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Transcript: Marc Polymeropoulos talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - MARC POLYMEROPOULOS

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:

Marc, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is great to have you on the show.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

MICHAEL MORELL:

People need to know that you and I are friends and our families are friends. I think it's important for my listeners to know that. What it probably means for you, Marc, is that I probably need to be tougher on you than I am on most guests, so be prepared, pal.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Not a problem.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. I actually want to start in a little bit different place than I had originally p

lanned. I know that you have spent some time in the Middle East, and I know that you have spent some time actually working with the Kurds in Iraq, which are a little bit different than the Kurds in Syria.

But I really, Marc, wanted to get your reaction, from someone who's actually been on the ground, have actually had to work with folks like the Kurds to advance American interests, I wanted to get your reaction to what's happened in the last couple days, and to particularly what's happening today with the Turks rolling into northern Syria.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure. You know, I think when, you know, I saw the news over the last several days of what the administration had decided, and then I think overnight, the Turkish incursion, you know, it's almost a punch to the gut, at least for myself, for two decades served really on the front lines,

helping train these indigenous forces.

It's on a personal level for me because this is not, you know, talking about kind of geopolitics. This is face-to-face with allies, whether they're in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria who really put all their faith in the US government, and even more particular in those of us who were on the ground training them or working with them.

And so you know, I can see the faces of our Kurdish partners, our Syrian partners, even our Afghan partners as they see what, you know, is nothing other than a total betrayal. And I think this'll have a lot of ramifications into the future as well, because there will be other conflicts where we're gonna need our local partners.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And they're now gonna wonder whether they can trust us for the long term?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right. Undoubtedly. And again, you

know, I recall there was a great Kurdish leader (this is over 20 years ago), we were living up in the mountains in Kurdistan and I had given them our promises of future American support. And I think, you know, the Kurds are a special lot because they've been betrayed over the years by, you know, everyone from the Iranians, to the Israelis, to Saddam. But after my promises of a future, you know, democratic Iraq when we rid the country of Saddam, you know, he took me aside and he said, "Look, you know, we're gonna do this for ourselves. We need your support but everything we do is not based on the American ideal; it really is gonna be based on just your promise of support."

So I think, you know, even the Kurds who understood Realpolitik very well, you know, this is really a dark day, not only for the United States but for a lot of intelligence and special operations warriors who spent time on the front lines with these forces.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And I imagine, you know, going forward, whether you're in the intelligence community or whether you're in the military, and you're having conversations with indigenous forces somewhere else that we might want to support, that it's gonna be tough. It's gonna be tough to make the case, right, "That we're gonna be with you for the long term, and you're gonna be able to count on the United States," right? It's gonna be tough to keep a straight face and say that.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right. And you know, the Middle East is a small area, so everyone is gonna look back kind of on what's occurred over the last several hours and days, and this is really gonna hurt us into the future. Again, this is from the ground level; to me it was a punch in the gut. I think there's a lot of intelligence officers and special operations officers who are having some sleepless

nights, because they're looking at the faces of the individuals that we have betrayed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Marc, this is the first interview that you've done ever. You retired from the agency earlier this summer. You've done some writing. you've shared your thoughts with the public on several different issues. One of those is what we're gonna talk about at length, which is, you know, how does politics affect CIA, and is CIA political? So I really wanna get into that discussion. But this being your first interview, and the fact that you've written a handful of things, why did you decide to share your views publicly after a life in the clandestine service?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sure. Well, you know, after 26 years really all spent, you know, in the shadows, I think I wanted to come and give context to the American people about the organization that

I really so deeply believe in, that was not just my job but, you know, it was a calling, it was my passion. You know, I think the CIA has a soul, you know, it has a culture. And there's so much good that we do. So you know, quite simply, I just wanted to write and talk about it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Marc, before we get into the discussion of politics in CIA, let me ask you a few questions about your career. You started at the agency in 1993. How did you end up there?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure. Well, you know, I grew up in New Jersey just really a regular middle class kid, you know, listening to Bon Jovi and Springsteen, (LAUGH) and going to the Jersey Shore. I think you'd actually be surprised how many New Jerseyites are at CIA. I think former director John Brennan as well, is one--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

