Would Pompeo Allow CIA Agents to Torture Suspects?

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Demonstrator Maboud Ebrahimzadeh is held down during a simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on November 5, 2007. Among the questions Kate Brannen writes that Donald Trump's CIA head Mike Pompeo should answer are: Would you ever direct CIA personnel to torture a detainee suspected of involvement in terrorism? And do you consider waterboarding a method of torture? Kevin Lamarque/reuters

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

Confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks continue. Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, was set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, but his hearing now been delayed until Thursday.

Related: Michael Dorf: Will Flynn and Pompeo Make a Difference?

To keep up with the chaotic schedule, and to help prepare for the hearings, Just Security put together brief bios, and collected questions from our contributing editors plus some retired intelligence community officials, for Pompeo, who if confirmed, will help shape the Trump administration’s foreign and national security policy.

Mike Pompeo biography

Pompeo is a third-term Republican “tea party” congressman from Kansas. He graduated from West Point and went on to serve in the Army. After Harvard Law School, he returned to Kansas, and founded the company Thayer Aerospace, and served as its CEO for more than a decade, providing components for commercial and military aircraft, according to his official bio.

A congressman since 2011, Pompeo serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the House Intelligence Committee. Pompeo played an outspoken role on the House Select Benghazi Committee. He’s a vocal critic of the Iran deal (tweeting on November 17, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”) and an advocate for expanded domestic surveillance.

Since his nomination in November, a new issue has emerged for Pompeo, and that’s Trump’s disparagement of the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russian hacking (not to mention his promotion of Julian Assange’s version of events), and his dismissal of the daily intelligence briefing.

Trump’s open feud with the CIA promises to create internal management and morale challenges for Pompeo, plus he’ll have to convince his boss of the credibility of his agency’s intelligence analysis.

Sixteen Questions for Pompeo

  1. In your view, what are the critical strategic threats the U.S. confronts today? How would you rank order the top five threats to U.S. interests? What are the emerging threats?

  2. Do you believe that the Russian government was responsible for the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee?

  3. In recent years, there have been apparent disconnects within the intelligence community on controversial intelligence assessments. Most recently, the FBI did not immediately endorse the CIA/IC’s assessment of the motive behind recent Russian hacking efforts. What is your view on the potential politicization of interagency coordination on critical intelligence assessments? Does the Director of National Intelligence play the proper coordinating role, in this regard? What changes would you recommend to the interplay between the ODNI and CIA, if any?

  4. Do you see Russia as a threat or a potential ally? U.S. and Russian intelligence cooperation has been lacking in Syria and in the counterterrorism fight. What more can the CIA do to engage the Russians more productively in areas of joint cooperation? In your view, what are the areas of common interest between the US and Russia?

  5. How important is the threat posed by nuclear proliferation? In this context, do you have any specific concerns about the North Korean nuclear program? Nuclear terrorism?

  6. You and the president-elect have stated that you look forward to undoing the Iran nuclear agreement. What alternative would you propose to prevent the country from building nuclear arms? How do you think Iran would respond to the U.S. abandoning its terms of the deal?

  7. How do you assess the state of today’s counterterrorism fight? Who is our enemy? Can we win this war? How? In your view, what are the underlying sources of the threat? What role, if any, does religion play in characterizing the threat, and in addressing its roots?

  8. What are your plans for the CIA-trained Syrian Free Army? They’ve been on hold for several months due to policy issues and Russian involvement. As a result, they are suffering defections to more extremist groups. What can the the CIA accomplish in Syria, with the U.S. having been overshadowed on the ground by the Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance?

  9. Has the U.S. got the right balance between safeguarding civil liberties and protecting the homeland? Has the right balance been struck in conducting domestic surveillance to enhance counter-terrorism efforts?

  10. What do you think about the balance between CIA’s much expanded paramilitary operations (drones etc) and its traditional role of recruiting spies who provide information on adversaries’ plans and intentions?

  11. Are you going to re-assess the CIA reorganization implemented by DCIA John Brennan? Do you plan to assess the impact of “modernization” on operations, morale and the agency’s production of foreign intelligence?

  12. In your experience as a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, what are your impressions of the CIA? What are its strengths? In what areas do you see a need for improvement?

  13. Numerous military and intelligence leaders, including the current chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, have said that torture and other forms of detainee abuse are ineffective, violate American values and harm U.S. national security. So-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, are also unlawful under domestic and international law. Do you agree that it is unlawful and unwise to use such techniques?

  14. Would you ever direct CIA personnel to torture a detainee suspected of involvement in terrorism? Do you consider waterboarding a method of torture? If you did order such methods to be used, how could you assure your staff that they wouldn’t be prosecuted in later administrations for such actions?

  15. Would you ever direct CIA personnel to carry out a targeted killing operation in a way that would violate international or domestic law? For example, would you ever direct CIA personnel to deliberately target and intentionally kill the family members of suspected terrorists—family members who are not themselves involved in planning or carrying out terrorist attacks?

  16. What do you intend to do to protect the interests of the CIA as its director and bridge the apparent divide between the agency and President-elect Trump?

Kate Brannen is a national security reporter and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.