by G. Murphy Donovan
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on Public Television shortly before the presidential election for an extended interview with Charlie Rose. Mister Rose, like many of his peers these days, swings between hard news at dusk and bimbo chat at dawn. Indeed, Charlie is the very model of a Beltway double-dipper, a celebrity groupie who feeds at public and commercial troughs, PBS and CBS.
On any given day, Rose might be seen giggling with celebrities in the morning and then lofting softballs to political touts in the evening. The Council on Foreign Relations was the venue for the recent Clapper show. “Impartial, non-profit” think tanks are often used to provide the appropriate gravitas to administration spin. The Clapper performance, just before the November election, seemed to be of a piece with several other Intelligence officials who campaigned against Donald Trump.
And the Clapper interview, like many administration dog-and-pony shows, was not about transparency or openness or even information per se. In another day, any public chat with an Intelligence official might have been relegated to the desinformatsiya file. Today, Intelligence officials like Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan play other, and some might say sinister, if not partisan roles.
Whether the subject is Islamism, Vladimir Putin, or fake news; the name of the game at the moment is overtly political. Call it spin control.
Clapper’s appearance on Public Television was a subtle version of partisan Intelligence spin. Michael Morell, former acting director of CIA and Michael Hayden, former director of NSA have been on the anti-Trump stump since the 2016 campaign began. Recall that Hayden (aka Elmer Fudd) presided over the worst warning failure in American history and that Morell was a principal in the Benghazi fiasco.
Clapper suggests that the world of Intelligence is binary, a world of secrets and mysteries. Secrets are the knowable unknowns and mysteries are the secrets that might never be known, or at least not until disaster strikes. The Saudi kamikaze air force takes a bow here.
Alas, the “wilderness” of mirrors has other dimensions that Clapper didn’t mention. The third dimension of Intelligence “knowns” is those that are engineered for budget or policy reasons. The Putin bogeyman or the Russian phantasm might be examples.
The fourth dimension of Intelligence is things that are known, yet so toxic that they are minimized, ignored, or dismissed. The Shia and Sunni Islamist threats are the premier examples of fourth dimension threats where books are regularly cooked to a fare-thee-well.
A fifth dimension is public relations, facts or fictions that might be spun to some institutional or regime advantage. Leon Trotsky, and later Goebbels, would have called the “fifth” dimension of Intelligence indoctrination or propaganda. If “fake news” is a problem in America, the US Intelligence Community could be its poster child.
Intelligence is a perennial lamb to the policy lion; indeed the Executive Branch is shepherd to the 16-agency Intelligence flock. The institutional product of Intelligence today is not objective or impartial truth so much as a version of reality helpful to politicians.
Truth in analysis, especially, is an avatar of truth in politics and journalism. Candor is inversely proportionate to the discomfort or pain truth might inflict. Bad news is never good news in politics.
Policy does not relish contradictions, either. If a spook or analyst raises too many problems, he becomes the problem. The tragic case of FBI agent/analyst John O’Neill is instructive. State Department knives made short work of O’Neill (see Barbara Bodine) and any aggressive pursuit of the USS Cole malefactors. Ironically, O’Neill subsequently died at ground zero during the Saudi 9/11 suicide attack.
Yemen is still burning. Libya and Benghazi are just echoes of the Aden Harbor fiasco, humiliations when inept cookie pushers called the shots.
Clapper also failed to tell Charlie Rose that Intelligence is both defense and offense. Collection and analysis are defensive functions. Espionage and propaganda are offensive functions. Of the four, three are immoral if not illegal; if not at home, then somewhere.
Intelligence officers, operational or analytical, are accomplished liars. It’s what they do. It’s what they get paid to do. Jim Clapper, John Brennan, Michael Morell, and Michael Hayden are no exceptions.
And propaganda, in all countries, has domestic and foreign consumers. When Jim Clapper talks to CPB about “speaking truth to power,” truth and power have very narrow definitions. Truth is usually whatever confirms that which a policymaker already believes. Power is a politician with enough juice to give an agent or analyst another line of work.
Some spooks never get to come in from the cold.
Indeed, to understand any public pronouncements from the refractive world of Intelligence, the listener must know a little about the speaker and a lot about what isn’t said.
James Clapper is an example, known to select apostles simply as “JC.” Clapper comes from the nerd cloister in the Intelligence Community. He has a technology and collection background. Unlike, John Brennan at CIA, Clapper probably cares little about operations, espionage, or analysis. Worldview matters nonetheless.
Small wonder then that the DNI believes that the “cyber” threat ranks number one among Intelligence concerns. Moscow ranks second in the threat pantheon, followed by a litany of what JC likes to call “nefarious characters;” the Chinese, North Koreans, and a host undifferentiated culprits like terrorists, extremists, and criminals. The “environment” is also big on the nefarious list according to Clapper. The DNI is happy to indict the Russians and climate; but words like Islam, Mohammed, Muslim, Islamist, or Islamofascism seldom cross his lips.
