In his first interview since becoming the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo pushed back against accusations that President Donald Trump doesn’t read his daily intelligence briefings, claiming that the president is “very interested” in what’s happening at the intelligence communities and that his daily in-person briefings with the president typically run longer than their allotted time.
Pompeo tells MSNBC that Trump is a demanding boss who asks “great questions” and is trying to enable the CIA to take a more active “operational” role in countering threats posed by the US’s enemies.
Pompeo began by responding to criticism that some say Trump is "uninterested in facts":
“I cannot imagine a statement that is any more false than one that would attribute President Trump of not being interested in the intelligence community. He is an avid consumer of the products the CIA provides he thinks about them and comes back and asks great questions and perhaps most importantly relies on them.”
As the Hill pointed out, Pompeo acknowledged that the CIA has been harmed by information leaks in recent years, but said that he and Trump are focused on shutting down the leakers.
“There have been failures,” he said. “You have not only nation states trying to steal our stuff but ... folks like Wikileaks.”
He went on to say that he believes under Trump, the intelligence community will be able to both stop and punish leaking.
“We and all of President Trump’s government are focused on stopping leaks," he said, "and I think we'll have some successes both on the deterrence side, that is stopping them from happening, as well as on punishing those who we catch who have done it."
When asked about cooperation within the intelligence community, Pompeo said he suspects it has improved since the pre-9/11 era, though imperfections remain.
“I think we’re in a much better place today whether we’ve connected them all or not I suspect perfection cannot be achieved. The intelligence community have taken answers to today’s problems and applied them in really interesting ways.”
As Pompeo’s interviewer, NBC’s Hugh Hewitt, noted, the intelligence community almost universally assumed that Clinton was going to win November’s election.
But now that Trump is in power, how is the administration triaging the US’s enemies? Pompeo says he and the president spend the most time discussing the threat posed by North Korea. Trump scored a major foreign policy victory this week after Chinese state media reported that the Communist Party has agreed with the US that the Korean peninsula needs to undergo “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization.
Chinese state media described the talks, the first of their kind with the Trump administration, as an upgrade in dialogue mechanisms between China and the United States, following on from President Xi Jinping's meeting with Trump in Florida in April.
“North Korea is a very real danger. I hardly escape a day at the White House without the president asking me about North Korea and how the US is responding to that threat. For the past 20 years, the US has whistled past the graveyard hoping on hope that North Korea would see a change of color."
"They have the capacity to put America at risk with a nuclear weapon.”
Countering Iran, ISIS and Hezbollah also rank highly on the president’s list of priorities. When comparing Hezbollah to Iran, Pompeo said that the latter’s resources increase its capability to threaten the US.
“Iran is a powerful nation state with wealth and resources an organized government and an established piece of real estate of which they have complete control…I would say Iran poses the larger challenge, though I hesitate to rank them. ISIS is an enormous risk to the US today and we need to do everything to defeat them.”
In a sudden, unexpected turn, Hewitt asked Pompeo about Saudi Arabia and the allegations that radical elements within the kingdom’s government helped aid and abet the 9/11 hijackers. While Pompeo wouldn’t comment on these claims, he offered something almost as telling.
Pompeo said he believes the Saudi Arabian government values the cooperation and friendship of the US, and that the kingdom has made “a fundamental decision” not to condone acts of terror, or terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
“They welcomed an American who wasn’t on the side of the Iranians for coming to visit with them. They’ve come to understand that America will support them when pushing back against enemies that we share and support them to expand their economies as well."
"The Saudis have made a fundamental decision not to engage in that kind of activity that has led to all kinds of trouble in past decades…I think they understand that it’s not in Saudi Arabia’s best interest to not support terrorism.”
Of course, Pompeo’s response carefully sidestepped any acknowledgment of whether Saudi Arabia once collaborated with Al Qaeda to launch acts of terror against the US. Maybe Pompeo was trying to reassure executives at Saudi Aramco, who have argued against bringing the impending IPO of a 5% stake in the state-owned oil giant to New York City, fearing a lawsuit. Don’t worry, he seemed to suggest: All has been forgiven.