The nominee to become the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, suggested early this year that execution would be an appropriate punishment for Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who revealed the vast extent of government monitoring of Americans’ phone communications.
“He should be brought back from Russia and given due process,” Pompeo said on C-SPAN, “and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.”
Over his nearly six years on Capitol Hill, the Kansas Republican has routinely offered such strong views, suggesting that U.S. forces should use banned interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects and keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba open indefinitely.
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He won’t be the first politician with firm partisan beliefs to become CIA chief. But those before him offer a mixed record. And if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on campaign promises, Pompeo may instruct CIA agents in the field to take a 180-degree turn after inauguration day Jan. 20.
“In some cases, it’s going to be doing exactly the opposite of what they’ve been doing,” said John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who became a whistleblower and who served two years in prison for telling a reporter the name of a fellow CIA operative.
One example may be Syria, where President Barack Obama has pushed a policy of regime change against President Bashar Assad and CIA officers have provided so-called moderate rebels with weapons and guidance. But Trump disdains regime change and pledges to work closely on Syria with Russia, whose policy is to bolster Assad.
Trump, who admires foreign autocratic leaders, also may instruct the CIA to work more closely with regimes in Egypt and Turkey and distance itself from traditional liaison partners in Europe.
The sprawling CIA bureaucracy may find itself returning to discarded tactics – including the use of banned interrogation methods such as waterboarding.
I think people will head for the door if the president-elect calls for reinstitution of the torture program.
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who became a whistleblower
“I think people will head for the door if the president-elect calls for reinstitution of the torture program,” said Kiriakou.
One former intelligence chief, Michael Hayden, a retired Air Force general who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009 under a Republican president, gave Pompeo a thumbs-up.
“I know the congressman,” Hayden said at a forum in Washington. “In my second life we’ve shown up at dinners together, we’ve had conversations. Frankly, when I saw the choice I was heartened. I think this is a serious man who takes these questions seriously and who has studied these questions. Like I said, I’m heartened by the choice.”
When I saw the choice I was heartened.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden
Pompeo, if confirmed, may become more powerful than current CIA Director John Brennan, who answers to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Two sources told The Intercept Friday that Trump’s team plans to dismantle the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and fold its functions back into the 16 separate intelligence agencies that it currently oversees, with the CIA as the crown jewel.
To accomplish this, the incoming Trump administration would have to roll back 2004 congressional legislation that set up the ODNI following the intelligence failures that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Pompeo’s path from Capitol Hill and from politics to the CIA is not unprecedented.
“It’s not the traditional path to become CIA director,” said David Priess, a former CIA officer and author of the 2016 book “The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama.”
History gives mixed reviews to the last three CIA directors who came from partisan backgrounds – George H.W. Bush, Porter Goss and Leon Panetta, Priess said.
Bush took over the CIA in 1976 for one year, and later assumed the vice presidency and presidency. He had been chairman of the Republican Party.
Goss was a Republican congressman from Florida before he was named CIA director in 2004 by Bush’s son, President George W. Bush. He remained on the job for two years.
Panetta, a longtime Democratic congressman from California, was tapped by President Obama to head the CIA in 2009, departing two years later to become secretary of defense.
“George H.W. Bush and Leon Panetta ended up earning near universal respect for their roles at the CIA,” Priess said, noting that when Bush came in, after his stint as head of the Republican Party, “there was a lot of consternation.”
Goss’ tenure at the CIA was more troubled. He brought a lot of staffers from Capitol Hill with him to the CIA, a point of dismay at the headquarters in Langley, Va.
Virtually the entire seventh-floor leadership suite at the CIA was gone within a year.
David Priess, a former CIA officer and author of ‘The President’s Book of Secrets’
“Virtually the entire seventh-floor leadership suite at the CIA was gone within a year,” Priess said.
His troubles came as a surprise because Goss had worked at the CIA earlier in his life.
“Everyone just assumed that being a member of the tribe, he’d understand the day-to-day tribulations,” Kiriakou said, but they overlooked that Goss had “no experience running a large, complicated, secret bureaucracy.”
One thing in Pompeo’s favor is that he is a strong personality, and CIA directors often must stand up to presidents surrounded by acolytes.
“You don’t want somebody heading the CIA who just says, ‘Yes, sir.’ You want someone who says, ‘Sir, that is a bad idea,’ ” Kiriakou said.
Running the worldwide operations of the CIA, though, may be an all-consuming job that leaves less time than a director might want for sweeping change.
“The CIA directors pretty quickly hunker down to the mission,” Priess said.