But really, two things led me to CIA. And you know, this is just, you know, kind of on a personal level. One was I read James Michener's book, Caravans, which was about a young foreign service officer in Afghanistan, and I was mesmerized by this, you know, Lawrence of Arabia type story. And then the second one, which was really memorable, was a trip my father, who was a college professor, he was teaching in Algeria. So my father and his best friend and I, when I was ten years old, we drove 1,000 miles through the Sahara Desert in Algeria in a Volkswagen minibus. And so I became completely hooked--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Wow--

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

--on the Middle East then. And after und

ergrad and grad school at Cornell I was really hired into the only job I've ever had.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You know, this reminds me of a conversation I had with somebody who's undercover, but somebody you know well, somebody who was the head of the counterterrorism center when I was the deputy director. And he told me that one weekend he had gone to graduation for a relative of his, and how he went to this graduation and was talking with all the kids, and how disappointed he was. And I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Well, I asked them about their overseas experience and they told me about London, and Rome, and Paris. And what I wanted to hear is somebody who had hiked their way across Africa."

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

"That's what I wanted to hear." So sounds like you got that right. So Marc, you started as an analyst, right? You did that for four years, then you switched to operations. What made you make that change?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right. Well, so as --

MICHAEL MORELL:

You started in my side of the agency--

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

I did, I did. And it's a really interesting story, because actually so many of my first experiences and the analytic side shaped the operational side of my career later on. But you know, I started in 1993 on the Afghan desk, and interestingly we had begun tracking a young supporter of the worldwide Islamic terrorist movement, a man called Osama bin Laden. And I actually coauthored one of the first papers ever written on these Afghan war veterans. And then even in the third week of my analyst training, the

third week when I was on the job at CIA, that's when Mir Aimal Kansi killed several of our colleagues outside the front gate.

MICHAEL MORELL:

January of '93.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

January of '93. And so you know, even as an analyst, you know, these were signs of what I would spend really the majority of my career on. But as for my analytic career, I think in 1995 after a TDY, a temporary duty assignment, on a trip to the Middle East I decided I wanted to switch tracks. And I came back and I talked to my group chief, someone who I think you know very well; he was John Brennan. And I went into his office and I said, "I'd like to become a case officer." And very quickly, and in retrospect too quickly, (LAUGH) he agreed it would be a great idea to switch tracks. (LAUGHTER) Looking back that was clear maybe I was not the crack analyst that I thought I  

was. But off I went into the DO. And then much later on when John was the director and I was in a field management role in the Middle East I reminded him of this story and we laughed. And you know, in truth he kept me in the agency, so that was a good thing. And--

MICHAEL MORELL:

You would've made a great analyst, (LAUGH) I'm absolutely certain of that. So Marc, what can you tell us in an unclassified setting here - we gotta keep reminding people of that - about the training program that operations officers go through?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure. You know, I think in a nutshell it's very close to the reality of work and life in the field. It is that good. It's a lot about time management, it's about testing yourself and your ability to operate alone. And it's not for everyone. You know, people do fail and that's okay. You know, there is

a washout rate.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So it's not like five-year-old soccer, where everybody gets a trophy at the end?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

No, everyone does not get a trophy in the end. And look, (LAUGH) in the end you have to be able to master the core skills of a case officer, which is how to, you know, detect surveillance, how to handle agents with, you know, top-notch tradecraft. And then, of course, the core business of spotting, assessing, developing, and recruiting. I think I would often marvel even years later with real-world operations, and I look back and I would say that, you know, what I learned in my training was spot-on.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Marc, what is it like to recruit another human being to spy for the United States?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Michael, that's a great question. I love that question because it goes to the heart of why I really loved the job as a case officer. Because you know, ultimately it's about, I think, the most basic of human personal relationships. I mean, I'd call it a romance, and then it's a marriage. You know, it's ultimately about getting close enough to another human being that you're able to assess their motivation to a point where you garner their agreement to betray their country, and that's an incredibly intimate relationship.

