Opinion: Why this former CIA counterterrorism officer is endorsing Evan McMullin
In the 2022 U.S. Senate race, Mike Lee’s challenger is Evan McMullin, an independent candidate. A former CIA counterterrorism officer discusses McMullin’s background in the CIA
We had different roles at the agency. My job as a targeting officer was to comb through vast amounts of mostly classified information to identify and locate terrorist targets and those who had access to them. I would then pass that information to clandestine operatives overseas like McMullin, who would use it to recruit sources and neutralize terrorists.
Our mission was the same: hunt down terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, and protect America from further attacks by our most dangerous enemies. It was a charge that McMullin took very seriously.
I first met McMullin over lunch with colleagues in the CIA cafeteria in the spring of 2003. We quickly became friends. Over the next eight years, we would meet for lunch whenever he was on home leave from undercover counterterrorism and traditional intelligence assignments overseas.
Naturally our conversations revolved around current events and Middle Eastern affairs. I was impressed with McMullin’s work ethic, intelligence and his tendency to speak less and listen more. He has an unusual capacity to grasp nuances and empathize with different views on complex issues. Naturally, the details of some of our conversations blur, but there was one so striking that I recall it verbatim.
In 2003, McMullin shipped off to a foreign terrorist hotspot for his first operational assignment. The post he volunteered for was one of the most hostile places any American could travel, much less operate as an undercover CIA officer. His work and that of others posted in that location were the tip of the spear for our efforts against Al-Qaeda. CIA operatives there would work 20-hour days, seven days a week.
Their work put them in direct contact with America’s greatest enemies and they took scores of terrorists off the battlefield. During a frightening time for the nation, these were patriotic acts of valor that still exceed even the imaginative portrayals of Hollywood moviemakers.
The risks and stress were immeasurably high. Some of our colleagues lost their lives. A typical war zone tour lasted one year. And, in my time at the agency, I had not heard of many operatives accepting, let alone volunteering, for an extension. McMullin chose to extend twice for a total of three back-to-back years. His accomplishments were many, and he was recognized for them repeatedly. His relentless work during those three years directly contributed to the fact that no other major terror attacks have succeeded on American soil since.
Typically, when officers volunteer for this kind of assignment for even one year — and do as well as McMullin had — they can pick a cushy follow-up assignment of their choice anywhere in the world. So when we met for lunch upon his three-year return, I anticipated McMullin would take such a post. But that’s not McMullin.
He had volunteered to serve in Iraq during the bloodiest phase of the war for his next tour — and that wasn’t all. He volunteered to join a new unit that would operate “outside the wire” meaning outside of the protection of traditional security and military personnel living and working within the “Green Zone.” He knew the team would be on its own.
I was flabbergasted.
“You could go to the Bahamas on your next tour if you wanted,” I recall telling him. His response is one that has stayed with me in the years since.
“We have Americans dying there every day, and you can only do so much from a safe-zone. We have to do more.”
He was very matter-of-fact about it. To McMullin, it was just what needed to be done.
That’s the thing about McMullin. His will to serve is not about himself; it’s about doing all he can to better this country and its people.
Many things changed about that mission ultimately in Iraq, but McMullin’s commitment remained the same and, as he’d done before, he voluntarily extended his tour there, too.
Americans right now are profoundly divided, our politics seem broken and our leaders in Washington are entrenched in party tribalism. The road to healing our divides and bringing functional and accountable governance back to Washington is, no doubt, a difficult task.
I have always said that if you want to know if a person possesses uncompromising integrity, courage, selflessness and mental toughness, you don’t pay attention to their mouth, you watch their feet. McMullin has walked the hard and challenging path his whole career, and with great personal and professional sacrifice.
As an independent, McMullin is not running to serve a special interest group or one political party. He’s running to serve Utahns and our country — just as he has done his entire career.
In the Senate, just like in the CIA, Evan will stand in places few others are willing to stand. He will do what’s right, not because it is easy, and no matter how hard the task.
For these reasons and more, I urge my fellow Utahns to vote for McMullin for U.S. Senate.
Michael Taylor is a U.S. Army veteran and a former CIA counterterrorism officer. He worked with Evan McMullin for 8 years. Taylor currently works at the VA in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he lives.