When it Comes to Overthrowing Governments, What Does the Law Allow?

By Robert J. Eatinger, Jr.

Bob has 35 years of experience practicing law in the fields of national security, intelligence, and international law. He is a solo practitioner at Robert J. Eatinger, Jr., PLLC, practicing federal law with a national security and intelligence law focus and the founding Principal of SpyLaw Consulting, LLC. Bob retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2015 where he was the Senior Deputy General Counsel. He served as CIA’s Acting General Counsel from October 2013 to March 2014.  Before being named the Senior Deputy General Counsel, Bob had held senior operational law positions and been chief of CIA’s litigation division.  Bob also served on active duty in the United States Navy, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and retired in 2013 as a Captain with 30 years of combined active and reserve service.  

Regime change has recently come up in media reports about North Korea on a frequent basis, but what does the term mean from a legal standpoint for U.S. intelligence?

In a July interview with New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said “the most important thing the United States can do is separate the nuclear weapons capability from someone who might well have intent, and break those two apart,” as signaling a desire for or hinting at plans for regime change. Press reports followed suggesting that Pompeo was considering a regime change option for Pyongyang.

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