yes, sir.”
Loganbill: “Have you had Call Hall ice cream yet?”
Pompeo: “I have not, but it sounds like something that I should not allow my life to expire without having it first.”
Loganbill: “You’ll have to try it before you leave.”
McLaughlin: “Yes, it’s downstairs in the Union.”
Pompeo: “Oh, alright. Sounds good. I’ll make sure. That is the hardest question. And I had the worst answer. I’ll have to make sure I do it. I’m trying to watch my weight.”
Loganbill: “Thank you so much.”
McLaughlin: “Yeah, thank you.”
Pompeo: “It’s been wonderful to be with you all today. Are you both seniors?”
McLaughlin: “I’m a junior.”
Loganbill: “I’m a senior.”
Pompeo: “Good luck. Do you know what you’re doing next?”
Loganbill: “We’ll see.”
Pompeo: “Yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing next either.”
To listen to this interview, look out for it on the Collegian Kultivate Podcast wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.