Jose Rodriguez’s Tortured Logic

July 1, 2017–You will recall Jose Rodriguez as the officer in charge of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the height of its torture program, and subsequently the agency’s director of operations–the aggrandized “National Clandestine Service”–when he led the charge to destroy videotapes documenting the tortures the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) had carried out. Psychologists hired by Rodriguez for the CTC are now being sued in U.S. district court by victims of the tortures the CIA carried out. Mr. Rodriguez, called as a witness from the CIA, has provided evidence in this suit, now on the docket for the Eastern District of Washington State.

The CIA man filed a declaration this past January, under penalty of perjury; and he was sworn and deposed by lawyers in the case on March 7, 2017. The affidavit is stipulated as correct, and the deposition under oath is what it is. Both shed some very interesting light on the CIA torture program conducted under his leadership. With Independence Day coming up this seems a good moment to review these actions taken in the name of America.

According to the Rodriguez declaration, CIA hired psychologists James E. Mitchell and J. Bruce Jessen because the CTC “had no resident experience in interrogation”–skills which, Rodriguez says plainly, “must be developed over years.” Neither Mitchell no Jessen had ever conducted an interrogation, and the most experience they had acquired lay in playacting and subsequently debriefing individuals training to escape and evade prospective captors.

Concerning the techniques which Mitchell and Jessen did speak for, the ones used in so-called SERE training, Rodriguez said at deposition that to his knowledge their long-term effects had never been studied by the CIA. Rodriguez had no knowledge whether their use could lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He never asked anyone whether PTSD could result from them. He also never asked anyone to research the literature on potential effects, in spite of the fact that the notorious Justice Department “legal” memos stipulated that that kind of a search would figure in showing agency personnel had exercised due diligence to meet a standard of legality for their actions.

Jose Rodriguez never observed any interrogations. He never watched one on tape. He never experienced any torture method himself. When assessing the effectiveness of interrogations the CIA took no account of the physical or psychological harm inflicted upon detainees. Rodriguez continues to maintain there was no CIA torture, although, given all this, there is literally no way he could know that.

At a certain point psychologists Mitchell and Jessen themselves decided a detainee had become compliant, and recommended to CTC that waterboarding him be stopped. Rodriguez confirms that happened, adding that his response was to order them to continue.

In a deposition studded with “I don’t remember”s and “I don’t know”s, Rodriguez insisted on answering a question on the potential of CIA interrogation techniques to produce long-term harm. His answer was “No,” and his reason was because “It never did.”

This is the level of management exercised in the rendition and detention program–hire people for expertise which they lacked, let them propose strong arm methods, conduct no research, no review, order them to continue when they advised stopping, and insist the program had been hugely useful. I have not mentioned that Rodriguez continues to obfuscate over the status of Abu Zubaydah–claiming him a high-level Al Qaeda official–as well as the timing of key Zubaydah revelations on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Jose Padilla–given before CIA torture began, and used by Rodriguez as primary examples for the effectiveness of interrogation. Altogether a sad story.

Afghanistan: The Great Game Is Over

June 22, 2017–The bells are ringing, the lights flashing. The silver ball is disappearing between the flippers, now unable to knock it back into play. If you didn’t score high enough to become top dog you’re done. It’s one more major operational initiative down the drain. I’m referring to Afghanistan, and the pinball wizards of the White House and Department of Defense, who myopically never seem to see beyond their own rhetoric, or make strategic decisions based on real world conditions.

History, it is said, plays out the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. In Afghanistan we’re at the second stage. The first game went to the Afghan tribes–175 years ago in the Hindu Kush–when the Brits who were playing it failed to recognize the warning signs of widespread uprising. As a result their triumph in the first Anglo-Afghan war turned into military disaster when a British-Indian army tried to withdraw from Kabul in January 1842. Only a handful of troopers, maybe just one Englishman, survived the ambushes in the mountain passes as the army tried to edge past the insurgents and reach the relative safety of Jalalabad. The British failure had everything to do with failure to emplace an Afghani government acceptable to the tribes and their members.

American pundits today are fond of picturing Afghanistan as the nation’s longest war. We could actually have ended it over half a decade ago. Instead we have the generals mulling over whether to send three to five thousand extra troops to supplement the eight-thousand four-hundred we already have in the battle zone. Let’s review the bidding.

In 2009 new president Barack Obama ordered up a policy review for the war in Afghanistan. The scuttlebutt was he didn’t want to be visiting wounded GIs in hospital–he wanted to staunch the flow of casualties. Plus there were estimates the war might cost a trillion dollars over another ten years. At the time the Pentagon was offering another incremental troop increase. Prodded by Obama, they took up the field commander’s proposal for a “surge,” like the one that had been carried out in Iraq. General Stanley A. McChrystal, the field man, resisted doing anything by half. President Obama settled on McChrystal’s 40,000-man recommendation, but coupled it with a decision that eighteen months after the troops deployed, America would start to exit the war.

