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Rudy Takala's Columns

Q&A with Rep. Mike Pompeo


Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, elected to Congress out of Kansas in 2010, serves as a relatively stalwart conservative in the House. The political action arm of the Heritage Foundation gave him an 83 percent rating, and he gets a 91 percent rating from the conservative FreedomWorks.

Pompeo shares at least one more quality with one of his conservative colleagues in Congress: He served on the Harvard Law Review with Sen. Ted Cruz, though they didn't become acquainted at the time. He graduated in 1994, a year ahead of the Texas senator.

Following graduation, Pompeo founded Thayer Aerospace, which built airframe components for companies like Lockheed Martin. He sold his interest in the company in 2006 before becoming the president of Sentry International, a company that sells oilfield equipment and has offices in Shanghai, Calgary and Texas, in addition to Wichita, Kansas.

With that international perspective, Pompeo brought an interest in national security with him to Congress. He sits on two prominent committees related to the issue: the House Select Committee on Intelligence, charged with oversight of the U.S. intelligence community, and the House Select Committee on Benghazi, charged with investigating the terrorist attack that took place on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012.

Pompeo said the Obama administration has fumbled on security issues, and he is working to use his role in Congress to minimize what he views as the damage the president has done. "The next commander in chief is going to have their work cut out for them," he said, "and they need to keep America safe."

Washington Examiner: You've introduced the Liberty Through Strength Act II, which would extend the retention of metadata collected by the NSA between 2011 and November 2015. Currently, it's set to be destroyed on Feb. 29. You've also said the metadata collection program enacted under the USA Freedom Act last year is less effective than the NSA's previous program. Would you support reviving the old program?

Pompeo: Liberty Through Strength II is simply aimed at retaining data that was already available. It was already been collected lawfully.

Apart from that, I would absolutely support continued efforts to use and obtain metadata much like we had under Section 215 [of the Patriot Act]. I have to tell you, I am very close to that program. As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I get a chance to see quarterly reports that flowed from that program. It is not only constitutional and lawful, but provides important oversight on the executive branch needed to ensure it stays that way. I do think that would be important.

I can also tell you we have members of Congress out there saying the U.S. government under Section 215 is reading emails and listening to phone calls. That is false, and those members of Congress know it is false. It is unfortunate the American people were misled.

This program doesn't have a single name, a single connector, it's just a bunch of data to be used in the event that we identify a terrorist, we can quickly determine that person as having contacts both here in the United States and elsewhere, and at that point, go to court just like we do with ordinary criminals, get a warrant, and continue to keep America safe.
That seems to me a very common sense, simple approach.

Examiner: Proponents of the USA Freedom Act say it has increased the amount of data that can be collected from as little as 20 percent to as much as 100 percent. Do you agree with that assessment?

Pompeo: I think that's completely wrong. Remember, the previous program ensured that data was available. Now there's no assurance that information will be available. None of the folks who have access to that information, who are creating or retaining it, have any obligation to do so.

When we have a mass murder from an Islamic terrorist in America, reporters ask our law enforcement folks within minutes, "What do we know about the network? Who else was involved?"

All of those questions are appropriate and important. But there's literally no guarantee that law enforcement or intelligence officials will have access to any of that information to answer those questions to continue to keep us safe.

Examiner: Some of your colleagues have expressed support for banning end-to-end encryption. Where do you stand?

Pompeo: There is still an awful lot to learn with respect to technology and maintaining an adequate level of privacy. I am a deeply committed conservative who wants to keep maximal privacy for every U.S. citizen.

I think there are a lot of questions for us to get our head around both as a policy matter and a technology matter. We throw this word "encryption" around as if it is just a single beast, as whether something is encrypted or it's not. That doesn't reflect the technology today.

So my view as a policymaker who is concerned also about making sure bad guys can't develop and train and put together networks inside the U.S. is that our intelligence folks and our law enforcement people need to have access to the information in the same way they do other kinds of activities.

That would pertain to things that are modestly encrypted, seriously encrypted, and mega-encrypted. It would not be permissible for you to build a home and not let law enforcement in if they had a search warrant. If they think there's a crime ongoing, they go to court and get a warrant, and they're permitted to come in your home under the Fourth Amendment. It all works.

We should think about encryption in the same way. We should require our law enforcement and intelligence people to go through the constitutional process. At the point they have done that, it has to be the case that persons who built the house and control the technology have to respond to that lawful request for information.

I don't know that there is a legal or regulatory response that is going to meet that challenge. It's a global problem. I don't know what the answer is, but it can't simply be the case that U.S. companies are permitted to build homes to which law enforcement does not have proper legal access in order to stop Americans from being killed.

