GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is reportedly in contention to succeed CIA Director Mike Pompeo in the Trump administration's potential shakeup of the State Department. Several intelligence community veterans have voiced alarm over Cotton's potential appointment, citing his public statements regarding torture.
On Nov. 30, sources familiar with the Trump administration disclosed that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had formulated a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Pompeo by early 2018. Cotton was named the White House's pick to replace Pompeo in the CIA, The New York Times reports.
Cotton will not be up for reelection until 2020. If he were to leave the Senate to join the CIA, GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas would appoint his intermediary replacement until the 2018 midterm election. Retired Navy vice admiral Robert S. Harward was named as another potential successor for Pompeo.
Following the report, several retired members of the CIA and FBI voiced concerns with Cotton's stated policies. In November 2016, Cotton told CNN, "Waterboarding isn't torture. We do waterboarding to our own soldiers in the military."
Retired CIA operations officer Glenn Carle asserted that Cotton's endorsement of waterboarding made him "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 told The Daily Beast.
"I anticipate my colleagues at the agency will be dismayed," Carle said of Cotton being appointed to head the CIA.
"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," explained former FBI counterterrorism analyst Daniel Jones.
Jones added that the findings of a 7,000-page study of the CIA's use of torture techniques during the Bush administration "leave no doubt as to what are the facts of this matter."
Cotton has also called on the Trump administration to discontinue the Iran Deal and voiced support for preemptively bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. He has also advocated for media outlets that publish classified government information to be prosecuted. Under current U.S. law, it is illegal to leak classified information but not illegal to publish leaked information.
"This is an awful appointment," Paul Pillar, who had served in the CIA for 28 years, told Business Insider. "Sen. Cotton is a highly ideological individual who is not well-suited to lead an agency part of whose core mission is objective analysis."
Former CIA counsel Bob Deitz asserted that Cotton was not qualified to head the agency.
"He seems bright enough. ... But it is bothersome that, so far as one can tell, he knows absolutely nothing about the intelligence community," Deitz said. "The CIA is not an easy agency to lead because of its varied missions. Of course he may be a quick learner. I hope that is true."
Cotton's office has not commented on the potential appointment. His spokesperson, Caroline Rabbitt Tabler, stated: "Senator Cotton's focus is serving on Arkansas in the Senate."