This week CIA Director Mike Pompeo hosted the head of the Russian FSB, their domestic security service, and the Russian SVR, their intelligence service — both of which used to be called the KGB — at Langley for meetings on counterterrorism. Despite being strategic competitors in many areas, there has been fairly close collaboration on counterterrorism. If you recall, it was the FSB who warned the FBI about the fact that the main Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlane Tsarnaev, had been cavorting with Islamic radicals in Russian Dagestan. Earlier this year we returned the favor by tipping off the FSB to an impending attack by ISIS in St. Petersburg.
But current and former U.S. intelligence officials said they couldn’t recall so many heads of Russia’s espionage and security apparatus coming to Washington at once and meeting with a top American official. They worried the Kremlin could conclude the United States is open to forgiving Russia for its actions and wasn’t resolved to forcefully prevent future meddling.
Some intelligence officers have said they see a disconnect between the administration’s desire for rapprochement and public statements from intelligence leaders that Russia will continue to try to disrupt the U.S. democratic process.
Just this week, Pompeo warned in an interview with the BBC that Russia was still a threat to American elections. “I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity,” he said.
One U.S. official said the director’s tough public remarks seemed at odds with some of the private messages that the agency is receiving to look for ways to work with Russia
The whole unreasoning fear of Russia and a reflexive need to punish them for no larger reason than to inflict punishment makes its proponents look a lot like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum. The Russians have been sanctioned for their behavior in 2016. We need to confront them forcefully in the Baltic and Syria and, to a lesser extent in Ukraine. But there are areas where we have common interests–and nations do not have friends, they only have interests–in those areas, we should try to find common ground for cooperation.
It is the administration’s responsibility to make policy. It isn’t the business of former officials and it really is no longer even the business of senior officials once the decision has been made. Their job is to make their views known, stand up for their views, and once the decision has been made, assuming it is moral, legal, and ethical, their job is to support their boss.
What Pompeo did was admirable. It took guts to invite his Russian counterparts here into this political environment. It shows he has more balls and more vision than the tiny people backbiting him to the Washington Post.