So the troops went in. Starting in 2011 the drawdowns began. Masses of equipment were brought out. Our NATO allies and other troop contributing countries among the ISAF command began to take the lead in the war, but also to conduct a parallel force reduction. Masses of equipment were brought out. More was designated surplus and handed over to the Afghanistan government forces we had been supporting.

That would have been the “clean” withdrawal. The surge buying a decent interval so Afghanistan could get its affairs in order and beat the insurgents. But the allies–who included the British, back for a fresh pinball game–had never solved the political equation. And the generals–primarily Americans–could not put down the game, plumping for a residual force to continue supporting the Afghan military and conduct a core program of commando strikes. As the country’s situation deteriorated, the generals convinced President Obama to slow the rate of withdrawal. His administration ended with 8,400 instead of 5,500 troops still on the Hindu Kush. In addition to everything else, we are well on the way to reaching the trillion dollar mark that Mr. Obama feared spending there by 2019.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, caught within a complex mosaic of tribal loyalties, could not build a unified polity. His government, perched atop a warlord system, always functioned to favor one or another faction. Karzai, on the CIA’s payroll for $1 million a month, used the money to play favorites. Recognizing elements in U.S. tactics that were most objectionable to Afghans, Karzai increasingly denounced, then forbade, U.S. night raids and air strikes.

Allied strategy, which resisted anything that could be termed “nation building,” contributed little to building Afghan institutions. Karzai has left the Afghan government corrupted, and his successors could not even form a government until months of conversations brought forth an uneasy compromise. President Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun, has never honored commitments made to Vice-President Abdullah Abdullah, a Tadjik. Recent Ghani moves against one governor (read warlord), Rashid Dostum, demonstrate his desperation. Ghani’s decision to permit the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another figure from the warlord era, show his increasing political isolation. Afghan politics is swiftly returning to the modalities of the early 1990s, when warlords fighting among themselves permitted the Taliban to take over in the first place.

The allies resisted efforts to settle the conflict by negotiation during the “surge” period of ascendency, then encouraged them when the Taliban enemy grew increasingly powerful–and less willing to talk. As U.S. and ISAF troop strength progressively diminished a new phenomenon arose–insider attacks by soldiers of our Afghan army or police. No doubt there are a certain number of Taliban infiltrators in the Afghan national army, but the spectacle of the foreign power that came in, mobilized Afghans to its will, and now leaves them before an implacable Taliban is a sufficient motive. Over the past few months insider attacks have been the main cause of U.S. casualties. Afghan government forces are increasingly reluctant to fight. The dependence on Afghan special operations forces now becomes questionable when the latest insider attacks come from within their ranks.

The Taliban have had some problems of their own, most recently the challenge from an even more lethal offshoot of the ISIS/ISIL “caliphate” front. But either faction will fight, and the Afghan government has been losing ground steadily. Towns have been captured and held. The war is no longer an affair of posts and police stations. The insurgents are now believed to have a foothold in more than half of Afghan villages. Dangers became plain early in June when powerful car bombs exploded in the most heavily-guarded sector of Kabul, the diplomatic quarter. Almost two hundred were killed and five hundred wounded. Afghans marched in protest of their own government’s failure to protect them–whereupon government troops opened fire on the crowd, killing, among others, the son of a senior parliamentarian. Taliban bombers struck again at the funeral marches for some of these victims, inflicting yet more casualties in the heart of Kabul. In short, national authority appears to be collapsing before our eyes.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress last week that the U.S. has not been winning in Afghanistan. That is  true. So true that the Trump White House is giving the Pentagon the liberty to decide for itself what to do in the war. President Trump wants nothing to do with the next decision on Afghanistan. Little wonder. At a certain point the U.S. residual force there will become a target in its own right. A Mattis incremental reinforcement, even 5,000, won’t make a difference. If the U.S. could not grind a weakened Taliban into the ground with 140,000 American and ISAF troops, ten or fifteen thousand will accomplish little more than to make a more lucrative target for a surging enemy. It could be like the British in the Hindu Kush in 1842. Folly follows tragedy.