And in the end you're looking at someone who says to you, "I'm gonna put my life in your hands." You know, think about that as a responsibility of a young officer. There's probably no other job like that, you know, in the USG, or even anywhere.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So once they say yes, you really have two jobs, right? One is to acquire the

intelligence that they have access to, and the other is to keep them safe.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And that's a huge responsibility that the agency takes extraordinary seriously.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

And you have that responsibility at a very young age.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And then the flipside is the importance of keeping our officers, our operations officers, our case officers who are interacting with these assets, safe. And you had an experience where somebody who worked for you was actually killed by someone that we thought was an asset. Can you talk about that a little bit?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right. I think, you know, this was what every day you hoped and prayed would ne

ver happen. You know, I'll never forget standing in front of several hundred officers at a station and announcing the death of our colleague. And you know, to many he was a great friend. You know, this was a truly awful experience, and I can still hear, you know, the howls of one officer when she heard the news. It was absolutely gut-wrenching. I can't even recall, frankly, what I said that day. I remember taking the initial phone call that our officer had been killed, and immediately calling an all-hands.

Actually, I saw my wife at the embassy as well, and to this day she said she'd never seen such a look on my face. She knew something was wrong. And you know, I'll tell you, even today I have intense feelings of guilt for what occurred because, you know, ultimately I was in charge. And I've about a billion times gone through my mind how, you know, I personally failed.

Years later when I received my promotion to the senior intelligence service ranks, my first thought was that I did not deserve that, as that I had lost someone under my command. Now you know, I obviously have intense feelings of what occurred, so you try to take these feelings and kind of impart this on to the next generation of agency leaders. Because in our work this unfortunately does happen, and you have to be prepared for it.

I'll finish this with, you know, one day I was having dinner with the deputy Centcom commander, and I told him of my struggles, coming to terms with the death of one officer. And he responded that, you know, he really dealt with this on an industrial scale.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sure, sure.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

And so that was really sobering, and you

know, it's a tough business.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Marc, let's switch and talk about politics in the CIA. But I think in order to set the predicate for that I need to ask you a couple things. So as an operations officer you broadly did three things, right? You recruited spies, you built and maintained liaison relationships with foreign intelligence services, and you helped conduct covert action. Let's set the last one aside because we probably shouldn't talk about that. (LAUGH)

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

But talk for a minute about the importance of recruitment operations to national security.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure. Look, there's no substitute in my mind for, you know, what is in essence a human s

py. So for a penetration of a terrorist group who could provide information on plots to attack Americans, to the penetration of a prime minister's office of a country who's negotiating a trade deal with us, or penetration of a hostile nuclear program. You know, these are operations that could inform us of the most detailed plans of our adversaries.

It's obviously one element of the intelligence picture. There's signals intelligence as well, as we're listening on the communications of our allies. But you know, in my view - and I kinda go back to the bottom line in dealing with a human spy - these are someone who can provide us ground truth, who can maybe provide us documents, can answer our tasking. It's an interactive relationship, and that's really unmatched.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, it's that ability to go back and ask

questions, right? Follow up. You know, "What did you mean by that? What did you mean by this? Can you answer that question? Can you answer this question?" that really, I think, sets it apart from the other collection systems, right? Those can't do that.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

But a human source can. When you were in the field running assets and then managing case officers who were running assets, did you see the impact of your work?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Oh, I mean, I think we can have extraordinary impact. So even in the later stages of my career when I had, you know, senior operational leadership positions in several of the mission centers, I would go back and I would kind of tell the following to people, that I would recall five or six times in my career where the front page

stories in The Washington Post or New York Times were the results of our operational work. You know, of course no mention of CIA.

But you know, that feeling that you were a part of history, that you know, perhaps you helped shape history, and I'm not exaggerating on that, that's unmatched. I can give a example of an impact that was, you know, not geopolitical in nature, more personal that was in South Asia where I was managing one of our bases.

We were tracking a terrorist target, and this terrorist target had killed one of our officers several years prior, and this target was still continuing to plan operations against Americans. So we recruited agents on the ground and over months worked against this target where we finally had him on the X and we --

MICHAEL MORELL:

You finally located him?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

We located him, and we called in an airstrike, and we killed the terrorist. And on the impact of that, you know, I'll say that later that night - this is from 10,000 miles away - we called our officer's widow who was all the way back in the United States, and she thanked us. And you know, that remains a really proud moment of my time in CIA, and to me it's certainly operational impact.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, Marc, now talk about the importance to the United States of America, right, of CIA's relationships with foreign intelligence services.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure. And I think this is something that's not often really talked enough about in our line of business. But really, our foreign partnerships remain a cornerstone of our intelligence collection. You know, from our Five Eyes Alliance that's with the UK,

Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, to you know, our allies in the Balkans or the Middle East, you know, we've really built a worldwide web of allies, and we cooperate together against, you know, the hardest of targets.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So they give us intelligence?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

They do. And friendly services have, you know, taken down terrorist plots against Americans, have interdicted nuclear material. They've helped us catch spies in our midst, and provided us critical intelligence on our hard targets, like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China. So they're indispensable. And as operational managers in the field and at headquarters, we spent a huge amount of time nurturing these relationships. And again, it goes back to what I talked about before in terms of recruitment operations. This is different,

but there's an art to Liaison operations as well. Because again, it's all human contact, and it's personal relations, and it's just simply a critical part of the job.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. So with that as background, now we're gonna get to the political discussion. And maybe the way to do this, Marc, is for me to lay out some of the narratives that are in the public domain about CIA. CIA in politics and the influence of politics on CIA. So I think the first narrative is that the agency has a political agenda, that the agency plays in domestic politics here in the United States, the it wants to influence politics here in the United States.

In fact, Tucker Carlson, a Fox News commentator, accused CIA of wanting to remove President Trump from office, and that it was actually acting to do so. The whistleblower was an example of that, he said. What I want to ask you, Marc, is in

your 26 years of service, did you ever see any evidence of this narrative?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

No. You know, first of all, the answer is a clear and unequivocal no. And you know, I see this in the press, and you asked previously why I wanted to speak out, and so you know, this is one of the reasons to address questions like this, because I think it's a utterly absurd accusation. And it actually makes me sad because it goes against the fundamental principle, or the fundamental premise of our role, which was to protect the American people. So to me that narrative is deeply insulting, but I suppose it does need to be addressed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. In fact, somebody who I know, somebody who I grew up with actually called me after the Tucker Carlson thing and said, "Does the CIA really do that?"

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So these narratives matter. So it matters that people who have worked there and have worked there recently, like you did, can speak out and say it's not true.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

It's not true at all.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. So there's another narrative out there, right? Let me back up a minute. So this doesn't mean that agency officers don't have their own personal political views.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Of course.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, of course they do. Do people talk about them in the workplace?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

So you know, ordinarily, no. We're too busy. I mean, that's kind of, you know, what I tell people. And you know, when I (LAUGH)

was at CIA we don't even have access to Twitter inside the building. I mean, perhaps the operations center does, but we didn't follow the tweets, we didn't follow what was happening. We're too busy in the end. But of course I have close friends in the agency, you know, a select few who I would socialize on the side, and do I know their politics maybe a little bit.

But I can also tell you, if we named 20 CIA officers that I worked closely with, other than maybe some of my close friends, I have no idea who they even voted for. I think what we did pay attention to, and this is because it was part of our job, so for example, in a congressional election, you know, the oversight committee members may change. Well, that's a big deal to us because we have a lot of dealings with oversight. So that is of interest, who is now gonna be on the HPSCI or SSCI. But again, at the end of the day, talking

politics in the workplace is not a prime job duty of an organization that is designed to protect America.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And to the extent that you might happen to know what somebody's personal political views are, did you ever see those views affect what that person did in the workplace or decisions that that person made about their responsibilities?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

No. Again, first of all, the answer is no. And it's again, a question I find, it's almost amazing that we have to address this. I mean, I look back personally, did I agree with every foreign policy decision that was made? Of course not. Yet I deployed to multiple war zones, you know, I carried out the best of my abilities my operational duties. You know, I joke with people, I have intelligence medals from operations in areas of the world in which I didn't personally

view our policy was correct. It didn't matter at all.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Marc, one of the other narratives that is out there is that because of the president's decisions, because of his behavior, because of his critique of our allies, because of his embracing some of our adversaries, and I could go on and on here, that he has personally made the job of agency officers harder. Did you see anything in either terms of recruitment operations or in terms of our relationships with foreign intelligence services - which is why I wanted to talk about those earlier - that would be evidence of that narrative?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

So look, I think this is actually a really useful narrative to ponder, and I've thought a lot about this. Because it would be very easy for us to say, you know, "Yes, because of the president's unorthodox style, you

know, he's a disruptor for the international world order." You know, the tweets sometimes insulting foreign leaders, et cetera.

