Jefferson Morley | February 21, 2020
Trump’s Intelligence Purge Rattles National Security Establishment
Former CIA director John Brennan calls it a “full blown national security crisis.”
Trump is replacing Maguire with Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Grenell, now serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany, has no intelligence experience. In Germany, he mostly ingratiated himself with Germany’s far-right Afd party.
Other major changes at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are coming, according to the Daily Beast.
According to several sources, including one former high-ranking intelligence official, ODNI Principal Executive Andrew Hallman is departing, as is ODNI General Counsel Jason Klitenic. Klitenic’s last day is March 2, a DNI spokesperson said.
Klitenic offended the White House last September when he favored sending the complaint of a CIA whistleblower about Trump’s Ukraine policy to Congress. Bill Barr’s Justice Department sought to block the complaint, a decision denounced by dozens of inspectors general in the federal government.
With CIA director Gina Haspel cheering his State of the Union address, Trump seems closer to gaining control of the U.S. intelligence community that he was a month ago.
The problem facing Brennan and other critics from the intelligence community is that Trump has weaponized official secrecy and policy failures to demonize them in the eyes of his supporters. Conservative Republicans who long supported the CIA and other secret agencies now fear them as a “deep state cabal” out to get the president.
Brennan charges “Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s.” There’s evidence this is true but the key pieces of CIA’s reporting remains secret, making it difficult to confirm the allegation. The latest Senate intelligence Committee report still redacts the details of the 2016 finding that led to the investigation of Trump, Mueller’s probe, and impeachment.
Brennan, personally, has credibility problems. His role in the CIA’s breaking into the offices of the Senate Intelligence Committee during its investigation of the CIA’s torture regime rankled Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the intelligence committee at the time. (The story of the burglary and Brennan’s role in it is accurately dramatized in the movie, “The Report,” starring Annette Bening as Feinstein.).
Brennan’s bullying still bothers Democrats uncomfortable with a former spy intervening in presidential politics. If Brennan and friends savage Trump, what will they do to President Bernie Sanders or President Elizabeth Warren who promise to break with 70 years of national security dogma?
As a cable news pundit, Brennan overstated the case for Trump’s collusion with Russian state actors, which Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller concluded did not involve a criminal conspiracy. Brennan’s criticisms of Trump’s ignorance and mendacity were accurate enough (and his shoutout to Colin Kaepernick showed his wokeness). But he never proved “treason.”
The larger problem for Brennan and Co. is that “national security” has lost its power to mobilize public opinion. The national security arguments driving the House passed articles of impeachment were the weakest link in a case that persuaded only one Republican senator to vote for Trump’s removal.
In the era of endless war, the public has become skeptical of national security claims–from Iraq’s non-existent WMD, to the notion that torture “works,” to “progress” in Afghanistan, to the supreme importance of Ukraine–because they have so often turned out to be more self-serving than true.
The prospect of a Trump gaining control of the U.S. intelligence community is scary. The awesome power of the CIA in the hands of an authoritarian executive with foreign patrons is a frightening prospect. The ongoing, unacknowledged failures of U.S. national security doctrine are paving his way.