- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2017

In a break from weeks of friction between President-elect Donald Trump and the Obama administration’s outgoing intelligence community chiefs, Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the CIA said Thursday that intelligence is the “lifeblood” of U.S. national security and “is more in demand than ever.”

At the start of a Senate hearing on his nomination Wednesday morning, Rep. Mike Pompeo also took aim at Russia, calling it a sophisticated adversary and asserting that an “essential” factor going forward will be for the CIA to provide “clear-eyed analysis of Russian activities.”

While Mr. Pompeo, a three-term Republican congressman from Kansas, steered clear in prepared remarks of commenting on accusations by current intelligence officials that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, he pointed to the ongoing cyberthreat posed by Russian hackers.

“The internet,” Mr. Pompeo said, “is a borderless, global environment, easily and frequently exploited by sophisticated adversaries like China and Russia, as well as by less sophisticated adversaries like Iran and North Korea, non-state actors, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and hackers.”

During exchanges with lawmakers, Mr. Pompeo said it was “pretty clear” that Russian agents had engaged in a cyber and propaganda campaign to influence the U.S. election.

While Mr. Trump has harshly denounced the U.S. intelligence community’s probe into Russian hacking and meddling in the election, Mr. Pompeo told Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, 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,” Mr. Pompeo said.

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, and that divisions and political chaos have since arisen over the American intelligence assessments of Russia’s alleged meddling.

“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.

In prepared remarks, meanwhile, Mr. Pompeo said “Russia has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe, and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction of [the Islamic State].”

He vowed to pursue a bare-knuckle approach to defeating the terror group also known as ISIS and ISIL. He also pointed to Iran as the “leading state sponsor of terror” and said the Shiite Islamic republic “has become an emboldened, disruptive player in the Middle East, fueling tension with our Sunni allies.”

With regard to cybersecurity threats specifically, the nominee said “countries thought to be unsophisticated, such as North Korea, have overcome what appeared to be low technological barriers of entry to engage in offensive cyber operations.”

“The U.S. must continue to invest wisely to maintain a decisive advantage,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“Technological advancements across the globe, even by non-hostile countries, is challenging the U.S. advantage, as commercial technologies spread into the hands of those who wish us harm,” he said. “The world is gaining on the U.S.”

Power outage at hearing

His remarks came after Thursday morning’s hearing was briefly halted when the lights suddenly went out inside a hearing room of the Hart Senate Office building, where the proceedings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were getting underway.

The power outage came just as Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s ranking Democrat, was making his own opening remarks.

Mr. Warner was commenting on how he and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, are committed to conduct a review of the intelligence community’s recent assessment of Russian meddling in the U.S election.

“Chairman Burr and I have committed to conduct a review of the intelligence supporting the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in order to undermine public faith in our democratic process,” Mr. Warner was saying.

The lights went out just as he was uttering the word “Russia.”

Moments later, lawmakers moved to hold a recess and then relocate the hearing to the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Some in the Hart building hearing room could be heard wondering and joking about whether it was “the Russians” who’d made the power go out.

Mr. Pompeo, meanwhile, is perhaps best-known for his sharp criticism of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks.

The 52-year-old 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 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 chamber.

In announcing Mr. Pompeo’s nomination in November, Mr. Trump said the congressman “will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies.”

If confirmed, Mr. Pompeo will succeed John O. Brennan, who oversaw a sweeping bureaucratic reorganization sparked in part by the new intelligence challenges from cyberterrorism. While CIA officials have touted the creation of the so-called Directorate for Digital Innovation as the centerpiece of the reorganization, the agency’s internal reshaping also featured the formation of 10 new “mission centers” — including ones for counterintelligence, weapons and counterproliferation and counterterrorism.

It’s not clear whether Mr. Pompeo will try to reverse the reforms or push for even more aggressive changes in the coming years. But he said Thursday morning that he hopes to grow the relevance of CIA intelligence gathering at a time when the overall intelligence community “finds itself a potential victim of a longer term negative budgetary trend.”

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