But really, upon close analysis, to me that just does not fly, and that's a really good thing. So in terms of recruitments, no. I mean, I don't think it has made our job of recruiting foreign assets more difficult. Because as I kind of considered what are the factors in which a foreign official would decide to spy for the United States, you know, these are all really personal motivations.

Whether it's individual needs based on financial need for a sick relative, or education for their children, or maybe dissatisfaction in the workplace, they're a religious minority in a country where there is a glass ceiling, or maybe they've been passed over for a promotion. But none of these have to do with whether or not, you know, President Trump has made a tweet or

has, you know, insulted another foreign leader, or disrupted the world order. I think, again, recruiting assets is a very personal decision for the agent to say yes. And so I don't think there has been an effect. In terms of Liaison, you know, this is where --

MICHAEL MORELL:

Relationships with foreign intelligence services.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

I'm sorry. So yes, so Liaison is our, you know, well-established relationship with foreign services over the entire globe. And look, Liaison is very well-attuned to American politics, probably more so than we are. They're very smart. And so look, in my assignments, after the elections in 2016 I was obliged to spend really a significant amount of time with senior foreign intelligence service officials. You know, they were curiously assessing--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Us. (LAUGH)

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

--us, and the new president, and his style. And you know, they were under some pressure from their masters as well. And they'd be asked at times, you know, maybe to brace us about something that the White House had put forward. But look, we've dealt with this very professionally, and I believe correctly by just we would note that we were all intelligence professionals, that it was best to ignore the politics, and then on our arena, which is, really building and even strengthening the bilateral ties between the respective services.

And you know, I look back, there is tremendous historic precedence for this. So I think in one of CIA's finest hours in the Middle East was our link to the Jordanian Security Services. But this was years ago, this was the Jordanian then-king Hussein. If  

you recall after Saddam invaded Kuwait, the US and Jordan essentially severed bilateral ties.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The king supported the Iraqis.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

He did. But CIA maintained the ties to the Jordanians and was kind of the sole entity that was able to kind of rebuild the entire bilateral relationship. And look at today, you know, Jordan is one of our indispensable allies. So just to go back to the original question, no, I think our work with Liaison under this White House has flourished. You know, I will note, I think it's a question, if one asked, to senior FBI or Department of State officials, they may have a different answer. Those are organizations that I think have had a bit of a tougher time than we are.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Marc, maybe one more thought just to u

nderscore what you said about Liaison relationships, is in my experience they not only survive tough political times, but they become the bedrock on which you rebuild a political relationship down the road, which I think is exactly what happened with Jordan.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I think CIA's relationships with other countries is gonna be really important here going forward.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right, I agree.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So one more narrative, Marc, that's out there. And that is that unlike the Bush and Obama administrations, this one, the Trump administration, particularly the president himself, has little interest in intelligence, is not paying attention, has

little interest in what the agency has to say. Is that narrative accurate?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

No, I actually think it's not accurate at all. And I think, first of all, you have to separate, you know, the administration from the president himself. So you know, in my time under this current White House - and again, I retired in June of this year - there was a huge appetite for intelligence. The National Security Council, for example, were voracious consumers, the various national security advisors we've gone through.

And I think, you know, a perfect example of this was the US government's response to the brazen Russian attempts to kill Sergei Skripal in the UK in March of 2018. There was a well-coordinated and really well-executed USG response led by the CIA, working through the White House. And it really was a textbook example of the

administration turning to the CIA to really kind of put the screws in the Russians. So this was a shining moment, and that to me is not an example at all of an administration disinterested--

MICHAEL MORELL:

If I remember correctly, the president didn't want to take action, right, and was ultimately talked into it by his senior advisors.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

You know, look, I cannot comment on President Trump himself, and I'm not a member nor was a part of the briefing team. That's a separate subject. But look, I'll note there is historic precedent for presidents to have a less than stellar desire for briefings. You know, there's a famous Washington vignette, if you recall. Many years ago during the Clinton administration there was a small plane that crashed on the White House lawn, and the

joke at that time was that then DCIA James Woolsey was trying to get in to see President Clinton, who wasn't taking his PDB, his presidential daily brief. And Woolsey would tell that joke himself. So my point on that is let's not judge the administration, their interest in intelligence, you know, just by what we hear about only the president.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So in your experience over the last few years, secretary of state's interest in intelligence?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's correct.