Where in the world is Mike Pompeo

June 19, 2017–Like Carmen Sandiego, no one seems to know where in the world is Mike Pompeo, the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). I say this not in jest. Pompeo has been placed in a number of places where President Donald J. Trump has major interests, including in South Korea, just after the latest eruptions from Kim Jong-un in the north; in Syria-Saudi Arabia, in the context of the U.S. covert operations against ISIS/ISIL, and so on. Director Pompeo has specifically been placed at the White House with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats when Mr. Trump took aside the top spooks and reportedly implored Director Coats to try and tamp down on then-FBI director James B. Comey. The Senate intelligence committee is bending every effort to obtain testimony from Coats, but so far there is complete silence on Mr. Pompeo. It is as if the CIA has divorced itself from oversight and accountability. In fact I argue this precise case in my forthcoming book The Ghosts of Langley. There you will find extensive discussion on this matter.

Score a Point for Openness

June 17, 2017–Every so often the public gets to crow about something that is a real advance for transparency and openness in government. This is especially welcome during these days when plots, counterplots, and maneuvers swirl around us relying upon secrecy. Today’s point concerns the State Department documentary records series called the Foreign Relations of the United States. This series of bound volumes and, more recently, electronic versions, constitutes the official record of American diplomacy. You can find sets of it at good libraries. Multiple volumes focus on each region of the world, and on some global topics, for each American president. Kudos to the State Department Historian, his staff, the Historical Advisory Panel, and declassification authorities at the State Department and the CIA.

This story concerns President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Iran. Back in the first year of Ike’s presidency (1953), he ordered a CIA covert operation that overthrew the legally-installed prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh. In 1989 the State Department published a FRUS volume that pretended there was no CIA role in the fall of the Iranian leader–a populist by the way. By that time, however, the spooks’ covert operation had become pretty widely known–for example I had written of it at some length in my book, first published in 1986, called Presidents’ Secret Warsand the FRUS volume was met by derision.

A panel of historians advises the State Department on maintaining the FRUS as our authoritative record. The panel not only guffawed at the volume, it told the Historical Office to redo its sums and produce a new FRUS volume properly recounting the story. When State demurred, the historians lobbied Congress, with the eventual result that today it is a matter of statute that the FRUS series must reflect the activities of all U.S. agencies and must be truly “authoritative,” starting with a new Iran 1953 volume.

Eventually the Iran volume would be supplemented by one, just as long, which contained the hidden history. That volume went into declassification review in the late 1990s. There it sat. And sat. And sat. And sat. Mind you, this was at a time when President Bill Clinton had instituted secrecy rules providing that, with narrow exceptions, all documents older that 25 years should immediately be declassified. Iran 1953 was already past that. As the FRUS volume languished, an internal history of the CIA operation leaked to the public. Later a similar account was declassified. From time to time historians, including my colleague Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archive, advocated for release of the FRUS. The State Department actually did release two other FRUS volumes on CIA covert operations–on Guatemala in 1954 and on the Congo in the 1960, plus a dual-volume on Cuba which covered the Bay of Pigs and more–while the Iran records sat in the secret vault. Until two days ago, June 15, 2017. The Iran volume has finally emerged!

A look at the final product shows that there’s work still to be done. The FRUS volume has 10 CIA documents that were wholly deleted, 38 which contain deletions of more than a paragraph, and 80 that have lesser redactions. This amounts to a large percentage of the material that covers the actual CIA coup. More to the point, it includes the operative portions of the project planning papers, the detail of CIA monthly reports, and much more. The new FRUS volume is a great advance over what we had before, but the redactions make it plain the CIA believes it can still live in a world of secrecy.

Another Spook Passes

June 15, 2017–Every so often there’s a spy story that brings back the (supposed) romance of the second oldest profession. These are the kinds of narratives that enthrall kids and make them want to grow up to be spies. It may be that the age has passed–the machine spies, the computer hackers, the drone pilots, the faceless bureaucrats of the modern spyocracy do little to evoke the foggy streets and dark alleys of classic espionage. Samuel Vaughan Wilson is today’s story. He passed away a few days ago. For someone who roamed five continents and the seven seas, Wilson made it full circle to die at 93, in the same small Virginia town where he was born in 1923. Wilson was the real thing.

It was 1940, with war clouds on the horizon and Europe already enveloped in World War II, when Sam walked seven miles in the rain to enlist in the Virginia National Guard. Soon enough the Guard were mobilized. Wilson rose to sergeant before he was selected for officer candidate school, from which he emerged in good form. The Army sent him to Burma with the 4507th Provisional Infantry Regiment, famous as “Merrill’s Marauders.” He became regimental intelligence officer to Brigadier General Frank B. Merrill. Wilson personally scouted behind Japanese lines to prepare Merrill’s first attack. When Hollywood made a movie about the Marauders in 1962, Wilson actually appeared in the film, using the name Vaughan Wilson to play Merrill’s aide.

