On Monday, Gina Haspel made a rare public statement. It contained both a small favor and a veiled rebuke to President Trump. It was an intelligence agency kind of statement: opaque in verbiage but clear in meaning if you know the coded language of White House-Langley relations.
The CIA director didn’t comment on the multiplying reports that the Trump White House has known for months, if not a year, about CIA reports that a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Afghan rebels who killed American soldiers.
She didn’t respond to Trump’s claim that U.S. intelligence officials told him “they told did not find the info credible,” at least not directly.
Haspel didn’t say anything about Russia.
But in two paragraphs of bureaucratic boilerplate, Haspel all but confirmed that the CIA delivered timely, sensitive information about the bounty offer to the White House. That was the rebuke. The veiled message was gift-wrapped with language criticizing leaks that might appeal to the president and his loyalists. That was the small favor.
Here’s how Haspel put it:
“When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation.
In other words, the CIA needs time to corroborate real threats to U.S. forces. But, she added, CIA distributes preliminary intelligence findings widely to increase readiness.
In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community—and with U.S. allies—as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas.
The clear implication is that recent news reports on the Russian bounty have described this internal CIA process. Haspel does not say those reports were inaccurate. She said:
Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.
This is pretty standard fare for a CIA director, and Haspel sound any alarms, so the embattled president may not be appeased. Haspel went on to underscore the agency’s position that the Russian threat in Afghanistan was real.
Hostile states’ use of proxies in war zones to inflict damage on U.S. interests and troops is a constant, longstanding concern.
Haspel stressed the CIA only brief “reliable intelligence,” and she said the CIA was determined to protect American forces.
CIA will continue to pursue every lead; analyze the information we collect with critical, objective eyes; and brief reliable intelligence to protect U.S. forces deployed around the world.”
Which begs the questions everybody is asking: Was President Trump determined to protect American troops? Or his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
In her twenty five months as director, Haspel has zig-zagged between staking out independent positions from Trump and currying favor with him.
Much to the annoyance of the White House, Haspel backed the CIA’s finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, friend and business partner of Jared Kushner, ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. When Haspel testified accurately in January 2019, that Iran remained in compliance with the international nuclear pact, Trump threw a hissy fit.
Other times, Haspel curries favor with Trump. Once, in an unbidden public statement, she described him as an “engaged and knowledgable” consumer of intelligence, a claim no fact checker can verify. Haspel stood and cheered during Trump’s State of the Union address, something that, by tradition, generals and Supreme Court justices and CIA directors never do. Her “hero worship” betrayed the agency’s mission, said one ex-officer.
Now she seems to be tacking away from Trump as he struggles to explain his response to the CIA’s reports.