By David Alexander and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to head the CIA portrayed multiple challenges facing the United States on Thursday, from an aggressive Russia to a "disruptive" Iran to a China that he said is creating "real tensions."
Diverging from Trump's stated aim of seeking closer ties with Russia, Mike Pompeo said that Russia is "asserting itself aggressively" by invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe, and "doing nearly nothing" to destroy Islamic State.
Pompeo, a Republican member of the House of Representatives and a former U.S. Army officer, was speaking during his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate, at a time when Trump, a Republican who takes office on Jan. 20, has openly feuded with U.S. intelligence agencies.
For weeks, the president-elect questioned the intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia used hacking and other tactics to try to tilt the 2016 presidential election in his favor. Trump said on Wednesday that Russia was behind the hacking but that other countries were hacking the United States as well.
Asked about the hacking, Pompeo said he was very clear about what he called an "aggressive action" ordered by the Russian leadership, and accepted the U.S. intelligence report on the hacking as sound.
Trump this week also furiously denounced intelligence officials for what he said were leaks to the media by intelligence agencies of a dossier that makes unverified, salacious allegations about his contacts in Russia.
By contrast, Pompeo voiced strong support for the agency he has been nominated to lead, saying he has seen staff from the Central Intelligence Agency "walk through fire."
Pompeo signaled he would stand firm if necessary against Trump on the issue of enhanced interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects. Such techniques are widely regarded as torture and their use has been banned by Congress. Trump has said he would bring back tactics such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
Asked about this, Pompeo said that he would "absolutely not" restart enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA if asked by the president-elect. He noted it would take a change in the law for the CIA to use interrogation techniques that go beyond those permitted by the Army, adding he could not imagine that Trump would order the CIA to use illegal methods.
FROM POLICY TO ANALYSIS
Pompeo, a conservative lawmaker from Kansas who is on the House Intelligence Committee, emphasized that he would be a neutral assessor of challenges and threats. In opening remarks he said he understood that if confirmed his role would switch from policymaker to provider of information.
Noting that the CIA does not make policy on any country, he added, "it is a policy decision as to what to do with Russia, but it will be essential that the Agency provide policymakers with accurate intelligence and clear-eyed analysis of Russian activities."
Equally, he said that he would drop the opposition he has had as a lawmaker to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers. He said the CIA must be "rigorously fair and objective" in assessing the deal.
He called Iran an "emboldened, disruptive player in the Middle East, fueling tensions" with Sunni Muslim allies of the United States. He listed it among the challenges facing the United States along with what he called a "resilient" Islamic State and the fallout from Syria's long civil war.
Pompeo also named North Korea, which he said had "dangerously accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities." He said China was creating "real tensions" with its activities in the South China Sea and in cyberspace as it flexed its muscles and expanded its military and economic reach.
(Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Howard Goller)