Trump’s CIA Director Wants to Return to a Pre-Snowden World

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

He’s called for a “fundamental upgrade” to U.S. spying powers.

Mike Pompeo, the man President-elect Donald Trump chose Friday to lead the CIA when he becomes president, has long been a vocal supporter of expanding the government’s surveillance powers.

As Congress worked to wind down the National Security Agency’s bulk data-collection program last summer, rolling back one of the secret measures first authorized under President George W. Bush, Pompeo—a Republican representative from Kansas who sits on the House Intelligence Committee—was pushing back.

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal this January, Pompeo argued forcefully against “blunting” the government’s surveillance powers and called for “a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.” In the piece, he laid out a road map for expanding surveillance:

Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed. That includes Presidential Policy Directive-28, which bestows privacy rights on foreigners and imposes burdensome requirements to justify data collection.

In a break with other national-security hawks, however, Pompeo wrote mandating backdoors that would allow the government to access encrypted communications would “do little good.” He argued, as most technologists who promote encryption do, that weakening digital security in the United States would just push bad actors to switch to foreign-made or homegrown software.

He did, however, say using strong encryption for personal communication “may itself be a red flag,” suggesting good security practices could invite government scrutiny under his watch.

Pompeo co-wrote the piece with David Rivkin, Jr., who worked in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

In another op-ed published in National Review two weeks earlier, Pompeo assailed fellow Republicans for being soft on national security, accusing some of being “just as weak” as Democrats.

“Those who today suggest that the USA FREEDOM Act, which gutted the National Security Agency’s metadata program, enables the intelligence community to better prevent and investigate threats against the U.S. are lying,” he wrote.

“To share Edward Snowden’s vision of America as the problem is to come down on the side of President Obama’s diminishing willingness to collect intelligence on jihadis,” he continued, echoing previous criticisms of Snowden’s disclosures. “No Republican candidate who does that is worthy of our vote.”

Pompeo’s push for more surveillance aligns with Trump’s stated positions. As the journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, proposed an amendment to a bill that would reform electronic privacy law, which would have required technology companies to turn over communications if the government says it’s an emergency. The amendment did not pass.

Pompeo is also an outspoken critic of the nuclear deal with Iran, which he called a “disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism” on Twitter on Thursday.

That same day, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper formally announced he’d resign at the end of President Obama’s second term. Clapper’s resignation, which was expected, leaves another high-level intelligence post empty for Trump to fill. The job of the director of national security is to coordinate the activities of the intelligence community, which includes the CIA, NSA, the intelligence branch of the FBI, and 13 other agencies.

A report in The Intercept suggested Trump is considering doing away with Clapper’s cabinet-level position entirely, rather than nominating someone to take his place. The role was created after 9/11, to improve coordination between intelligence agencies. Establishing it was one of the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.