Trump’s CIA Director Pick Thinks Using Encryption ‘May Itself Be A Red Flag’
He also has almost no experience in the world of intelligence.
Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Donald Trump announced on Friday that he's chosen Congressman Mike Pompeo to run the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the premiere spy agency of the United States.
Pompeo, a Republican lawmaker from Kansas and a former Army officer, has little-to-no experience in the world of intelligence (other than being part of the House Intelligence Committee), but he's distinguished himself for being a strong supporter of mass surveillance and for thinking that using encryption, by itself, might be a sign that you're a terrorist.
"Forcing terrorists into encrypted channels, however, impedes their operational effectiveness by constraining the amount of data they can send and complicating transmission protocols, a phenomenon known in military parlance as virtual attrition," Pompeo wrote in an op-ed published in January by The Wall Street Journal. "Moreover, the use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag."
"The use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag."
Encryption is a process that encodes data so that it can only be read or accessed by certain people. In this context, the term is mostly used to refer to encrypted messaging apps where only the sender and recipient can read the message, such as iMessage, WhatsApp or Signal, or encryption at rest, which safeguards data on the device, be it a phone or a computer. These are common technologies used by activists, journalists, and, increasingly, just anyone who uses a smartphone or a modern computer.
The political debate over encryption has intensified in the U.S. in recent years, coming to a head earlier this year when Apple refused a court order to decrypt the iPhone of one of the suspected San Bernardino mass shooters.
To his credit, Pompeo decried any attempts to weaken encryption by pushing companies to have a backdoor that the government can use to access encrypted data, saying such a mandate "would do little good, since terrorists would simply switch to foreign or home-built encryption."
That's why he argued for more human intelligence and a renewed focus on increasing funding and personnel for the FBI, given that "encryption is bringing the golden age of technology-driven surveillance to a close."
Pompeo is also a great fan of mass surveillance. In another op-ed, published in the conservative news outlet National Review, Pompeo criticized the Obama administration for being less willing to "collect intelligence on jihadis." He also wrote that the USA FREEDOM Act, the law that imposed new limits on the NSA's bulk telephone records-gathering program, "gutted" the program and made America less safe.
"Less intelligence capacity equals less safety," Pompeo wrote.
He also opposed closing Guantanamo and after a visit to the prison in 2013 he said that "a lot" of the prisoners who were on hunger strike looked like they "had put on weight." And he condemned Muslim clerics for being silent on Islamic terrorism, which, he argued, made them "complicit" in the terrorist attacks.
"The ongoing nepotism used to select unqualified and in some cases, dangerous people for leadership in these key positions may well lead to a catastrophic failure for the United States."
For all these reasons, the choice of Pompeo has left some in the intelligence community befuddled.
"None of us believe that a couple of years in the Army followed by sitting on a committee in Congress qualifies anyone for any position in the CIA, much less as the Director," a former military officer who also worked in the intelligence community told Motherboard on condition of anonymity. "We believe that the ongoing nepotism used to select unqualified and in some cases, dangerous people for leadership in these key positions may well lead to a catastrophic failure for the United States."
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