Army troops in Burma had a very close, almost interchangeable, relationship with the spooks of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which had a unit there called Detachment 101. Wilson made his first contacts with a number of people he would encounter again later. He spent roughly a third of his career on detached service with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), starting with four years with a Russian-immersion unit called “Detachment R.” That prepped him for assignment to the CIA base in West Berlin. Wilson occupied a place perhaps just one step below the CIA’s top Soviet case officers, George Kisevalter and Richard Kovich. Wilson became the agency’s first case officer for Igor Orlov, an agent whom people variously view as either an important spy or a Russian mole. There were other espionage assignments too. In 1963 Wilson was assigned to the Pentagon office supporting the CIA and its Project MONGOOSE aimed at Fidel Castro. In his later guise as a college president Wilson recalled browsing book stalls in Paris, Moscow, Beijing, and Tokyo; and strolling through the marketplaces of Baghdad, Marrakesh, Samarkand, and Ulaan Bator.

Then there was the Army.  It sent him to South Vietnam. As a colonel when Henry Cabot Lodge was the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Wilson served as military adviser to South Vietnamese General Nguyen Khanh. In January 1964 Khanh launched a coup that overthrew the junta of the time. Colonel Wilson became the man on the spot, funneling spot reports to Ambassador Lodge on ops of the South Vietnamese airborne brigade, Khanh’s securing of the command compound at Tan Son Nhut airbase, and his schedule. When Maxwell D. Taylor succeeded Lodge, Colonel Wilson became the U.S. military attaché. Over the holidays in 1964-65 Taylor, held in high esteem by President Lyndon Johnson, assembled his country team to consider whether to support the dispatch of American troops to South Vietnam. Wilson opposed that. He returned to Vietnam in 1966-67 as head of pacification under the Agency for International Development. Successes and failures at pacification further soured Wilson on the war.

In 1971 Brigadier General Wilson went to Moscow as U.S. military attaché. Even that late in his career the general is reported to have attempted on-the-street recruitments on behalf of CIA. The Soviets did not ignore him. Wilson is said to have been the target of a Russian “swallow,” a female spy who recruits using her wiles. Returning to the United States in 1973, Major General Wilson won assignment to head the Directorate of Estimates at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Following a year there, in September 1974 Wilson returned to the CIA as Bill Colby’s deputy to liaise with the other members of the intelligence community. He held that job until May 1976, when Lieutenant General Wilson became the director of DIA in his own right. Wilson is quoted as telling his people that Sherlock Holmes had become a better role model than James Bond.

The Carter administration took office in January 1977 and it made a start on new special forces and tactics, in the style of Detachment 101 and Merrill’s Marauders. General Wilson advocated for the initiative and put in the good word. He also furnished valuable advice to Colonel Charles Beckwith, originator of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. That unit, the Delta Force, was in the works as Sam Wilson retired in the fall of 1977. In the Iran Hostage Crisis the Delta Force carried out the rescue mission that failed at Desert One. Sam Wilson came out of retirement to serve on the Pentagon panel that reviewed the execution of Operation EAGLE CLAW, as the mission had been known. Wilson remained in demand as a consultant, and educator, and he circled back to his boyhood town. Altogether an interesting trajectory.

Remembering a Spy for All Seasons

June 4, 2017–At the end of April with the death of Howard Phillips Hart, the U.S. intelligence community lost one of its true heroes. Unlike Dewey Clarridge, who tried to appropriate the title “spy for all seasons,” but who was a showboat and ideologue, Hart was the real thing, fortunately on the scene at some very real passages in recent American history. Even as a toddler. Born in St. Louis on the eve of World War II, Hart’s banker father moved the family to the Philippines, where they had the misfortune to be when the Japanese invaded after Pearl Harbor. The family were locked up in a Japanese prison camp at Los Banos and rescued in the nick of time, in 1945, as U.S. paratroopers liberated the camp before the Japanese could execute the prisoners. After the war the family went back to the Philippines.

Howard read in Oriental studies and political science at Cornell and the University of Arizona, learning Hindi and Urdu. He was thinking about joining the Marines when an agency recruiter convinced him to become a spy instead. He joined the CIA in the summer of 1966. The agency did well by Hart, assigning him to India for his first foreign tour. In that he followed Clarridge, who had served in Dehli but at this time was desk officer for India at Langley. The station chief was Clair George. Anyway, the Indians were in the process of edging closer to the Soviet Union, and in 1967 they signed a treaty of friendship and an arms delivery agreement with Moscow. Hart was wrestling with an invitation from an old friend to become a lawyer when one of his agents acquired the operating manual for the Russian SA-2 anti-aircraft missile, mainstay of the North Vietnamese air defenses that were zapping U.S. planes in the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign. That coup convinced Hart to make his career as a spy.

