«

»

Sep 11 2019

The Spy Who Loved US

I have a very skeptical and cautious view of of the US intelligence community (IC), like Charlie Pierce at Esquire Politics, for very good reasons:

I’d watched as revelation after revelation demonstrated how badly the activities of what was originally supposed to be an information-gathering system turned into a covert-operating, coup-engineering, assassination-arranging, Constitution-shredding, self-perpetuating behemoth. (I consider Daniel Patrick Moynihan one of the more overrated political figures of the last century, but he was right about the CIA.) Most recently, I watched as the intelligence community threw itself into the previous Republican administration’s torture regime like toddlers at snack time, and then proceeded to do what it always does: shred, burn, and otherwise conceal what it was doing from the suckers (us) who pay all the bills.

But also like Charlie, I realized that with the great orange blob that now occupies the Oval Office couldn’t keep a secret and was enamored of autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, the US national security was at risk. Charlie puts it more colorfully than I can:

So along comes El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, who knows nothing about anything, but whose bomb-in-a-china-shop approach to his job has left rubble to all points of the compass, and all of a sudden, I find myself on the same side as all those spooks and black-op bureaucrats that have done so much damage around the world their own selves, largely because they seem to be the only people in our government with the nerve to push back against the craziness emanating from Camp Runamuck.

Then this happened, as reported by CNN:

In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN.

A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.

The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset. An extraction, or “exfiltration” as such an operation is referred to by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary remedy when US intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger.
The source was considered the highest level source for the US inside the Kremlin, high up in the national security infrastructure, according to the source familiar with the matter and a former senior intelligence official.
According to CNN’s sources, the spy had access to Putin and could even provide images of documents on the Russian leader’s desk.
The covert source provided information for more than a decade, according to the sources, and an initial effort to extract the spy, after exposure concerns, was rebuffed by the informant.
The informant was living in a house he owned under his own name in the suburbs of Washington DC. Since the story broke, he has since been moved for his own safety.
According to reports, the IC concerns about Trump’s loose lips grew:
Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes. Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community’s response to the Trump-Putin meeting.  [..]
At the end of the Obama administration, US intelligence officials had already expressed concerns about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets, given the length of their cooperation with the US, according to the former senior intelligence official.
Those concerns grew in early 2017 after the US intelligence community released its public report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which said Putin himself ordered the operation. The intelligence community also shared a classified version of the report with the incoming Trump administration, and it included highly protected details on the sources behind the intelligence. Senior US intelligence officials considered extracting at least one Russian asset at the time but did not do so, according to the former senior intelligence official.
Trump has privately said that foreign spies can damage relations with their host countries and undermine his personal relationships with their leaders, the sources said. The President “believes we shouldn’t be doing that to each other,” one former Trump administration official told CNN.
In addition to his fear such foreign intelligence sources will damage his relationship with foreign leaders, Trump has expressed doubts about the credibility of the information they provide. Another former senior intelligence official told CNN that Trump “believes they’re people who are selling out their country.” [..]
Just last month, Trump again demonstrated his unorthodox approach to classified material when he tweeted a photo of a failed Iranian rocket launch and taunted Tehran about its military setback. The photo was of a much higher resolution than previous photos released by the US government, prompting concerns that Trump perhaps shared a photo of a classified image that wasn’t meant for the public.
Trump’s skeptical view on foreign informants undermines one of the most essential ways that American intelligence agencies gather information about US adversaries, including analysis of their capabilities and intentions. In the intelligence community, this information is referred to as “HUMINT,” which is short for “human intelligence.” This is distinguished from so-called “SIGINT,” or “signals intelligence,” which includes intercepted emails, telephone calls, and text messages.
Intelligence assessments of national security threats all typically depend on a combination of HUMINT, SIGINT, and other sources. This includes assessments about North Korea’s expanding nuclear program to terror threats from al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the military capabilities of Russia and China.
In June, after The Wall Street Journal reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother had been a CIA source, Trump said publicly that he would not allow the use of CIA informants against Kim. Throughout his presidency, Trump has pursued personal diplomacy with the North Korean despot.
Donald Trump is the biggest threat o our national security and the IC is handling him that way. Rather than handing the short attention spanned cretin a large binders filled with detailed sensitive information, that he won’t either read or understand and might fall into thte wrong hands, he is given oral briefing with pictures that is tailored to his interests :

Intelligence officials who brief the president have warned him about Chinese espionage in bottom-line business terms. They have used Black Sea shipping figures to demonstrate the effect of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. And they have filled the daily threat briefing with charts and graphs of economic data.

In an effort to accommodate President Trump, who has attacked them publicly as “naïve” and in need of going “back to school,” the nation’s intelligence agencies have revamped their presentations to focus on subjects their No. 1 customer wants to hear about — economics and trade.

Intelligence officers, steeped in how Mr. Trump views the world, now work to answer his repeated question: Who is winning? What the president wants to know, according to former officials, is what country is making more money or gaining a financial advantage.

While the professionals do not criticize Mr. Trump’s focus, they do question whether those interests are crowding out intelligence on threats like terrorism and the maneuvers of traditional adversaries, developments with foreign militaries or geopolitical events with international implications.

“If Trump tailors it to his needs, that is fine and his prerogative,” Douglas H. Wise, a career C.I.A. official and a former top deputy at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said of the daily briefing. “However, if he suppresses intelligence through that tailoring, that is not helpful. He is no longer making informed decisions because he is making decisions based on information he could have had but didn’t have.”

Charlie Pierce has the last word
The intelligence community is engaged in a cold war of information against the elected political leadership of the country, and a lot of us are finding ourselves on its side. This is neither healthy nor sustainable. If we’re going to have a constitutional crisis, then let’s by god have one according to the Constitution. It’s time to take the internal conflict ignited by this ignoramus out of the shadows and into the open. It’s time for congresscritters, one and all, to saddle up. I hope the person in question here is safe now. I hope the country is, too.