Tuesday Reads: Is Trump Destroying U.S. Intelligence Capabilities?Posted: September 10, 2019
As often happens since Trump entered the White House, it’s impossible to pick the most shocking news of the day. Is it Trump’s trashing of the opportunity to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan? Is it Wilbur Ross reportedly threatening to fire National Weather Service employees for accurately reporting the weather? Is it Trump’s corrupt use of his office for self-dealing? I guess I’d have to say Trump’s efforts to destroy the U.S. government’s intelligence capabilities probably wins today’s prize.
UPDATE: Naturally, as I was wrapping up this post, another big story broke.
The New York Times: Trump Fires John Bolton as National Security Adviser
President Trump fired John R. Bolton, his third national security adviser, on Tuesday amid fundamental disagreements over how to handle major foreign policy challenges like Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitter. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
His departure comes as Mr. Trump is pursuing diplomatic openings with two of the United States’ most intractable enemies, efforts that have troubled hard-liners in the administration, like Mr. Bolton, who view North Korea and Iran as profoundly untrustworthy.
The president has continued to court Kim Jong-un, the repressive leader of North Korea, despite Mr. Kim’s refusal to surrender his nuclear program and despite repeated short-range missile tests by the North that have rattled its neighbors. In recent days, Mr. Trump has expressed a willingness to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran under the right circumstances, and even to extend short-term financing to Tehran, although the offer has so far been rebuffed.
Back to previous programming:
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….
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.
At the time, Mike Pompeo was CIA director, and he claimed “too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset.” Frankly, I don’t trust Pompeo to act in the national interest, but that’s just me. Click on the CNN link to read more about “concerns” the intelligence community had about Trump revealing classified information.
The New York Times: C.I.A. Informant Extracted From Russia Had Sent Secrets to U.S. for Decades.
Decades ago, the C.I.A. recruited and carefully cultivated a midlevel Russian official who began rapidly advancing through the governmental ranks. Eventually, American spies struck gold: The longtime source landed an influential position that came with access to the highest level of the Kremlin.
As American officials began to realize that Russia was trying to sabotage the 2016 presidential election, the informant became one of the C.I.A.’s most important — and highly protected — assets. But when intelligence officials revealed the severity of Russia’s election interference with unusual detail later that year, the news media picked up on details about the C.I.A.’s Kremlin sources.
C.I.A. officials worried about safety made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russia. The situation grew more tense when the informant at first refused, citing family concerns — prompting consternation at C.I.A. headquarters and sowing doubts among some American counterintelligence officials about the informant’s trustworthiness. But the C.I.A. pressed again months later after more media inquiries. This time, the informant agreed.
The move brought to an end the career of one of the C.I.A.’s most important sources. It also effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year’s presidential contest….
The Moscow informant was instrumental to the C.I.A.’s most explosive conclusion about Russia’s interference campaign: that President Vladimir V. Putin ordered and orchestrated it himself. As the American government’s best insight into the thinking of and orders from Mr. Putin, the source was also key to the C.I.A.’s assessment that he affirmatively favored Donald J. Trump’s election and personally ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Psst! Don’t Tell Trump.
It’s sometimes lost amid Donald Trump’s endless affronts to the Republic, but the undermining of American intelligence capabilities is one of the overarching stories of his administration….
Even the possibility that Trump jeopardized America’s most important intelligence asset in Russia should be a very big deal, though I’m not sure it will be. The pundit class has mostly grown bored of the story behind Trump’s corrupt relationship with Russia. And too many in power, including almost all of the Republican Party, have grown used to the president deploying national security secrets in the same way he once traded tabloid gossip. He discloses American intelligence to deflect attention from unflattering stories, suck up to people he wants to impress, or simply on a whim. He treats it, as he treats everything else in American government, as a private tool of self-gratification.
Trump, you’ll remember, was in office for only a few months before he revealed to Russia classified intelligence about ISIS that originated in Israel, potentially endangering a source who was, as The Wall Street Journal reported, “the most valuable source of information on external plotting by Islamic State.” This led a senior German politician to describe the president as a “security risk for the entire Western world.”