He served three years in India, long enough to see the first rumblings of what became the Indian-Pakistani war of 1971. Hart got an education in the niceties of diplomatic relations–in India, with rising anti-Americanism, the Canadian embassy painted Canadian flags all over its cars so they wouldn’t be taken as Americans. Less than a decade later, Canadian diplomats heroically sheltered Americans in Teheran and helped smuggle them out of the country. Hart witnessed both ends of this show–first in India, then, after a tour in the Persian Gulf, in Iran. Assigned to the Teheran station, in the first phase of the Iranian revolution, the United States decided to greatly reduce its embassy staff–including the CIA station. In the summer of 1979 the spooks operated with a rump unit of a few officers within the reduced embassy, plus an undercover “outside” unit of four, headed by Howard Hart.

There were lots of adventures, including the time Hart was stopped by Revolutionary Guards at a checkpoint, beaten, and ended up blowing them away with his pistol. He got his CIA contingent safely out of the country. When the Carter administration organized the hostage rescue mission that ended so tragically at the Desert One airstrip in the Iranian outback, Howard Hart was the CIA adviser. He was physically at Desert One when the mission came apart. For Iran Hart received the Intelligence Star, an important CIA medal.

Next Howard went to Islamabad as station chief for Pakistan, and from there he directed the CIA paramilitary operation against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This was the crucial early-mid phase of the Afghan op, when U.S. support did not quite rise to war-winning levels. Hart made the best of limited means. He finished his CIA career as an early chief of the agency’s novel “fusion center” to counter drug trafficking. Hart amassed five award decorations during his career–more than almost any other officer–and George Tenet selected him as one of fifty CIA “Trailblazers” in 1997. Unlike Clarridge or George, both of whom were swept up in the Iran-Contra scandal, Howard Hart never became controversial inside or outside the agency. That’s what made him a “spy for all seasons.”

What Future in Trump’s “Respect” for CIA?

January 22, 2017–Inauguration Day has come and gone. Donald J. Trump is now–for real– the President of the United States. His administration started off with a bang. Mr. Trump used the CIA for a political stump speech, as he sent spin doctor Sean Spicer out to deal False News in support of a Trumpian assertion that inauguration crowds were larger than they were. That, in turn, was a gambit to divert attention from the Women’s March on Washington–and in more than 630 other places all over the world (eight people rallied in Irbil, Iraq; twenty-seven in Hanoi, Vietnam)–in all totaling ten times or more the number of people attending the Trump inaugural. These events, plus Trump’s accession to the presidency, cry out for fresh commentary.

Trump’s rise has been interpreted here as heralding a purge within the intelligence community. At the CIA yesterday, as protesters took over Washington, the president took pains to declare the opposite: “I am so behind you. You’re gonna get so much backing. Maybe you’re gonna say, please, don’t give us so much backing. . . .” Trump blamed his favorite enemies of the moment–the media–for the notion there is anything wrong between the president and the community of American spies.

Everything this man says requires interpretation. Never forget that. Just since the New Year Mr. Trump has accused the CIA of being Nazis, enclosed references to U.S. intelligence and intelligence agencies within quotation marks (as in”intelligence”), and said outgoing agency director John Brennan is a leaker. Last year–as covered in this space more than once–Trump leveled more charges at the spies, including lambasting them for decade-old mistakes and insinuating they are the same old re-treads. These are things Mr. Trump wrote, explicitly, in his tweets, or said in public, in speeches or elsewhere. Yesterday all of that did not exist–in Trump’s eye the media had made it up.

Artiste Andy Warhol once famously observed that everyone seeks fifteen minutes of fame. To Trump’s mind that equates to fifteen minutes of friendship. You’re only a friend while you say the right thing–or until Trump himself changes tack, recasting you as enemy. Just look at what happened to New Jersey Chris Christie–once chairman of Trump’s transition team and expecting to be appointed Attorney General, on Friday Christie was not even on the inaugural platform (at least in the picture published in the New York Times). As for the CIA–wait for it!!!–Donald Trump’s visit lasted exactly fifteen minutes. He did not even take off his overcoat for the festivity. Either Trump wore an armored vest under the greatcoat, visiting the CIA’s den of vipers; or he intended the whistlestop from the outset, which brings us back to the political nature of this event, in my opinion futilely designed to distract from the Women’s March.

Declaiming in front of the agency’s hallowed wall of stars–known and still-clandestine officers who have given their lives in United States service–Trump spoke only briefly  before he veered off on tangents–even more extravagant falsities about his crowds at the inauguration, and self-congratulatory puffery on his “intelligence.” But while he was actually still on point, the president hinted at several of his intentions for CIA. Returning to waterboarding and torture was one, stronger action against the islamists of ISIS was another–this time taking their oil. (Why seizing Syrian oil on behalf of an oil-rich U.S. would be necessary, and how that might be feasible without pipelines and in the face of Syrian national sovereignty, plus how those intentions would complicate the problem for CIA officers trying to recruit Syrian militants, are all questions that speak to the new president’s intelligence.)

