Should Donald Trump decide that he wants the CIA to get back into the business of torturing alleged terrorists — as he warned he would do during his presidential campaign — he would likely have the support of Mike Pompeo, the fiercely partisan Tea Party Republican congressman from Kansas who the President-elect just nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Two years ago, when the Senate Intelligence Committee released its landmark report on the efficacy of the CIA’s torture program Pompeo called it legal and said the men and women who subjected the detainees to so-called enhanced techniques like waterboarding “are not torturers, they are patriots.”
Pompeo’s nomination has been lauded by intelligence officials, such as former CIA Director Michael Hayden who said he was “heartened” by the announcement, as well as Pompeo’s Republican colleagues in Congress, who said he was a smart choice to lead the CIA. But some Democrats are being cautious and are taking a wait-and-see approach before heaping praise on Pompeo.
Pompeo, an Army veteran, opposes shuttering the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, has fought against the transfer of detainees to U.S. soil, and called for Congress to pass a law that would allow for a “fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.” He has also lambasted the Obama administration for refusing to acknowledge that the U.S. is at war with radical Islam.
A U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Law School graduate, Pompeo is probably best known for his work investigating the terrorist attack that killed four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya and concluding in a report and in public comments that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was culpable. He has also accused Clinton of knowingly disseminating classified information through her private email server.
A member of the House Intelligence Committee — which oversees the CIA and other intelligence agencies — Pompeo was elected to Congress in 2010 during the Tea Party wave in a campaign partially funded by the Koch Brothers. In a statement, Trump said Pompeo “has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens.”
“He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies,” Trump added.
“The opportunity to lead the world’s finest intelligence warriors, who labor tirelessly to keep this nation and Kansas safe, is a call to service I cannot ignore,” Pompeo responded.
CIA personnel breathed a sigh of relief Friday over Trump’s selection of Pompeo. Two other Republicans that were floated to head the CIA — former Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (who turned down the job) — were not well received by many of the career-analysts at Langley, according to congressional and CIA sources.
Hoekstra clashed with the CIA back in 2008 over a classified report that suggested the agency lied to Congress about a clandestine drug mission over Peru that resulted in a plane carrying two of Hoekstra’s constituents mistakenly being shot down.
That episode is still a sore point for some at the agency. CIA personnel feel that Pompeo will be a staunch defender of the agency’s current and past work and able to withstand congressional scrutiny.
If confirmed, Pompeo will head an agency with nearly 22,000 employees and a $15 billion budget and will inherit some of the CIA’s most controversial counterterrorism programs, notably its targeted killing program and the worldwide covert drone program.
Pompeo shares many of Trump’s extremist views on U.S. national security policy. He is a harsh critic of the deal the U.S. struck to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and on Thursday, as his name circulated as the possible pick for CIA director, he took to Twitter and vowed to roll back “this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
Following the Boston marathon bombings, Pompeo criticized Muslims leaders for not being vocal enough in condemning the attack. “Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit if these acts and more importantly still, in those that may well follow,” he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he is eager to question Pompeo during confirmation hearings. He told VICE News in an interview this week that he is poised to battle the Trump administration on civil liberties, encryption, and expanded surveillance powers.
“Given [the CIA’s recent history of operating a disastrous torture program and then spying on the Senate itself, the Agency demands principled leadership now more than ever. Unfortunately, Rep. Pompeo’s comments in which he asserted that the CIA’s torture program was legal and that the American people did not deserve to know about it are deeply troubling,” Wyden said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, largely praised Trump’s selection of Pompeo but also noted they had sharp political differences.
“Mike is very bright and hard-working and will devote himself to helping the Agency develop the best possible intelligence for policy makers,” Schiff said in a statement. “While we have had our share of strong differences — principally on the politicization of the tragedy in Benghazi — I know that he is someone who is willing to listen and engage, both key qualities in a CIA director.”