In a stunning report published Thursday, the New York Times revealed Donald Trump’s White House has formulated a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo. According to the report, the administration has landed on installing Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) as the next CIA head.
Cotton is a vocal advocate of waterboarding and critic of Iran who’s recently downplayed the seriousness of allegations Trump colluded with Russian during the 2016 presidential election.
Former CIA officials on Thursday expressed dismay over the potential shakeup. Ned Price, who retired from the CIA in protests over Trump’s administration, called Cotton a “political ideologue” whose appointment would prove the White House does not care about the intelligence community.
Installing a political ideologue at the nation's preeminent foreign intelligence agency sends a clear message: We h… https://t.co/trKqwScYpr— Ned Price (@Ned Price) 1512057178.0
Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA, called a possible Cotton appointment “awful,” arguing he’s “not well suited to lead an agency part of whose core mission is objective analysis.”
CIA veteran Paul Pillar on Tom Cotton as potential CIA Director: "This is an awful appointment. Senator Cotton is a… https://t.co/5j4JTwWfWw— Natasha Bertrand (@Natasha Bertrand) 1512058730.0
Robert Deitz, former senior councillor to CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden, likewise criticized the report, telling Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand that Cotton “knows absolutely nothing about the intelligence community.”
Former CIA counsel Bob Deitz on Tom Cotton: "He seems bright enough...But it is bothersome that, so far as one can… https://t.co/NJYEYd5J8s— Natasha Bertrand (@Natasha Bertrand) 1512056444.0
As the Daily Beast reports, former CIA operations officer Glenn Carle blasted Cotton as “wholly unfit to be CIA director.”
“Those of us with some knowledge and objectivity have pointed out endlessly that torture does not work, is illegal, is unnecessary and harms the perpetrators of it,” Carle said, adding he believes his “colleagues at the agency will be dismayed” is the senator is appointed.
“We have frankly, at the best, far-right ideologues in leadership positions who frankly have fascistic tendencies,” Carle said of Cotton. “It is difficult to serve the executive, and serve a superior, with views that are fundamentally un-American.”
Intelligence officials outside the CIA were likewise concerned of news Cotton might head the CIA, pointing specifically to the Republican senator’s stance on torture. Last year, Cotton insisted “waterboarding isn’t torture,” telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the president will have to make a “tough call” about the interrogation method.
"If experienced intelligence officials come to the President of the United States and say we think this terrorist has critical information and we need to obtain it and this is the only way we can obtain it—it’s a tough call,” Cotton said. “But the presidency is a tough job. And if you're not ready to make those tough calls, you shouldn't seek the office. Donald Trump's a pretty tough guy, and he's ready to make those tough calls.”
Former Navy interrogation-resistance instructor Malcolm Nance—who’s been waterboarded—told the Daily Beast he believes Cotton is “clueless about torture.”
“He seems to base his beliefs on the efficacy of torture on B-movies and dog-eared Tom Clancy novels,” Nance said.
“I’d like to think the rhetoric is just rhetoric,” former FBI counterterrorism analyst Dan Jones said.
“Behind closed doors there is broad consensus that the CIA interrogation program was ineffective, damaging to our standing in the world and detrimental to the safety of our military,” Jones, who was the lead investigator and author of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, told the Daily Beast. “The Committee’s near 7,000-page study of the CIA program, and the CIA’s own internal Panetta Review, leave no doubt as to what are the facts of this matter.”
And yet another former CIA employee was steadfast in his disapproval of Cotton, telling journalist Yashar Ali if Trump installs the GOP senator, “let’s burn it all down.”
CIA Veteran to me: "Tom Cotton at the CIA? Let's Burn It All Down." https://t.co/DHw04mu6rn— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@Yashar Ali 🐘) 1512056323.0