Bottom line: President Trump intends actions that will require greater CIA efforts. He needs the CIA. But at the same time he distrusts the agency and its intelligence–witness Trump’s steadfast rejection of the Russian hack. The role of the hack, and of FBI Director James Comey’s eleventh-hour reinvestigation of Hillary Clinton, in Trump’s election requires getting rid of those who can tell the tale. That need, in addition to Mr. Trump’s ephemeral but constant course changes, will ensure the purge goes on. The deputy to the Director of National Intelligence, and the chief of staff to the CIA director have already sent in their resignations. No doubt a stream of other mid-ranking and senior officials will follow. A little bit down the line, the result will be that a corps of junior officers faces the president’s demands for extreme, even extra-legal action. Not only will there be more stars on the CIA wall, there will be more agency officers in the soup. And where will President Trump be then? My guess is not “backing” the CIA any more than he is backing Paul Manafort or Roger Stone in the Russian influence peddling scandal. Those gentlemen are now non-persons in the Trumpian universe.

Fearful Leader and Bombastic Duck

January 14, 2017–The past week has been stuffed with events, each one controversial, each more outrageous than before. You can imagine where this is headed. General James Clapper, the Fearful Leader, pulled his punches all through the summer and into the fall on the Russian hacking caper, and ended up making desperate phone appeals to the president-elect. Donald Trump, who quacks like that other duck, and is much more a bombast, played his standard game of bait-and-switch, saying one thing to your face but twisting meanings, words, and whole ideas, in public or on twitter.

The prediction here a week ago was that Director of National Intelligence Clapper would get 24 hours to bask in the sun for the intelligence community’s briefing to Trump on the Russians, before president-elect Trump backed away from his initial acknowledgement of the assessment and resumed playing the intelligence as politics rather than a national security determination. That prediction erred–Trump made one statement shortly after the briefing appearing to accept its substance, while insisting that lots of countries do cyberspying and that the Russians had had no impact on the U.S. election outcome. He held off somewhat longer on returning to suit, with surrogate Kellyanne Conway taking the role of attack dog dismissing the intelligence.

But the prediction here was on the money in terms of the direction The Donald took. First, dilute the intelligence by widening the circle of suspects beyond Russia, while insisting on a lack of specific evidence implicating Putin. Next, falsify the DNI/CIA reporting by putting words in the mouths of Fearful Leader and the others–claiming that U.S. intelligence had concluded the Russian hack had not influenced the election, where, in fact, the spooks explicitly said they had made no attempt to evaluate the political impact of the hack. Trump personally had belittled the intelligence in advance of his briefing on January 6, with the phony assertion the spies had postponed the brief, plus the jab they must need extra time to put together credible charges.

President-elect Trump had his own event scheduled, a news conference on Wednesday, January 11. On the eve of that the web news site BuzzFeed released a long paper detailing alleged Donald Trump misdeeds and embarrassments the Russians had supposedly documented and held over his head. The paper, written by a former British spy, had begun as an effort by Trump opponents to gather ammunition to use against him, but the spook eventually found the allegations so disturbing he took the document to the FBI. By all accounts vague rumors drawn from this paper had been all over Washington for months, and both the FBI and media outlets had attempted, without success, to authenticate the charges.

Back on January 7, after the intelligence community meeting with Mr. Trump, General Clapper’s office released a 25-page unclassified version of the secret information it had given the president-elect. The public document did not contain a two-page annex that several sources now mention as a summary to Mr. Trump of  what the oppo research paper might reveal. Multiple sources also affirm that FBI Director James Comey took Mr. Trump aside at the conclusion of the briefing to warn him that damaging information was out there and could surface at any time. The Donald was soon tweeting of a “total political witch hunt,” terming the oppo paper “fake news,” and asserting he had heard nothing about it until the document leaked.

The president-elect’s news conference became a shambles. Mr. Trump seemed to accept that there had been a Russian hack, but then repeatedly went back to his formula that anyone could have done it. He harped on the notion the hacking had not altered the election outcome. He accused media outright of purveying “fake news” for reporting the existence of the oppo paper. He asserted he’d known nothing about it. By the following day Kellyanne Conway was speaking of intelligence officials leaking for political purposes. Trump personally took up that theme yesterday–Friday the 13th–tweeting “Totally made up facts . . . probably leaked by ‘Intelligence.'”

