As is typically the fashion with Donald Trump – looking for appointees that he perceives will put loyalty to him and his personal interests ahead of their obligation to serve America, Trump has opted to move two dubious administration officials around on the organizational chart.
Since Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would not echo Trump’s patently false narrative about Russia, he was dismissed last week and in his place – subject to confirmation, will be present CIA Director, Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo, depending upon who you ask, is a hard working, experienced ex-military guy – or a Washington partisan political hack and ideologue, with bona-fide Neo-Con credentials and a history of living in the wallet of the Koch brothers.
His short tenure at the CIA does not denote a great deal other than that he has been careful to keep his head below the radar screen and has reportedly spent considerably more time hanging out at the White House than at Langley headquarters. Apparently he has not done anything to give Trump indigestion.
Trump, for his part, makes it clear that effectiveness at a position is not a factor in his hiring decisions – it’s whether the candidate ingratiates him or herself with Trump. Of Pompeo, Trump commented, “the relationship has been good and that’s what I need as Secretary of State”.
Pompeo has customized his views on Russia in the last few years to accommodate Trump. While still a House member from Kansas, Pompeo said in October 2015, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “heck bent on changing the geopolitical future.”
On another occasion, Pompeo wrote in the Washington Post that “Russia continues to side with … rogue states and terrorist organizations, following Vladimir Putin’s pattern of gratuitous and unpunished affronts to U.S. interests.” None other than Congressman Devin Nunes, has said of Pompeo’s cred on Russia and Putin, that “I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Pompeo is very skeptical of Vladimir Putin. I don’t think you can get any more concerned about Putin’s advancement” than Mr. Pompeo.”
None of that robust adversarial point of view on Russia has surfaced since Pompeo settled into the Director’s chair. Pompeo’s fully supportive views on torture as euphemized by the clinical term, “enhanced interrogation” and his blank check to the surveillance state to eavesdrop and collect / archive communications and phone metadata of Americans – made him a solid ideological fit for Donald Trump. “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed,” he has argued in the Wall Street Journal.
The use of attack dogs, electric shocks, indignities to one’s person, exposure to temperature extremes, mock executions and waterboarding – all of which have been demonstrated by counter-terrorism experts to be useless and counter productive, are methods that Pompeo enthusiastically has endorsed. On torture, Pompeo has equated inhumane violations of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, to ‘patriotism’, claiming that:
“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 and Senator Feinstein. These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots.”
According to Pompeo, whistleblower Edward Snowden is a traitor worthy of capital punishment. “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 for having put friends of mine, friends of yours who serve in the military today at enormous risk because of the information he stole and then released to foreign powers.” Never mind that Pompeo’s conclusions on Snowden have been debunked.
The problem with Pompeo moving over to Foggy Bottom, is two fold. One – Pompeo is not likely to be anymore inclined to properly staff the agency than Tillerson was. He is also, by ideological disposition, likely to favor belligerent foreign policy in place of diplomatic initiatives. Trump sold his voters a bill of goods when, as part of his “America First” narrative, he intimated that he would dial back on interventionism. Nominating Pompeo as CIA Director and now as Secretary of State, clearly repudiates that stance.
But it is worse than that. Trump has designated Pompeo’s second in command, Gina Haspel, as Pompeo’s replacement in the role of Director at Langley. Haspel is a longtime officer with “the company” and has been on record, as has Pompeo, in supporting torture.
We must point out here that there have been some media reports that have exceeded the facts with respect to Ms. Haspel. While some, including the Daily Beast, reported that Haspel presided over a CIA “Black Site” in Thailand code named “Cat’s Eye”, when a particular detainee, Abu Zubaydah was subjected to extreme interrogation – that proves not to be the case, as she was in charge of it beginning in October 2002 – after the incident is known to have taken place. Be that as it may, there is no indication that Haspel did not supervise other such cruelty during her term as commandant of that prison.
Senator Rand Paul’s spokesman, Doug Stafford, says regarding Haspel, “Regardless of the retraction of one anecdote, the fact remains that Gina Haspel was instrumental in running a place where people were tortured. According to multiple published, undisputed accounts, she oversaw a black site and she further destroyed evidence of torture. This should preclude her from ever running the CIA.”
Stafford brings up another interesting matter related to Ms. Haspel. Back in 2005, the head of counterterrorism at the CIA, Jose Rodriguez, concluded that unless videotapes of the torture of detainees – some 92 in total, were destroyed, he and his subordinates could find themselves in hot water. He was ordered not to do so by not only a federal judge, but also the CIA’s general counsel, John Rizzo.
Even the White House counsel at the time, Harriet Myers, refused to give her assent. Rodriguez made a unilateral decision to proceed and sent a memo to Haspel, requesting she issue a cable ordering the evidence be destroyed in a massive shredding device – which she did.
“It’s wonderful this president or any president wants to nominate a woman as head of the CIA – but not Gina Haspel,” said John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who has spoken out about indecent interrogation methods in the past. “There must be 50 women across government who are qualified to fill the position.” He said her alleged involvement in torture was “disqualifying”.
Another Bush era administration official, Alberto Mora, general counsel of the Department of the Navy from 2001 to 2006, has a thought provoking theory on Trump’s choice of Haspel:
“Trump is an enthusiastic supporter of torture. That part of her record was probably made known to him and he probably saw that as a good thing. Selecting one of the principal leaders of the torture program is actually a hostile act against the CIA, designed to make the agency worse, not better.”
Pompeo, in all likelihood, even with another round of questioning from critics in the Senate, will probably slog through the confirmation hearings and be approved by the full Senate. However, If Rand Paul’s vigorous opposition to Ms. Haspel is any indication, she is far from a guaranteed shoe in for the top spy job.
It also should be interesting to hear the line of questioning that Haspel will be facing from Vietnam era war prisoner, John McCain.