While Washington is busy with the inauguration of President Trump, not all political business has stopped. The incoming administration is hoping to get its new CIA boss appointed today, but the Senate is having none of it.
Trump's pick for the top job is Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), who has some interesting views on data collection and leakers. In an op-ed last year, Pompeo said that he wanted the intelligence services to be much more proactive in collecting data on Americans and foreigners.
"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," he wrote. "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."
The directive he refers to, which was enacted after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden released data showing the extent of American surveillance activities at home and abroad, states that the US should spy only for national security purposes – not for a business advantage – and that "privacy and civil liberties shall be integral considerations."
It's not clear how much data the CIA could actually collect on Americans, since traditionally the agency's remit only begins "at the water's edge," and shouldn't involve domestic activities. But we're in a different world now, as the incoming president has reminded us.
Speaking of Snowden, Pompeo is not a fan. Two months ago, when asked about the whistleblower, he referred to him as "the traitor Edward Snowden," and had some very clear ideas about what should happen to him should the US get a hold of him.
"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," Pompeo said.
The Trump administration had hoped to get Pompeo confirmed today. While much of Washington is enduring an endless round of cocktail parties and balls, the Senate did have the opportunity to confirm Pompeo. However, some senators revolted against the unseemly haste with which the candidate was being rushed through.
"No CIA Director in history has ever been confirmed on Inauguration Day. The importance of the position of CIA Director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated," said Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Moreover, the Agency is capable of protecting the nation and serving the president under the leadership of its senior professional personnel. Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees. Our constituents expect Congress to be a check and balance on the incoming administration, not a rubber stamp."
That said, there's a limit to how long this kind of action will last. Trump is expected to take Pompeo with him on a trip to CIA headquarters in Langley tomorrow, and it's likely that he'll be confirmed as the new agency boss on Monday. ®