Director Clapper phoned Mr. Trump to remind him the FBI had told him of the oppo paper material. The president-elect represented that as the opposite. Ms Conway piled on to add to claims the intelligence community is leaking information they are sworn to keep secret. This extra irony is especially painful because–as you will have read here several times now–my view is that Mr. Trump’s political wriggling has been facilitated by Director Clapper’s excessive concern for secrecy, which left such vagueness and ambiguity in intelligence community declarations about Russian hacking as to leave room for some plausibility in The Duck’s defense of Moscow.

The bottom line is this: Donald Trump and his surrogates seem completely unable to distinguish between what is political–whether or not Russian hacking turned the election of 2016–and what is national security–the threat to American institutions demonstrated by a foreign ability to enter and manipulate the top ranks of U.S. political parties. Mr. Trump’s entire concern is political. This reinforces the point made in this space in a previous posting–the new chief executive will be imposing a political litmus test on the intelligence brought to him.

For being right, Clapper’s spooks are in deeper doo-doo than ever.

Trump and the Hack: Whose Witch Hunt?

January 6, 2017–Yesterday Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sat before the Senate Armed Services Committee and, referring to president-elect Donald Trump’s jibes at U.S. intelligence, said “I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.” As Clapper said that you could see Robert S. Litt, the DNI’s general counsel, sitting behind him. Litt has been referred to here as a consigliere, and also sat at Clapper’s side when the Fearful Leader perjured himself, swearing to a different Senate committee a few years ago that U.S. intelligence had no collection programs aimed at masses of American citizens. This time around you could see Litt let his head fall, hold it in his hand, and shake it “no.” His gestures suggested the consigliere had a bad feeling about what was happening around him.

Today that is confirmed. General Clapper and the mavens of the intelligence community made their pilgrimage to Trump Tower in New York and presented their detailed findings on the Russian hack to the incoming president. I had thought Trump would give them the courtesy of at least pretending to think over their brief for a day or so but, no, hardly were they out the door when Mr. Trump disparaged the spooks’ findings on Russian hacking as a witch hunt.

Trump looks set to win the public relations contest. Not only have his spin doctors–and the president-elect himself–hammered constantly to repackage a question of a covert influence operation from an historical adversary as a mere case of political sour grapes, but U.S. spooks have left themselves vulnerable to that tactic. The DNI has now had three runs at this affair: a joint statement he issued with the Director of Homeland Security on October 7, 2016; a joint report with DHS last week, and yesterday’s Senate hearing. In all three instances Clapper chose to go with anodyne pronouncements that gave hardly any detail regarding the Russian hack that affected an American presidential election, buried those details released among a mass of generic B-S regarding protective measures against hacking, or submerged it among descriptions of hacking by other states and entities. On top of that DNI Clapper failed to restrain FBI director James Comey from the related action of calling in the computers of the ex of a senior Hillary Clinton aide which, apart from anything else, served to muddy the waters about charges of a Russian hack. All of these actions exhibited exaggerated fears for secrecy–and show why here we call the DNI a Fearful Leader. The effect of Fearful Leader’s actions and omissions has been to leave daylight for Mr. Trump to manipulate this matter as an artifact of politics rather than national security.

Donald Trump’s stance of stiffing those he regards as witch hunters now requires him to point out the real enemies. Top of the list has to be U.S. intelligence. You can see the purge coming.

 

Part 2

January 7, 2017–In his Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times, former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell write, “Mr. Trump’s attacks on the agency surprised me, but they shouldn’t have.” Precisely. This space has been commenting on the attacks for many weeks now. The president-elect chose to make intelligence a political football as an alternative to accepting a serious objection to his simplistic attitude toward Vladimir Putin and Russia. The head-in-the-sand obtuseness of U.S. intelligence under Fearful Leader Clapper helped make Trump’s maneuver feasible.

Yesterday we commented on the shortcomings of previous releases and reports from Director Clapper that were so bland and uninformative they permitted Mr. Trump to dance away from their implications. Yesterday DNI Clapper and his agency directors had their detailed briefing with the president-elect. Afterwards the DNI released an unclassified background paper that purported to detail the charges against Russia for hacking the U.S. election. The news commentaries today, Mr. Morrell’s article, and many other speculations, are based on that summary paper.

Unfortunately the DNI presentation again illustrates the same deficiencies already noted here. Barely more than one quarter of the 25-page “intelligence community assessment” is actually substantive. There is almost as much blank paper (cover and back covers, contents, title pages) as that. Five more pages are given over to explanations of what is an intelligence report, a scope note, and tabulations of the probability levels the spooks attach to judgments that range from “remote” to “almost certain.” By far the meatiest element in this report is an only tangentially-related paper–years old we are told, and as lengthy as the entire substantive hacking report–of the way the broadcast outlet RT Television essentially functions in the same fashion as the Voice of America.

