- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2017

After a period of extraordinary tension between President-elect Donald Trump and the nation’s intelligence community, the president-elect’s pick to run the CIA vowed Thursday to uphold the morale of America’s career spies and said solid, unbiased intelligence is the “lifeblood” of national security that is “more in demand than ever.”

While the four-hour confirmation hearing on his nomination occasionally grew heated amid scrutiny over his past support for mass surveillance programs, Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, a West Point graduate, appeared to win support on both sides of the aisle while clearly distancing himself from Mr. Trump’s denunciations of the intelligence community for its handling of claims about Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. election and of salacious unverified raw intelligence data targeting the billionaire president-elect.

Mr. Pompeo said it was “pretty clear” to him that Russian agents had engaged in a cyber propaganda campaign to influence the election, and that the meddling was likely part of “a long-standing effort” by Moscow.

“The Russians and, frankly, others out there engaging in a similar set of activities,” he said.

Mr. Pompeo also told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he would not authorize the CIA to reinstate use of now-illegal “enhanced interrogation” techniques — which critics denounce as torture — even if Mr. Trump demanded it. Mr. Trump on the campaign trail last year insisted that torture “works” and he would approve techniques “much stronger than waterboarding.”

But the three-term lawmaker did vow to fight aggressively against the Islamic State terror group. He also pointed to Iran as the “leading state sponsor of terror” and said Tehran “has become an emboldened, disruptive player in the Middle East, fueling tension with our Sunni allies.”

He acknowledged that as a congressman, he was an outspoken advocate for ripping up President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but told lawmakers that if confirmed, his “role will change” to building and protecting the U.S. intelligence infrastructure and offering unvarnished intelligence to the White House, rather that making foreign policy himself.

His new role, Mr. Pompeo said, will be to “ensure analysts have the time, political space, and resources to make objective and methodologically sound judgments.”

He emphasized the growing challenge of cybersecurity to American intelligence collection. While he offer few specifics, he suggested he’ll work to further a sweeping reorganization of the CIA that outgoing Director John O. Brennan began in recent years to confront new challenges from the cyber realm.

He said that as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he has personally seen the impact that political fights over intelligence can have on the morale of American spies. “As these quiet professionals grapple with an overwhelming series of challenges in this increasingly uncertain world, they deserve our support and our respect,” Mr. Pompeo said — a sharp contrast in tone from some of Mr. Trump’s recent comments.

Friction on mass surveillance

When Mr. Trump nominated him, civil liberties advocates cringed over Mr. Pompeo’s outspoken support for what had been the government’s clandestine bulk collection of telecommunications metadata on U.S. citizens — activities that were restricted when the USA Freedom Act went into effect in 2015.

The issue reared its head Thursday when Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, confronted Mr. Pompeo over an op-ed the congressman wrote last year calling on lawmakers to re-authorize the government’s power to conduct such mass surveillance on Americans.

“Are there any boundaries in your view to something this sweeping?” Mr. Wyden asked.

Mr. Pompeo replied, “That piece that [you] were referring to was talking about the U.S. government’s obligation to do all that it can in a lawful, constitutional manner, to collect foreign intelligence important to keeping America safe.”

But Mr. Wyden interrupted, asserting the nominee has, in fact, openly called for “collecting all metadata.”

Mr. Pompeo defended himself by saying he stands “behind the commitment to keep Americans safe, by conducting lawful intelligence collection.”

“When I was referring to metadata, I was talking about the metadata program that the USA Freedom Act has now changed in fundamental ways,” he said. “I, you should recall, voted for the USA Freedom Act, and I understand its restrictions — its restrictions on all of the U.S. government to collect information.”

Prior to his nomination in November, Mr. Pompeo was perhaps best known for his sharp criticism of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks.

But the 52-year-old Mr. Pompeo has a high-pedigree resume. He graduated first in his class from West Point in 1986 and, after leaving the service five years later, went on to earn a degree from Harvard Law School. He later moved to Wichita, founded an aerospace company in 1996 and won an open House seat in the 2010 tea party wave that saw Republicans recapture control of the House.

During an exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a harsh Russia critic, Mr. Pompeo frankly acknowledged the dangers posed by Russian propaganda and hacking.

Mr. Rubio asked whether Mr. Pompeo believed Russian President Vladimir Putin would see it as a success that the U.S. election turned out as it did, particularly given the divisions and partisan infighting that have consumed Washington as the revelations have come out.

“I have no doubt that the discourse that’s been taking place is something that Vladimir Putin would say, ‘Wow, that was among the objectives that I had,’ ” Mr. Pompeo responded.

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