Examiner: There's a slight difference, between that example and encryption, in that the Chinese can't build homes in the U.S. for people to use instead of those built here. Facebook offers some encrypted messaging, for instance, but so does Telegram, which is based in Berlin.

Pompeo: That's absolutely right. I concede the technology is not perfect. Here's what I would say about that. It's true someone in China could build encryption and someone could use it, but the moment that touches the U.S., whether it's an asset or a citizen, we begin to have the capacity to begin to have an impact.
It is also the case that America will be in a position, if we do it well, if we do it smart, and we're thoughtful about how we do this, I remain convinced that we will convince others that they should participate in a system that makes sense.

They're going to want to do business here, they're going to want to have economic activity here. We have the capacity to influence state actors. I will concede there remains one element, which are individuals or groups who are not state actors who are behaving as terrorist groups do, outside the legal norms of the world's channels of commerce. We'll have to figure out a solution for them as well, and that may be difficult, but my guess is that the vast majority of what we need to accomplish is achievable in spite of the fact that we have a global challenge.
I do not want to put U.S. companies in a position where their competitors are behaving in a way that is inconsistent with the way they are required to behave. That is neither fair, nor will it solve the problem.

Examiner: Do you think President Obama's negotiations with Iran has added to instability in the region, particularly by increasing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Pompeo: The president's absolute unwillingness to lead has created not only tension between not only Iran and Saudi Arabia, but among many Middle Eastern states. Conflicts between the UAE and Iran, the Egyptians have been disappointing, the Jordanians have been challenged by the president's failure to lead.

In every case, he has sided with Iran's ayatollahs, and that has led to tremendous strife. You see it most in Syria, where you have chaos in a vast majority of the country. It didn't have to be that way. The president had made a commitment to take down Syrian President Bashar Assad, and at the time it would have made enormous sense.

He drew a red line, but then refused to enforce it. The absence of trust that has flowed from that singular failure has launched much of what you find today. Not that we wouldn't have terrorism, we certainly would, but it has created the tension and the enormous challenges that the next president is going to face.

Examiner: What should Congress do to work with the Iran deal as long as it remains in place?

Pompeo: Step one, it can ensure that this is not U.S. policy, but rather Barack Obama's policy. This isn't a treaty, this isn't even an executive order. This is a political commitment by one president of the United States and his administration. He has said as much.

We need to make clear to the Iranians and the world that whatever this is, I basically consider it to be a press release, that the president's posture with respect to Iran is not widely supported. My guess is whoever the next president is will make a significant departure from where we are.

We need to look forward. The president has made commitments about implementation and how that will go. We have an obligation in Congress, and in my role on the Intelligence Committee, to perform oversight, to ensure that the promises that Iran made versus our promises are being kept. We need to call them out every time they violate that agreement. There have already been multiple violations.

We need to second of all place sanctions on the Iranians. Not nuclear sanctions, the commitment the president made doesn't permit that, but sanctions on their financial system and banking system when they continue to exhibit their role as the world's largest sponsor of state terror are completely appropriate.

We should not mistake a nuclear deal with a peace treaty for Iran. The president has said this. If they are continuing to be bad actors in the non-nuclear world, we need to call them out on it. I think those are the things Congress has the capacity to do.

My final hope is to affect the investment by Europe and the West in Iran. The less investment that is made between now and the time there is a new president, the greater the degree of freedom the next president will have. I have urged a handful of folks I have spoken to who are contemplating investments in Iran to remember that it could look very different in 12 months.

Examiner: Speaking of Iran, their foreign minister recently complained that the U.S. has tightened its visa requirements for those coming from their country. Similarly, Donald Trump has controversially proposed a hold on all Muslim refugees until U.S. officials have improved their vetting process. Would you support a proposal less targeted than Trump's to stop refugees until that process has improved?

Pompeo: We need to know who's coming in, absolutely. We have to be sure the system we create for determining who can come in is secure. We tend to focus on refugees, but that's a tiny number of people relative to all visas for students or visitors or business people. We need to make sure we are doing our homework sufficiently, that we reduce the chance that any of those folks, regardless of their country, presents a risk to the U.S. in terms of terrorism or otherwise.

I think Homeland Security, our border folks, the State Department, our people all along the way, have a task that is enormous and in which they have been woefully lagging.

1 Comment to Q&A with Rep. Mike Pompeo:

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Timothy Steiner on Friday, June 09, 2017 9:38 AM
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