The advisory board events were orchestrated primarily by two of Pompeo’s closest confidants: his wife Susan and one of his best friends and fellow West Point alum, businessman Brian Bulatao, whom Pompeo tapped as CIA’s chief operations officer in 2017.
Bulatao would dictate who was present at the board’s meetings and be present for all of the events, which is not unprecedented for the CIA’s top organizational official. But Bulatao was known within the agency to be primarily focused on how a particular course of action might impact Pompeo’s political future, said Douglas London, a former senior CIA operations officer who left the agency in 2019.
“Bulatao was billed as coming in with his outside business experience to advance efficiencies, an important role for the chief operating officer,” said London, now a professor at Georgetown. “But in the meetings I witnessed him participate in, Bulatao was primarily concerned with Pompeo’s image and other political considerations.”
“It was clear from the counsel Brian offered at meetings prioritizing his boss’s image, and the issues which garnered his attention, that Brian’s interests were not supporting CIA’s mission, but in making Pompeo president,” he said.
More unusual, former officials said, was the role played by Susan Pompeo, who would work out of an office on Langley’s 7th floor with an employee who “essentially acted as her assistant,” said one former official.
The general planning was not left exclusively to Susan Pompeo — the CIA assigns an officer to arrange travel and other logistics for the external advisory board. But Susan, who is not a government official, helped set schedules, plan menus and chart the general agenda for advisory board events, said one former official. She also often requested to vet analysts’ prepared briefings to the board.
In response to questions about Susan Pompeo’s role, Barrett said: “Since the agency’s external advisory board was established by former Director Hayden, there has always been an agency officer assigned to manage the board’s interactions with the agency. To suggest that Mrs. Pompeo played this staff role or any other role where she was approving agency briefings for the board is absurd.”
Susan Pompeo was heavily involved in arranging the Madison Dinners at the State Department, according to NBC News, communicating directly with invitees via her personal email account and, as at the CIA, arranging menus and formalizing scheduling.
A State Department official added that “whether it was with the families of CIA officers, or now, with families at our embassies across the world, Mrs. Pompeo’s presence has been a huge value add to the department. We are grateful that she continues to volunteer her time to ensure the State Department is focused on being One Team with One Mission. To be clear: Mrs. Pompeo has never had an office at the State Department or the CIA.”
Ultimately, it is not clear how much insight Pompeo’s board was able to provide into key national security questions and challenges surrounding certain agency missions.
David Kris, a founder of Culper Partners LLC who served as assistant attorney general for national security and sat on Brennan’s board, said that board grappled with questions about “the proper role of CIA in promoting national security, and the institutional role of the agency in the larger U.S. government intelligence community and national security undertaking. The people on it, who had almost all been involved in extremely sensitive, challenging national security problems and issues at one time or another, reflected that seriousness of purpose.”