Mike Pompeo Didn’t Serve in Gulf War (or Claim Otherwise)

In response to inquiries about frequent media mentions of the Director's wartime service, the CIA has confirmed he did not serve in combat.

Various stories are out overnight pointing out that current CIA Director and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo never served in Operation Desert Storm.

The Splinter (“The CIA Says Mike Pompeo Didn’t Fight in the Gulf War“) seems to have broken the news.

In the frenzied game of musical chairs that is the Trump administration, CIA Director Mike Pompeo is set to become the next Secretary of State. It’s an ideal time, then, to clarify details of his biography, including a rather major one: did Pompeo, as numerous profiles have stated, fight in the Gulf War? We asked the CIA, who confirmed that he absolutely did not.

Pompeo is a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1986 to 1991. But he wasn’t deployed to the Gulf: In an email this morning, a spokesperson for the CIA told us, “Director Pompeo was in the U.S. Army at the time of the Gulf War – serving until 1991. He was not deployed to that theater.”

The question was first raised on Twitter Friday morning by Ned Price, a former CIA officer who served under President Obama, and who very publicly quit the CIA rather than work for President Trump, announcing the decision in a February 2017 op-ed in the Washington Post. Price pointed out that among other places, Pompeo’s Wikipedia page suggests that he was deployed. It currently states that Pompeo “served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the 4th Infantry Division in the Gulf War.”

More prestigious outlets including New York (“It Turns Out Mike Pompeo Never Served in the Gulf War“), The Week (“How did a false rumor about Mike Pompeo being a Gulf War veteran make it into major newspapers?“), and Washington Press (“Trump’s new Secretary of State nominee was just dragged into a military service scandal“) follow suit.

I’ve certainly seen Pompeo’s Gulf War service cited multiple times. But, as best I can determine, he’s never claimed to have served. Looking at both the Internet Archive and Library of Congress archive, Pompeo’s Congressional biography, going back to at least 2016, has always been consistent on his military service. His initial bio, going back to January 2011, states:

Mike attended the United States Military Academy, graduating first in his class at West Point. Following graduation, Mike served with distinction as a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, leading troops as they patrolled the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin wall.

Later, it evolved to this version, which he used until leaving Congress for the CIA:

As a teenager, he enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated first in his class from West Point in 1986 and then served as a cavalry officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the Fourth Infantry Division.

Similarly, the earliest and most recent versions of his CIA bio are identical:

Mr. Pompeo graduated first in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986 and served as a cavalry officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the US Army’s Fourth Infantry Division.

It’s his West Point time that he touts most proudly. Indeed, he named his tech company Thayer Aerospace, after the most important superintendent in the Academy’s history.

Presumably, a lot of publications and even Congressional profiles starting quoting from his Wikipedia page. I suppose Pompeo should have been aware that this was happening but it’s against Wikipedia’s terms of service for people or those connected with them to edit their bios. If he’d noticed people incorrectly attributing wartime service, he should have corrected it. But unless Pompeo was actively claiming combat service, there’s not much here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Un intended defacto little white lie 🙂

  2. Eric Florack says:

    I suspect learning the origins of that rumor would explain quite a bit about the origins of fake news these last couple decades.
    Someone tried and was all too successful in registering a negative on the man’s profile.

  3. Is that where this whole “Pompeo lied about serving in the Gulf War” comes from? Wikipedia?

    If that’s the case, then this is obviously much ado about nothing. Pompeo himself cannot be held responsible for what gets published on an open platform like Wikipedia.

    But, then, that’s the problem with Wikipedia, the fact that anyone can edit it and it often takes time for errors and deliberate lies to be corrected.

    I sometimes link to Wikipedia in blog posts, usually as an easy way to link to pages involving past court cases, but I try not to rely on it as a primary source material. Other people need to do the same thing.

  4. TM01 says:

    It’s never about how much is there. It’s about spreading a lie. The Hill posts misleading headlines. FB memes get created and spread. Tweets are retweeted. The misinformation is now all over the place.

    Then tiny little corrections are issued, none of which is shared or publicized nearly as much as the original lie.

    But the work is done. The anti-trumpers have another bit of hate to latch on to.

    Wikipedia should never be relied upon for anything relating to current events. It can be a good starting point to figure out where to go for actual information, but that’s often about it.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    @Doug Mataconis: as discussed elsewhere, it comes down to being the same thing for today’s supposed news media. Wikipedia is therefore equally reliable or unreliable.

  6. Todd says:

    I’d be interested to see how this evolves, and especially how Mike Pompeo (and possibly President Trump) respond. If Pompeo never made the claim himself, I think I’m with James and Doug and he should get the benefit of the doubt.

    On a broader note, the issue of “fought in the war” is not always clear cut. For instance, during the first Gulf War, I did deploy … but I supported B-52s flying out of Moron Spain, so I don’t think I’d say I “fought in the war”. Then more recently, I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once, all supporting the Army. But I was never “outside the wire”, so again, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable saying I “fought in the war”.

    That being said, if someone with experiences similar to mine wanted to say they did “fight in the war” I wouldn’t see any real reason to correct them.

    In the case of Mike Pompeo, what if say he was involved in helping his unit prepare to deploy, but didn’t actually go himself? I think it’s enough of a grey area that I’m not so sure that “fought in the gulf war” would necessarily be an outrageous lie; even if he did ever say that himself.

  7. Todd says:

    @TM01: lol, you just described the whole MO of many right wing media sites. Keep throwing headlines against the wall (whether there are actual facts to back them or not), use social media to spread the ideas, then eventually it sometimes becomes part of the conventional wisdom … sometimes to the point that mainstream sources just assume the “fact” is proven.

  8. TM01 says:

    @Todd: lol

    I’ll bet you think GWB was AWOL from the Texas ANG as well.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    I’ll bet you think GWB was AWOL from the Texas ANG as well.

    Do tell us how he served with honor in Vietnam…

  10. If this had occurred at the Point, he would have been sanctioned or possibly expelled, after due process, based on the Honor Code.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @A disinterested party: Based on what?

  12. @A disinterested party:

    Please point us to evidence to support this claim. As James notes in his post, it seems apparent that the entire “Pompeo falsely claimed he served in the Gulf War” idea is based on something that was posted on Wikipedia. I haven’t seen any proof that he ever personally made this claim, or that it was made by anyone acting under his authority.

    I’ve got several issues with Pompeo on substance, but I don’t see any evidence supporting this claim.