To be fair, Intelligence is largely an echo of all things politically correct. Religious cults that chop off heads, abuse women, or molest children in the name of a “great” religion might transcend deplorable. However, when such heinous crimes are admitted in the name of Islam, Mohamed becomes an unmentionable. It’s a little like discussing Hitler without mentioning Germans or discussing Quisling without mentioning Norwegians.
In any case, if the kinetic threat is to be ignored, it helps to have default or surrogate threats, especially if you’re justifying a deficit DOD budget. Vladimir Putin takes a bow here.
Of all the things that 16 intelligence agencies do, threat analysis is probably the shabbiest product. Indeed, intelligence “analysis” is a deductive, not an inductive process. Analysis seldom begins with a blank slate. The drill begins with existing policy and all the embedded assumptions that politics brings to the table. To be a successful intelligence or national security analyst today, two assumptions are etched in stone.
Russians are bad. Muslims are good.
Simplistic as it sounds, any analysis that contradicts these team Obama bedrock policy maxims today is a dead letter. Putin and the Kremlin are the tar and feathers of modern American politics for both sides of the political aisle. A casual observer only has to look at Russophobic smear tactics in the 2016 presidential campaign to appreciate these phenomena. In contrast, at least five barbaric Muslim small wars proceeded apace during the campaign season with hardly a policy tweet or a ripple above the fold.
Indeed, Clapper endorses “long war” speculations, administration euphemisms for jihad that suggest that terror and Muslim small wars will be a permanent feature of American futures.
There is some comfort to be had with Jim Clapper compared to Michael Morell, Michael Hayden, and John Brennan. Recall that Brennan was the CIA chef who originally cooked the Islamic books while at the White House.
Mike Hayden presided over 9/11, the worst Intelligence failure in American history. He was promoted after the Saudi attack on 9/11. And recall that Morell was the ephemeral CIA director who presided over the Libya/Benghazi fiasco. Brennan now runs CIA. Hayden and Morell are prominent media front-runners for the political left and “Clinton Inc.”
If Intelligence meddling in American elections and politics is a fact, it’s a Washington, not a Moscow fact.
The tone for any administration is set at the top. The president-elect needs to send an unambiguous message to the righteous Right and the radical Left midst the national security elites, the same message that he so successfully communicated to voters. The name of the game is change, especially, one might suggest, for Intelligence and military policy and praxis.
It seems that General Mike Flynn will be on the "A" team, as national security advisor. Flynn is the kind of veteran who could make a difference in the Intelligence, military, and national security arenas.
The Marines have also landed at Trump Tower. At last count, three former US Marine flags are nominated to help lead the charge in 2017. Changing anything in Washington is going to require the kind of discipline and toughness that makes the Corps the corps.
Mister Trump doesn't need legislation or even a "100 days" to reorient the focus and direction of abysmal foreign/military/Intelligence policy vectors. He just needs to build a new and candid national security crew, a new leadership culture.
Trump supporters should welcome the so-called “bi-partisan” investigation of Kremlin meddling in US elections. In the process, such an inquiry might vet any CIA as well as FSB tampering. Indeed, taxpayers would surely appreciate an airing of all those black operations that underwrite failed regime changes and “humanitarian” intervention fiascos.
Withal, a lynch mob of senators led by political wing nuts like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Schumer, is hardly impartial. All three were toxic critics of Trump the candidate as they are now hostile to Trump the president-elect.
Withal, regime change and election tampering so often sponsored abroad, now seems to have come full circle as blowback in Washington, DC.
If you threw a rock from the Mall in Washington in any direction, that stone couldn’t travel for thirty miles without hitting a liberal bureaucrat. The federal work force is not Trump country. The District of Columbia and Maryland/Virginia bedroom communities voted monolithically for the Clinton left.
Beltway apparatchiks, including the Intelligence Community and contractors, are part of the “crooked” establishment that Trump ran against.
Any inquiry led by Trump haters in the Senate or the IC has little to do with Putin and everything to do with discrediting the “wisdom of crowds,” the 2016 presidential election, the Electoral College, and Donald Trump.
So let the Intelligence Community bloodlettings begin anyway. Truth and sunshine are the best antiseptics, sure to provoke lethal blowback and more than a measure of poetic justice. Trump is a street fighter who relishes a good donnybrook.
The unofficial signal for change on any captain's halyard is a flag with a broom. The message is crystal clear.
All hands on deck for a "clean sweep!"
a j head
In a dream one sees but one overall intelligence agency operating out of a catfish farm just south of Holly Springs, Mississippi and all Ihe intelligence characters from DC and Langley mentioned in your article are fronts for the anonymous pros down South. But one awakens and the reality nightmare remains.
You seem old enough to remember when no matter what his MOS the sole reason for the existence of a Marine was to kill the enemies of the citizens of the U.S. Hopefully those three flags are from that mint.