Mike Pompeo is the US president-elect’s pick to take over the CIA. We examine his controversial views on a range of the thorniest issues, including Islam, increasing domestic surveillance, the use of torture and the Russian hacking allegations.
As Washington DC braces itself for soon-to-be president Donald Trump, the incoming president’s candidates for key positions are raising more than a few eyebrows. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s candidate to take over the CIA, is no exception.
Pompeo was already seen as a leader “defending American values” by the Tea Party movement within the Republican party — an ultra-conservative movement that emerged on what was once the party’s fringe. The movement is pro-guns, anti-immigration, and anti-big government.
Pompeo has sworn that, if he is confirmed as director of the CIA, he will be neutral and would “change roles from policymaker to information provider” — that he will make the transition from party ideologue to impartially running the most powerful intelligence agency on earth. His critics disagree. J Wells Dixon, senior staff attorney at rights organisation Center for Constitutional Rights, for instance, has called Pompeo “ill-suited to be CIA director,” and accused him of being a “brash and intemperate” man whose behaviour “does not reflect the personal qualities one wants in the leader of a powerful spy agency.”
We examine Pompeo’s positions on some of the biggest political issues of the day.
“I have spent the majority of my life outside the realm of politics,” Pompeo said in the opening statement of his Senate confirmation hearing on January 12. Yet not everyone is so confident of his promises of neutrality. Unlike most of his predecessors at the CIA, the Kansas representative is best known for his political career, especially for his searing attacks on Democratic figures such as President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The Congressman was at the forefront of Republican attacks on Hillary Clinton over her handling of the 2012 Benghazi attacks that left 4 Americans dead, including the US ambassador to Libya. The Republican criticisms continued even after June 2016 report by the House Select Committee on Benghazi found no new evidenceof wrongdoing by the Obama administration or the US Department of State.
“Politics were put ahead of the lives of Americans,” Pompeo said in a statement reacting to the release of the report.
The criticism of Clinton’s handling of Benghazi were viewed by her presidential campaign and supporters as part of a broader conservative conspiracy against her.
“While the administration had made excuses and blamed the challenges posed by time and distance, the truth is that they did not try.” – Mike Pompeo, June 28, 2016
ON ALLEGED RUSSIA HACKS
The NSA, CIA and FBI issued a joint intelligence report on January 6 that suggests Russia was meddling with US politics. The report says Russia had ordered an “influence campaign…aimed at the US presidential election” with a “clear preference” for Donald Trump over the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump has been denying the rumours for weeks. He stirred controversy on multiple occasions by praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, The president-elect dismissed the hacking allegations up until a news conference on January 11. “I think it was Russia,” he conceded for the first time, but sounded less convinced when he pondered moments later that it may have been another country. He also compared US intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany in a recent tweet.
The standoff over the allegations between the CIA and the president-elect is unprecedented in US political history, with the outgoing CIA director John Brennan going so far as to publicly rebuke Trump:
“Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions it has taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down,” Brennan told Fox News Sunday on January 15.
During last week’s confirmation hearing, Pompeo — arguably not wishing to alienate the very agency he hopes to run — took a more cautious line from Trump.
“This was an aggressive action taken by senior leadership inside of Russia.” – Mike Pompeo, January 12, 2017
He unequivocally stated that he believed the allegations of Russian hacking, telling senators that: “With respect to [the joint intelligence report] in particular, it’s pretty clear about what took place here, about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy.”
CIA TORTURE OF POST-9/11 DETAINEES
Pompeo is seen by his critics as being “pro-torture”. When the Senate Intelligence Committee released in December 2014 a classified torture report detailing methods employed by the CIA after 9/11, Pompeo condemned it.
“Our men and women who were tasked to keep us safe in the aftermath of 9/11 — our military and our intelligence warriors — are heroes, not pawns in some liberal game being played by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and Senator Feinstein,” he said at the time.
“These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots.” – Mike Pompeo, December 9, 2014
Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who oversaw the report, has voiced her opposition to his appointment to head the CIA because of his positions. Feinstein asked Pompeo if he would bring back “enhanced interrogation”. The term is a euphemism for torture, including waterboarding, according to critics, and a former CIA executive director.
“Absolutely not,” Pompeo told Feinstein during the hearing. “I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the President-elect.”
Yet Trump had, just months earlier, threatened to subject suspects to torture. “I would bring back waterboarding. I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” Trump said during a Republican debate on February 6, 2016, for instance.
Less than a year ago, Pompeo called the former National Security Agency subcontractor Edward Snowden a “traitor“, and called for him to be executed.
In 2013, Snowden turned whistleblower, exposing the dramatic expansion of mass surveillance of US citizens and foreign nations by the NSA. He then fled the US and now lives in exile in Russia, with many rights organisations petitioning Obama to have him pardoned.
“He should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.” – Mike Pompeo, February 11, 2016
Civil liberties advocates are concerned about Pompeo’s appointment because he has repeatedly said he wishes to resume the bulk collection of domestic phone metadata – the numbers and timestamps of calls. He has argued that legal protections introduced in the wake of the NSA leaks should be eliminated. He even wants to create a database:
“Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.” – Mike Pompeo, January 3, 2016
During the confirmation hearing, Pompeo tried maneuvering away from his previous argument, saying: “There are of course boundaries to this. First and foremost they begin with legal boundaries.”
VIEWS ON MUSLIMS
Pompeo has been accused of anti-Muslim rhetoric, as have several other key Trump nominees. In the words of Vikram Singh of the Center for American Progress, for instance, he is “someone consumed by racist conspiracy theories.”
Pompeo, like Trump, embraces a worldview that pits Christianity against Islam. As a commentator for the Washington DC-based media outlet Politico recently wrote, “Team Trump’s Message: the Clash of Civilisations is Back”. The controversial vision of global politics put forth by historian Bernard Lewis and popularised by political scientist Samuel Huntington, who in 1993 famously wrote of “cultural fault lines separating…civilisations”. The notion was heavily criticised as reductive and stigmatising, most famously by Edward Said, the founder of postcolonial studies, who wrote a scathing review titled “The Clash of Ignorance”.
Pompeo criticised Muslim leaders after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 for what he argued was their “collective responsibility”.
“Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and more importantly still, in those that may well follow,” Pompeo said.
He was roundly criticised in return.
“[Radical Islamic networks are] not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.” – Mike Pompeo, February 2015
In May last year, Pompeo visited a far-right think tank, the Center for Security Policy, which has accused Obama administration officials of being secret agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was interviewed by the think tank’s head and talk radio host Frank Gaffney, telling him: “We don’t have to say that all Muslims are bad. But … we’re going to have to have a broader approach in order to keep Americans safe.”
Pompeo has been particularly outspoken over the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration, along with much of the international community, views as a landmark achievement. He has in the past advocated the bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, and views regime change as the endgame in the central Asian country.
“Congress must act to change Iranian behaviour, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime,” he argued last July.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country refraining from stockpiling or creating nuclear weapons. Pompeo has argued that it is contradictory for the US to do business with a country that the White House still considers to be a “state sponsor of terror.”
“I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” – Mike Pompeo, November 17, 2016
Pompeo’s opposition to the nuclear pact included accusing the Obama administration of unproven “secret deals” and introducing bills to Congress aimed at undermining diplomatic efforts to build better Iranian-US relations.
“Pompeo has been a fierce ideological opponent of the Iran nuclear accord and gone out of his way to work to roll back the multilateral agreement,” Ryan Costello, a policy fellow at the National Iranian American Council who backs the deal, wrote in November.