Pompeo CIA Nod Draws Fire from Right and Left

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

December 28, 2016

Privacy advocates and civil libertarians are aghast over President-elect Donald Trump’s decision on who will run the CIA during his administration. The view of that a Trump presidency represents a threat to civil liberty may be validated by his controversial pick of Rep. Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. So says the author of a recent article in Rare an organ with conservative-Libertarian leanings. Based on his past action and utterances this assessment looks spot-on.

Governing a country as diverse as the US is a delicate political balancing act. In America, it requires especially deft management skills because of a disparate electorate that is almost evenly divided on most issues. Indeed, elections themselves are usually decided by the swing of a few percentage points. This fact has not been lost on the erstwhile enigmatic President-elect, who is trying to achieve a consensus for governing by balancing his cabinet picks. In his favor, he has proven to be a skillful manager throughout his business career.

If he insists on making choices like Pompeo, he’s going to need all the of the skills he can muster.  Some choices are acceptable to Republicans, but not Democrats- that’s understandable, in fact, expected. A few have even been universally lauded by both parties.

In the parlance of sports, a won-loss record is often represented as a percent. If you’ve achieved a .500 record, it indicates success 50% of the time. Not ideal, but not terrible. The author assigns that kind of average to President-elect Donald Trump’s picks overall.

But he reserves especially harsh criticism for the CIA choice – Pompeo. Who, for starters, led the chorus calling for Edward Snowden’s execution. He further incensed privacy advocates in a Wall Street Journal interview about a year ago by saying:,

“Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information (put it) into a comprehensive, searchable database.”

The part about “combining it” and including “lifestyle information” is surely likely to make both Libertarians and civil libertarians gasp. According to Pompeo’s reasoning and rhetoric, virtually anything we do – what we read, where we shop, who our doctor is, who we chat with online, who we call on the phone, who we date, is fair games for government consumption.

Some fear that Trump’s strident, pro-surveillance stance and arguments for government backdoors in encryption might have been more than the standard stump speech. They point to the posture of a plethora of his other picks to support such worries.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the land is one such example. He proposed an amendment to a bill (which thankfully died in committee) which aimed reform electronic privacy law. It would have required technology companies to turn over communications if the government said the situation was an emergency.

There are those who speculate that Trump may be trying to exact payback against President Obama, or at least level the playing field when it comes to privacy and surveillance. Trump has publicly promised to crackdown on immigrants, specifically by more stringently surveilling and vetting Muslims. Obama, conversely, avoided even extra intelligence gathering against jihadis, though, at the same time, oversaw the most massive surveillance of citizens ever in the US and around the world.

The U.S. Constitution, which contains the Bill of Rights, and also contains the Fourth Amendment, forbids the unreasonable “search and seizure” of private property. But, maybe, Pompeo sees personal information as a gnarly factor that is not actually private property. Sooner or later this point will have to be adjudicated, it would seem, in the courts.

Even there, however, Trump may hold the high cards, and have an opportunity to change the complexion of the courts in his term(s) – the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. So, it is paramount that laws are not passed against privacy and civil liberty.

The hole-card, or dare I say, the trump-card, in all this, is the electorate. Which all politicians pander to – Donald Trump included. The polls indicate that the majority of Americans reject blanket mass surveillance. The word “majority” is the key word to a person like Trump, who failed to achieve one in winning the White House.


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