Trump’s DNI pick takes hard line on Russia, Gitmo & snooping

Trump’s DNI pick takes hard line on Russia, Gitmo & snooping
Former Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), nominated by President Donald Trump to be director of national intelligence, wants to keep the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay open, renew NSA mass surveillance and “educate” the American public on Russian threat.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was a position created under President George W. Bush to coordinate the 17-odd intelligence agencies across the US government, and Coats explained that he viewed the role as similar to a coach in American football.

“I’ll be taking a look at not only the Office of the DNI, but the entire intelligence community [IC], and at how we can do things most efficiently and effectively,” Coats said in the opening remarks at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“The threats that we face today are more challenging, dynamic and geographically diffuse than ever before,” Coats said, putting the “rising cyber threat” at the top of the list.

The former senator from Indiana (1989-1999 and 2011-2017) has been a vocal critic of Russia, and was even put on a sanctions list by Moscow in March 2014, barring him from entering the country.

“Russia’s assertiveness in global affairs is something I look upon with great concern, which we need to address with eyes wide open and a healthy degree of skepticism,” Coats said at the hearing.

On the issue of claims that Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential election, however, Coats seemed to side with the minority Democrats.

“It's publicly known and acknowledged and accepted that Russia definitely did try to influence the campaign,” he said.

Former Republican presidential candidate and Florida Senator Marco Rubio also brought up Russia, arguing that RT and Sputnik were part of “synergy between propaganda and counterintelligence” intended to harm the US.

“There are these efforts to undermine who we are as a country,” Coats told Rubio. “I think we need to educate our public to the fact that these types of things are happening… They can’t simply believe everything they hear and everything they read.”

When asked about the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Coats told the senators that many suspects detained there are rejoining the terrorists rather than “running a Starbucks in Yemen.”

“I support that detention, which I think is done in a lawful way,” he said.

Radical Islamic terrorists are “spreading their message of fear and hate through cyberspace, and mobilizing to venues beyond their self-described caliphate,” Coats said.

Coats also spoke in favor of NSA collections under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), arguing they were designed to go after “foreign bad guys.”

“We are under attack,” he told Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). 

Coats also described North Korean nuclear ambitions as “provocations” and China’s “continued regional activism” in the East and South China Seas as “troubling” and a “long-term challenge.”

Trump nominated Coats to the top intelligence job on January 7, but it took until the end of February to get his confirmation hearing scheduled.