The substantive report contains three “key judgments.” These were by nature assessments, not facts. The only real factual statements were that Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking campaign, and that the Russians did not target or compromise systems involved in vote tallying. The analysis underlying these conclusions lies in a five-page paper jointly produced by the CIA, NSA, and FBI, labeled “a declassified version of a highly classified assessment . . . [that] does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the [Russian] influence campaign.” Aside from such public record details as when various Russian outlets, including RT Television, began their coverage of the U.S. election, and characterizations of the content of Russian media coverage and the statements of notables, there is very little in this report. In terms of the massive hacking, the most substantive elements say that Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee networks in July 2015 and maintained that access at least through June 2016. Russian military intelligence (GRU) joined in by March 2016, compromised personal email accounts of officials and party figures, and within two months “had exfiltrated large volumes of data.” That’s it.

“Scope Notes” are of little value when their purpose is to disguise lack of content. U.S. intelligence understandably wanted to safeguard its sources, and wished to preserve a step-level distinction between the depth of the information it provides top officials versus the public, but General Clapper again failed to make his case to the public, and to Donald Trump the issue is politics, not intelligence. Trump’s response was to declare he will order an investigation of how NBC News found out about some things in Clapper’s report. He referenced hacking by outsiders (including, but beyond) Russia, and said he will seek a report by late April 2017 regarding general countermeasures against hacks. The only Trump statement recognizable from the U.S. intelligence report is his insistence no voting machines were tampered with.

 

Fearful Leader Against Loose Cannon: CIA’s Purge Begins

January 5, 2017–For all his bombast, expressed in 160 character sound bites, Donald J. Trump is a loose cannon. One of his targets has been United States intelligence. Regardless of his latest–“The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence” when in fact I am a big fan!”–what is consistent in the Trump messaging, for months now, is that American spies are in his crosshairs. This sense is well enough established that since before the American elections you’ve been reading here of the coming purge of the spooks. The message carries beyond Trump–his minions spout it at much greater length and with blatant exclamations the CIA lacks evidence for a conclusion that Russia sought to influence the U.S. presidential election.

As this is written the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and his top agency directors are appearing on Capitol Hill to acquaint Congress with their conclusions in more detail. The DNI, General James Clapper, has long been an obsequious apparatchik, so much so that it’s amazing he wasn’t able to get in with president-elect Trump. In any case, the DNI has assembled a report on Russian hacking, which goes to President Barack Obama and Congress today, and which is supposed to be briefed to Trump in New York tomorrow.

There is more than a little irony that Donald Trump thinks little of U.S. intelligence and its charges. To start with Clapper, who has been a Fearful Leader, seeing threats behind every bush and creating an atmosphere that helped make possible the emergence of Trump, is now being slapped down by one he built up. This DNI also pictured his own employees, American spies, as the major threat to U.S. national security and then, when he finds a foreign (Russian) threat, can’t get that taken seriously by the incoming president. In fact Mr. Trump is evoking Julian Assange of Wikileaks–a person whom Fearful Leader and associates have wanted put away (or worse) to refute the reported intelligence findings. A further irony lies in the fact that FBI director James Comey, who played a key role in Trump’s election with a panicky eleventh-hour allegation against the president-elect’s opponent, is part of the delegation who will go to New York to brief Mr. Trump on the hacking findings. Trump has already rejected regular receipt of the top secret President’s Daily Brief. The notion he will be receptive to the message on Russian hacking is wishful thinking.

Here’s my prediction on what will happen: Mr. Trump will emerge from that meeting to say he is taking the intelligence on board. That will endure for about 24 hours, long enough for Fearful Leader and his own acolytes to get back to Washington and report how tense was the encounter with The Donald. The U.S. intelligence community, which is already reeling from charges of complicity in torture, obstruction of justice, foundering amid an operations-oriented reorganization, will add deep disarray due to its stock in trade, analysis, being rejected out of hand.

Mr. Trump has already asserted that he knows things the rest of us do not, and pontificated (rightly, actually) on the inherent insecurity of computers, while inviting the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton, and then asserting that some 400-lb guy sitting on his bed could have been the hacker. Trump cannot accept the intelligence on Russian hacking because it challenges the legitimacy of his election.

What is truly disturbing in this is that intelligence is being read with rose-colored lenses.  The field is full of arguments about the disastrous effects of what observers call “politicization,” but that has traditionally referred to spies self-censoring, serving up what they think the president wants to hear. No one has ever dealt with the situation where the “validity” of intelligence depends on whether it can pass the test of the president’s pre-existing beliefs. The politicization here is demanded by the consumer. CIA calls into question Trump’s rosy picture of the character of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It has got to shape up. That is why there will be a purge, half of it made up of honest professionals fleeing this craziness. The CIA that emerges at the other end of this will be desperate to regain President Trump’s esteem, ready to do anything at all.