President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Congressman Mike Pompeo, a leading critic of the Iran deal and supporter of stronger domestic surveillance, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump announced the nomination Friday morning, calling him a “brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies.”
Pompeo accepted Trump’s offer, saying that he looks forward “to working with America’s intelligence warriors, who do so much to protect Americans each and every day.”
Pompeo is a Republican tea party congressman from Kansas who was elected to the House in 2010. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and was a prominent voice in the investigation of Hillary Clinton for her role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks and use of a private email server.
He is also an outspoken supporter of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, especially the mass collection of metadata. In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal last year, Pompeo called for a “fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities” and to repeal the reforms to government surveillance implemented after the Edward Snowden revelations.
“Collection of the contents of specific targets’ communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been dumbed down,” Pompeo wrote, “with onerous requirements to secure the authorizing court order. The intelligence community feels beleaguered and bereft of political support.”
Pompeo has been one of the biggest critics of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. On Thursday, before news of his appointment was public, Pompeo tweeted, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
Trump has gone back and forth on his view of the deal, saying earlier in the campaign that he would “renegotiate” it and then more recently, promising to rip it up on his first day in the Oval Office.
But it’s not clear if, and in what capacity, Pompeo can act on the Iran deal — it was put in place by executive actions that a CIA director cannot simply undo with one fell swoop. But even if Pompeo got his wish, rolling back the Iran deal could have significant consequences for the United States in the international arena, said Trita Parsi, an expert on U.S. – Iran diplomacy and author of the forthcoming book “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.”
“Rolling back the Iran deal is not picking a fight with Iran,” Parsi told VICE News. “It’s picking a fight with Russia, China, the EU and the vast majority of countries who welcome this deal.”
Pompeo said that Muslim leaders have an obligation to speak out against all instances Islamic extremism and a failure to do so makes them “potentially complicit” in terror attacks.
The news of Pompeo’s appointment comes the same day that Trump picked Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and a day after Trump tapped retired Lt. General Michael Flynn to the position of national security adviser.
Sessions was the only sitting senator to endorse Trump during his campaign and has been an unwavering ally of the president-elect. Flynn, also an early Trump backer, has long been rumored to be in the running for a top national security job in the Trump Administration.
So far, the defining characteristic of Trump’s appointments seems first and foremost to be loyalty to Trump. While that might make sense while in the trenches of a presidential campaign, some experts worry that Trump’s appointments lack the expertise and level-headedness that these high-level national security positions require.
The position of CIA director in particular needs to put national security over politics, said Parsi.
“Someone like Pompeo who has been so ideological in his career as a congressman certainly doesn’t give the confidence that he has the capacity to be the role that the head of the CIA has to play,” Parsi said.
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