Tillerson Shakeup Affects CIA Leadership

Mar 13, 2018
Originally published on March 16, 2018 11:46 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're reporting on a shake-up in the Trump administration this morning. President Trump announced on Twitter that Rex Tillerson is out as U.S. secretary of state. The president wants him to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The president's choice to replace Pompeo is the CIA's current deputy director, Gina Haspel, who's a veteran of the CIA. And if confirmed by the Senate, she'll become the first woman to lead the agency in its history. Let's bring in John McLaughlin. He spent several decades in the CIA, was briefly its acting director. He now teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Welcome back to the program.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what do you make of this morning's big shake-up?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, in some ways, it's not as much of a surprise, given that we've heard rumors for a long time that Tillerson may be leaving and rumors that Pompeo might be going to the State Department. On the other hand, it's always a surprise when it actually happens. And I think - what do I make of it? I think, well, Pompeo has been, I think, a good CIA director. He has the confidence of the president, which is a good thing for State Department because now when a State Department secretary speaks, people will have the understanding that he is probably in sync with the president, which was always in some doubt with Tillerson. Gina Haspel was a seasoned professional, someone I've worked with in the past, and I think if she is confirmed, will do a very good job at CIA.

GREENE: She is - she has been attached to, you know, the very controversial waterboarding of terror suspects. Tell us about her role in that and if that - you know, if that concerns you in some way.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I don't recall the specifics of her involvement in that. It does not concern me, and I'll tell you why. You cannot find, I think, a seasoned CIA professional - a career professional, someone who has been there 30 years - who hasn't been involved in some controversial program. If you find that person, you probably don't want them because they haven't been very successful. In other words...

GREENE: So you yourself have been involved in controversial programs, I guess I'm taking from that.

MCLAUGHLIN: I have - I have, indeed. And because CIA is asked to do things that no one else has asked to do, it manages covert action for the U.S. government, which is always controversial, in response to presidential direction. At the same time, it has the mandate to tell the president the truth about things, so it's a tricky mission all the time. And I guess my point about Gina is, she is a - Gina Haspel - she is a seasoned professional who has worked on just about every aspect of the agency's mission, is well-respected inside the agency. And I think when she goes through confirmation, the American people will see a very thoughtful woman who will respond thoughtfully and carefully and professionally to questions about her career and about the agency itself.

GREENE: In terms of the agency that she would be inheriting, help me make sense of this. You have a president saying this morning that he and Mike Pompeo are on the same wavelength. But there's also been a lot of friction between the president and the intelligence agencies over Russian interference in the last election. So what is the state of morale? What is the state of the agency right now?

MCLAUGHLIN: I'm sure that people at the agency and in the intelligence world generally do not like the president's attitude, as he's expressed it, toward the Russia investigation and the conclusions the intelligence community came to about that. But once again, I think the intelligence community, when it spoke in January and prior to that, in October, on the Russia investigation, said what it actually thought, has stayed with that. And, you know, it's a tricky thing. On the one hand, yeah, you're upset with the president. On the other hand, if you work at CIA, you know, you're kind of used to this. You're used not to this particular president or to the way he behaves, but you're kind of used to people disagreeing with you and sometimes criticizing what you do. But you got to keep your eye on the ball, which is to detect things that are of serious concern and danger to the United States. And frankly, I think that's what people do. People make too much about morale at the CIA. I think CIA's morale is pretty resilient.

GREENE: All right. Well, we'll have to stop the conversation there - much more to talk about. John McLaughlin is the former acting director of the CIA. Thanks so much.

MCLAUGHLIN: You bet, David. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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