MICHAEL MORELL:

High?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

You know, I think, that it probably was a bit different under Secretary of State Tillerson. He had a unique management style.

MICHAEL MORELL:

But Pompeo?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Pompeo for sure, who you know, got to know our building very well, and you know, was an avid consumer when he was our director --

MICHAEL MORELL:

Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the joint chiefs?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Absolutely. Our counterparts at DOD were enormously interested, you know, primarily because of all the hotspots around the world.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Marc, with all of these narratives out there, right, CIA officers can't help to read about this stuff in the paper, right--

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure.

MICHAEL MORELL:

How would you assess the morale at CIA, you know, given all the fluidity of all the po

litics, and the way it's swirling around?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Sure. Look, you know, and as a senior leader when I left, you know, I was hyper attuned to this, because this is kind of, you know, the health of our organization. But my conclusion again, and this is despite kind of the political storm in Washington, morale was very high. There are young men and women who want to serve their country, really in a unique line of work. I think one of the key points that we stress, and which is true, is that the CIA today has sufficient resources to do our job and enjoys significant support on the Hill for our activities, and that's not always the case.

So we have to really focus on that, and I think our officers know that. It's a place where, you know, diversity and inclusion is practiced, and this is really important. But you know, back to the political side of the question, you know, CIA officers are kind of  

always cranky. So I think morale is high but we're always cranky--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Particularly analysts, if I remember correctly.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

And look, you know, (LAUGH) if you remember under President Obama, and you were of course there at the time, look, the National Security Council was a really bloated and at times stultifying entity, and we complained all the time about a lack of timely decision-making. So I would say morale is high and CIA officers remain, you know, appropriately cranky.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Marc, did you as a senior leader have to talk to your troops about all of this?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

So you know, I think it would be negligent if we did not, so the answer is yes. And so you know, in my last job I would meet and g

reet every officer from every career track in our mission center, whether it be a support officer, operations officer, targeting officer, and analyst.

MICHAEL MORELL:

But you had all these people working for you-- in this new reorganization that John Brennan put in place?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

That's right. And in their orientations I would make sure and come, and kind of address, you know, that giant elephant in the room. And I would simply say to ignore the politics and just, you know, put your head down and get to work. And I think that really did work because at the end of the day I go back to the morale. People come to the agency, really, for the right reasons, and they looked at the front page. You know, my last job was running operations in Europe and Russia. If you can't get motivated every day to come to work after what the Russians

did to us in 2016, you know, it's probably a wrong line of work for ya.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. So Marc, just a coupla more questions here. What are the things that you're gonna miss about--

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Oh, sure--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--goin' to work every day at the agency?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

So you know, I look back on kind of several moments that I think about all the time, you know, and both, you know, in the field and at headquarters. But you know, I recall walking from my apartment in a Middle Eastern capital. It was a place we were under heavy scrutiny from a hostile intelligence service, leading this small group of men and women at a station, walking up to the embassy at night.

And you know, you see the American flag

under that spotlight, and that to me was inspiring not only for officers at the embassy and the station, but also many in the host country who believed in the American ideal. I still get goosebumps about those days. I talked about before my feelings of CIA being a family. When I was in Afghanistan my mom died, and I was serving on a frontline base along the Pak/Afghan border.

And a return to the United States, to New Jersey, was going to take multiple helicopter flights and fixed-wing flights to make it home for the funeral. Our helicopter pilots, who are military veterans from the special operations community and probably the most accomplished on the planet, they flew me through terrible weather to get back home.

And I remember being on the headset in the helicopter telling them to turn around. You know, we were in a narrow mountain pass and

the weather was terrible, and I was worried about the safety of the air crew as well. And when we finally got to the base and we landed, you know, they said, "Look, we did this for you. We know what happened to your mom."

MICHAEL MORELL:

Wow.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

And so to me, how do you not have incredible loyalty to an organization that has men and women like that? And CIA to me is a family. I think it has a soul, you know, it has a beating heart. I never had a boring day in 26 years. And so I was really lucky to be a part of that, so I'm sure I will certainly miss it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Marc, thank you very much for joining us.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS:

Thank you.

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