Former CIA director shares thoughts on President Trump, North Korea

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - An agriculture conference is probably not where one would expect to find the man who spent two years leading the world's most powerful intelligence agency, but it's where Brandon Richard found former CIA director James Woolsey on Wednesday.

Woolsey attended Devos on the Delta, a conference held at the Peabody Hotel, which brings together scientists, farmers, entrepreneurs, and investors to talk about agriculture technology.

"I mainly come at this through interest in environmental and energy issues," said Woolsey.

Woolsey, who served as CIA director from 1993 to 1995, is a consultant and investor these days, but remains deeply interested in global affairs.

Sitting in a hotel conference room, Woolsey shared his thoughts on several issues facing the United States.

He finds President Donald Trump's upcoming summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un "remarkable" and thinks China played a big role.

"I don't think they want to risk having any kind of hostility on their border or on the Korean peninsula," said Woolsey.

But he cautions.

"The North Koreans have lied to us twice about this, once in the Bush administration and once in the Clinton administration, so we don't want to go into this with any spirit of naivety," said Woolsey.

He supports the president's decisions to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

He also has strong words, particularly for leaders in Europe, who still support the deal.

"The leaders in Europe, I think with respect to something like this, don't have the foggiest idea what to do," said Woolsey. "They basically approach the world like Neville Chamberlain did in the 1930s talking about peace in our time."

Woolsey said he would impose stronger sanctions on Iran.

"I would double and re-double the sanctions so that no country that does business with Iran can do business with the United States," said Woolsey.

As for the woman who could soon hold his old job, he thinks Gina Haspel is a good choice as CIA director.

"She seems to have always volunteered for the tough assignments and she seems to call it straight," he said. "What I know about her I like."

In recent weeks critics, including U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), have called on the Senate to reject Haspel's nomination over concerns about her supervising a torture (waterboarding) program.

"Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing," McCain said. "Her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination."

Woolsey believes Haspel's critics aren't telling the truth.

"I think they're making things up," he said. "There's a pretty interesting argument as to whether waterboarding is torture."

He said waterboarding is used on members of the U.S. special forces during training.

"It is I'm told not particularly painful, but very surprising and frightening," he said.

Does Woolsey consider it torture?

"I'm probably not initially inclined, because of what I said, to consider it torture," he said. "But I'm also not inclined for the United States to use it."

On Russian election meddling, he said the White House should do more to stop it.

"I think they need to be a lot tougher on Russia on this one," he said. "Russia is never not meddling in other countries elections. It's been doing it since the 1920s."

He continued, "What they're trying to do is destroy Americans confidence in their electoral system and I think the Russians are terrible in this. I think we ought to crack down on them. We ought to make them as miserable as humanly possible."

As for President Trump's performance, Woolsey said while he disagrees with his decision to impose tariffs, he thinks he is doing a good job.

"I think he's done a good job," he said. "I think he's used force in several circumstances. He's demonstrated he's willing to use military force, but he has not pushed things over to anything that teeters on the brink of war."

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