“The thing being an intelligence officer taught me is that there is no simple answer that can be captured in 140 characters. I don’t think our commander in chief understands the complexity and the second- and third- order consequences of his decisions. … War has to be the last resort in all cases.”
– Pat Ryan
THE BIG IDEA: The spooks have come in from the cold, and they’re running for Congress.
Alarmed by President Trump and galvanized by Russian interference in the 2016 election, Democratic alumni of the Central Intelligence Agency are challenging Republican incumbents from Virginia to Michigan and New York.
Abigail Spanberger spent eight years as an operations officer for the CIA, recruiting and developing spies, with a focus on counterterrorism. Before joining the agency, she worked in law enforcement for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — targeting drug dealers and money laundering. In 2014, Spanberger left the agency and moved home to the Richmond suburb of Glen Allen, near where she and her husband grew up, to raise their three kids. The 38-year-old is now challenging Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), the Freedom Caucus leader who toppled then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary.
“There is a lot of concern among people living in our district about where we find ourselves on the international stage,” Spanberger said in an interview. “I believe very firmly that the United States of America is the world’s superpower, and we have a responsibility to be a stabilizing force.”
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened during Elissa Slotkin’s first week living in New York City. She had just started her graduate studies at Columbia University. Because she was fluent in Arabic, the CIA recruited her to be a Middle East analyst and then deployed her to Baghdad. She served three tours in Iraq over five years. She left to become the director for Iraq policy on the National Security Council, moved to the State Department and finally the Pentagon. When Barack Obama left office in January, she was the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security. Now 41, she’s moved home to Michigan and is running against GOP Rep. Mike Bishop.She outraised him last quarter.
Making this a trend story: Jeff Beals, 40, spent four years as a CIA intelligence officer after graduating from Harvard in 1998. He moved to the State Department in 2002 and spent four years working on Middle East peace there. Now a high school history teacher in Woodstock, N.Y., he is one of several Democrats vying to take on GOP Rep. John Faso.
— A handful of other Democratic House candidates also have intelligence backgrounds, though not at the CIA. Patrick Ryan, one of the top-tier contenders to face Faso in New York’s Hudson Valley, served two combat tours in Iraq, including one as the lead intelligence officer for an infantry battalion in Mosul. After retiring as a captain, the West Point grad started a successful cybersecurity firm. “The thing being an intelligence officer taught me is that there is no simple answer that can be captured in 140 characters,” Ryan said in an interview. “I don’t think our commander in chief understands the complexity and the second- and third- order consequences of his decisions. … War has to be the last resort in all cases.”