Nominee for CIA chief accuses Russia of 'aggressive action'

Pompeo says he is ready to stand up to Trump, and will shield the agency against any attempt to politicise its work

Mr Pompeo being sworn in at his confirmation hearing in Washington on Thursday. His strong stance against Russia could put him at odds with Mr Trump, who has been positive about President Putin.
Mr Pompeo being sworn in at his confirmation hearing in Washington on Thursday. His strong stance against Russia could put him at odds with Mr Trump, who has been positive about President Putin.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • The first battle Mr Mike Pompeo prepared to fight was against the Russians, when he led a tank platoon in Germany in the twilight of the Cold War. On Thursday, he made clear he was ready to take on America's old adversary if confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

But doing so may result in a battle closer to home: Mr Pompeo and the CIA versus President-elect Donald Trump, who has openly embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as he publicly denigrates US intelligence agencies.

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, Mr Pompeo accused Russia of "aggressive action" in meddling in the US election in November, of "asserting itself aggressively" by occupying part of Ukraine and of "doing nearly nothing" to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The former army officer, 53, insisted that if necessary, he would be ready to stand up to Mr Trump, who takes office on Jan 20, and would shield operatives of the CIA against any attempt to politicise its work.

For weeks, Mr Trump questioned the intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia used hacking and other tactics to try to tilt the election in his favour - an unprecedented breach between an incoming president and the intelligence operatives he will soon command.

He also denounced intelligence officials for what he said were leaks to the media by intelligence agencies of a dossier that makes unverified, salacious allegations about his contacts in Russia.

By contrast, Mr Pompeo voiced strong support for the CIA at the hearing, saying he has seen the agency's staff "walk through fire".

He said he understood it would be a problem "if folks were afraid there would be political retribution", and promised "to have their backs at every single moment. You have my word I will do that".

Asked if the CIA, under his leadership, would continue to pursue intelligence on Russian hacking, he said: "I will continue to pursue foreign intelligence with vigour no matter where the facts lead."

The agency would also provide "accurate, timely, robust and clear- eyed analysis of Russian activities".

Mr Pompeo also signalled he would stand firm against enhanced interrogation techniques, which were introduced after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US and are widely regarded as torture, with their use banned by Congress. Mr Trump has said the US should bring back tactics such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

Asked what he would do if he was ordered to employ such methods by Mr Trump, Mr Pompeo replied: "Absolutely not."



Breaking ranks

(From left) Gen John Kelly, Mr Jeff Session, Gen James Mattis and Mr Rex Tillerson.

America should not torture. Russia is a menace. A wall at the Mexico border would not be effective. A blanket ban against Muslims is wrong. Climate change is a threat. These words, coming from President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, put them on a collision course with him on almost every major policy. Mr Trump, however, said in a tweet yesterday: "I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!"

Mexico wall

MR TRUMP: Build a wall on the US-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration.

GENERAL JOHN KELLY, homeland security secretary nominee: "A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job."


MR TRUMP: Re-authorise the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use waterboarding in interrogation.

MR MIKE POMPEO, CIA director nominee: "Absolutely not. Moreover, I can't imagine I would be asked that by the President-elect."

GEN KELLY: "I don't think we should ever come close to crossing a line that is beyond what we as Americans would expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques."

MR JEFF SESSIONS, attorney-general nominee: "Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military and by all our other departments and agencies."


MR TRUMP: Dismantle a deal struck between the US and Iran to relax sanctions in return for an easing of Iran's nuclear programme.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS, defence secretary nominee: "When America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies."


MR TRUMP: Build a good relationship with Russia, which could be a US ally in the Middle East.

GEN MATTIS: "Since (the 1945 meeting of world powers at) Yalta, we have a long list of times we have tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard."

MR POMPEO: Russia was "doing nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.


MR TRUMP: Ban Muslims from entering the US.

MR SESSIONS: "I have no belief, and I do not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States."

MR REX TILLERSON, secretary of state nominee: "No, I do not support a blanket-type rejection of any particular group of people."

Trans-Pacific Partnership

MR TRUMP: Withdraw from the TPP and replace it with "fair" deals that bring jobs back to the US.

MR TILLERSON: "I do not oppose TPP."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'Nominee for CIA chief accuses Russia of 'aggressive action''. Print Edition | Subscribe