Not long after, Trump bragged to Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte about the presence of American nuclear submarines off North Korea. (“We never talk about subs!” stunned Pentagon officials told BuzzFeed News.) Then, that September, after a subway bombing in London, Trump tweeted out that the perpetrators “were in the sights of Scotland Yard,” information that had not been publicly released. This prompted a rebuke from the British prime minister.
Less than two weeks ago, Trump tweeted what was likely a classified photo of the aftermath of an explosion at an Iranian space center. From the image, journalists and internet sleuths were able to deduce important information about the type and location of the satellite that produced it. “This is the first time in three and a half decades that an image has become public that reveals the sophistication of U.S. spy satellites in orbit,” reported Wired.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Final story on this topic from CNN: Trump skeptical of using foreign spies to collect intel on hostile countries, sources say.
President Donald Trump has privately and repeatedly expressed opposition to the use of foreign intelligence from covert sources, including overseas spies who provide the US government with crucial information about hostile countries, according to multiple senior officials who served under Trump.
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.”
Even in public, Trump has looked down on these foreign assets, as they are known in the intelligence community. Responding to reports that the CIA recruited Kim Jong Un’s brother as a spy, Trump said he “wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices.”
Why is this man still acting as “president?”
Trump’s opposition to using intelligence from foreign sources doesn’t extend to his campaign for reelection, in which he’s willing to use his pal Rudy Giuliani and withholding military aid to force Ukraine to manufacture intel on an opponent.
Those efforts yesterday became the focus of a new joint investigation by three House committees – Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform. In letters to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking “any and all” related records and a list of personnel involved, the three Democratic committee chairs outlined a litany of meetings, phone calls, tweets and other threats, including the withholding of the $250 million of security aid the reporter had referenced in the question to Pence.
“President Trump and his personal attorney appear to have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government and its justice system in service of President Trump’s reelection campaign, and the White House and the State Department may be abetting this scheme,” the chairmen wrote.
Starting at least late last year, President Donald Trump and his personal attorney and advisor, Rudy Giuliani, have agitated for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden, the current frontrunner in the Democratic presidential race and the candidate they apparently think could be Trump’s biggest rival for a second term.
Trump and Giuliani allege, contrary to evidence, that Biden improperly pressured the Ukrainian government in 2016 to fire then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in the midst of a corruption investigation of one of Ukraine’s biggest gas companies, Burisma Group. Biden’s youngest son, Hunter, was serving on the company’s board at the time.
But the prosecutor, in fact, was the target of pressure by Ukrainian anti-corruption advocates and a host of international supporters of Ukraine, who argued he should be fired for failing to pursue major cases of corruption. And it was the widely known and publicly espoused position of the U.S. government, across a half dozen agencies, that the prosecutor’s ouster was among crucial anti-corruption measures that the Ukrainian government needed to take to move forward economically and politically. As President Barack Obama’s point man on Ukraine, Biden dutifully relayed those messages at every opportunity.
Yet Trump and Giuliani have turned that real-life scenario on its head, falsely alleging that Biden sought to corruptly influence a Ukrainian prosecutor’s decisions in his son’s favor.
Click on the link to read the rest.
I’ll end with this story by Jeff Hauser at The Daily Beast that would sound crazy if it were about any other president; but in the current environment it actually seems plausible: Trump’s Going to Manipulate the Government to Stay in Power.
The power of an incumbent president to aid re-election by abusing the executive branch has in the past been limited by a few powerful forces: Presidential integrity; the fear of a scandal emerging in the media; and the prospect of aggressive congressional oversight.
Due to forces outside their control, the Democratic nominee won’t be saved by the first two “norms based” options. And as a result of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy of not “focusing on Trump,” the president has every reason to scoff at the prospect of aggressive congressional oversight, up to and including a genuine “go big” effort at impeachment.
Combined, these elements must force us to consider a truly horrifying series of questions: Does President Trump have the means, motive, and opportunity to tilt the 2020 election? The answer, unfortunately, is yes, yes, and yes. And it behooves Democrats to understand that now, before it is too late.
Hauser spells out what he sees as “the means, motive, and opportunity.” Read all about it at The Daily Beast.
So . . . what else is happening? what stories are you following today?