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First Principles

The Intelligence Community Works for the President

Losing democratic control over the intelligence community would be the end of self-government.


- September 12th, 2019
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It’s simply hard to know where to begin to respond to the staggering chutzpah of Jennifer Rubin’s recent Washington Post opinion column accusing the president of undermining our intelligence community.

Rubin used the recent leak regarding the exfiltration (a fancy word for “removal”) of an undercover “asset” in Russia as a hook to make the case that the president is somehow responsible for outing this source and therefore harming U.S. interests. Her column is an example of the backward view elite leftists have towards democracy and the Constitution. These elites, in desperate need of a remedial civics class, have convinced themselves that our elected president must learn to take orders from the intelligence community.

Here is a partial inventory of what is demonstrably wrong with Rubin’s piece:

President Trump is not responsible for outing the secret CIA mole.

Rubin relied on this badly sourced story from CNN, which reported, “The removal [of the mole] happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources who served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress.”

When you read CNN is using a former intelligence official as a source, there’s a good chance it’s using one of its own paid get-Trump contributors.

The loss of the mole is the thing Rubin says is undermining our intelligence system so saying “Trump is undermining our intelligence eyes and ears,” is just patently dishonest. As she concedes, “the exfiltration might not have been directly related to the president.” Rubin must have started writing the piece before the New York Times, of all places, debunked the CNN story.

The intelligence community, not Trump, outed their own mole.

According to the Times, intelligence officials effectively outed their own source by making public “with unusual detail” information that led the news media to “pick up” on the possibility that the CIA was using a Kremlin source.

The mole’s “life remains in danger” according to “current and former officials.” So current and former officials are complaining to the Times that leaking information about a former mole endangers his life? Somebody went so far as to leak the location of the mole in the United States. If the intelligence community is sincere about keeping cooperating moles safe, maybe they should stop leaking?

Trump did not mishandle classified information.

Quoting another Washington Post story, Rubin writes: “The exfiltration took place sometime after an Oval Office meeting in May 2017, when President Trump revealed highly classified counterterrorism information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.”

Rubin means this meeting in which the president warned Russia of an ISIS plot. ISIS is a common enemy to the United States and Russia. Sharing this information was both legal and consistent with Russia’s own attempt to warn us of the Boston Marathon bombers before the attack took place.

It’s up to the president to decide how best to use classified information and he may appropriately decide to share it with another country. In order to punish the president for this meeting, somebody within the intelligence community leaked the meeting and added the detail that the information came from “A Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.”

So, to undermine the president’s diplomacy, the leaking intelligence community outed its source (or narrowed it to a short list) and put the supposedly secret information into the pages of the New York Times. I clearly remember the story as an example of the intelligence community considering the president unworthy of exercising control over U.S. intelligence.

Trump did not attack the intelligence community by expressing skepticism.

Rubin’s entire theory for why Trump is at fault for the exfiltration is that the intelligence community felt it had to leak definitive details supporting its Russian interference claims because of Trump’s skepticism.

“Under ordinary circumstances,” Rubin writes, “the intelligence community would likely not have been as definitive, but of course it was under attack by Trump, who continued to deny its conclusion that Russia was without a doubt involved in attempting to sway the 2016 election Trump’s way.”

It’s difficult not to be skeptical about claims that Russia interfered in the election when you learn that the source of much of that information, Christopher Steele through Fusion GPS, was hired by the Clinton campaign to help her in the election.

Hillary Clinton’s subcontractor claimed, for example, that Trump’s private attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to pay Russians to  hack the Democratic National Committee’s servers. That was proven and demonstrably false.

Nevertheless, Steele’s work was indispensable to the Russian collusion narrative as it formed the basis for FISA surveillance warrants. CIA Director John Brennan and perhaps FBI chief James Comey sought to use Steele’s false research to bolster the official national intelligence assessment.

Likewise, the conclusion that the Russians hacked the DNC servers rely on another Clinton subcontractor, Crowdstrike, that failed to follow their own third-party verification process in attributing the hack. The Justice Department has abandoned any effort to prove the Russian government had anything to do with the Russian troll farm case. Trump would have been a fool to accept on faith the highly politicized intelligence developed by political enemies intent on overturning the results of the 2016 election.

There’s reason to question whether this mole was ever reliable.

According to the Times article cited by Rubin, “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.” But, the story continues, when the mole refused the CIA’s offer to “exfiltrate” (again, a fancy word for “leave”):

the source’s rejection of the C.I.A.’s initial offer of exfiltration prompted doubts among some counterintelligence officials. They wondered whether the informant had been turned and had become a double agent, secretly betraying his American handlers. That would almost certainly mean that some of the information the informant provided about the Russian interference campaign or Mr. Putin’s intentions would have been inaccurate.

It’s worth remembering that the NSA broke with the CIA and the FBI to express “moderate confidence” that Putin indeed “aspired to help President-elect Trump.” What exactly is “moderate confidence”?

Rubin is against democratic control of the intelligence community.

That’s tyranny. I recently quoted Harry Truman’s assessment of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. “We want no Gestapo or secret police,” Truman wrote. “FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail . . . Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Losing democratic control over the intelligence community would be, as Truman rightly worried, the end of self-government.

The intelligence community has committed numerous well-documented abuses of intelligence including, illegally using surveillance to spy on spouses and lovers, CIA hacking congressional emails, the Carter Page surveillance abuses, and the explosive FISA court opinion outing abuses so widespread and massive that the FBI had to hire contractors just to keep up with the volume of constitutional violations it perpetrated.

The president is the constitutional master of the intelligence community. Any attempt to negate presidential control of these powerful forces is a step towards tyranny. National security means nothing if doesn’t mean securing and preserving our constitutional form of government.

Consider this observation from Steven Hall, a former CIA official, cited with approval by the New York Times: “We have a president who, unlike any other president in modern history, is willing to use sensitive, classified intelligence however he sees fit.”

Uh, yes. That’s his constitutional role and it’s troubling that Hall and so many others like him don’t understand that. Rubin cites former FBI special agent Frank Figliuzzi, who contends the circumstances “could present a virtual ‘intelligence desert’ for the foreseeable future or until the national security threat posed by Trump is negated.”

Presidential control over intelligence is a threat to national security that must be “negated.” Let that speak for itself.

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