آئی ایس آئی کو عمومی سطح پر ریاست پاکستان کے ریڑھ کی ہڈی تصور کیا جاتا ہے۔ یہ ایک طاقتور لیکن خفیہ انٹلی جینس سروس ہے جو پاکستان کی منتخب حکومت کو سنبھالتی ہے اور ملک کے جوہری ہتھیار کو کنٹرول کرتی ہے۔
آئی ایس آئی میں زیادہ تر عملہ پاکستان کے تینوں مسلح افواج ( فوج، فضائیہ اور بحریہ) کی شاخوں سے جڑے لوگ ہوتے ہیں۔ اس لئے اس کا نام “انٹر سروسز رکھا گیا ہے”۔ آئی ایس آئی کا قیام پاکستان بننے کے بعد 1948 میں کیا گیا تھا، لیکن عالمی پیمانے پر شناخت 1980 کی دہائی میں اس وقت حاصل ہوئی جب اس نے سویت حکومت سے جنگ کرنے کے لے افغان جنگجوؤں کو کھڑا کیا۔ امریکی صحافی سٹیو کول کے لفظوں میں کہیں تو “آئی ایس آئی نے سات سنی مسلم مجاہدین جماعتوں کو سویت یونین کے خلاف جہاد پر اکسانے اور ان کی مدد کرنے میں اہم کردار ادا کیا اور امریکی اور سعودی کی خفیہ فنڈنگ کا اصل ذریعہ تھی۔ اس طرح انہوں نے طالبان کے عروج میں اہم کردار ادا کیا تھا۔”
اسلامی عسکریت پسندوں کو فروغ دینے کا مقصد پاکستان کے مفادات کیلئےاس کا استعمال کرنا خاص طور پر ہندوستان کے خلاف استعمال کرنا تھا جو ہنوز جاری ہے۔ گزشتہ چند دہائیوں میں آئی ایس آئی پر امریکا اور ہندوستان لگاتار افغان باغیوں کو پیسے، ہتھیاروں کی فراہمی اور منصوبہ بند رہنمائی کے ذریعہ مدد کرنے کا الزام عائد کرتا رہا ہے
2011 میں جب امریکی کمانڈوز نے اسامہ بن لادن کو ایبٹ آباد میں واقع ان کے ٹھکانوں پر حملہ کر کے مار گرایا تھا تو آئی ایس آئی افسران نے اسامہ بن لادن کے وہاں رہائش پذیر ہونے کی جانکاری ہونے سے انکار کیا تھا جس پر امریکی افسران کو بالکل بھی یقین نہیں ہوا۔ بہرحال ملک کی حکمت عملی کی اہمیت کی وجہ سے آئی ایس آئی کا امریکی سی آئی اے کے ساتھ رشتے بہت گہرے رہے ہیں۔
آئی ایس آئی کی قیادت فی الحال لفٹننٹ جنرل فیض حمید کے پاس ہےجنہیں یہ ذمہ داری جون 2019 میں سونپی گئی تھی۔
“In dozens of interviews, no current or former government officials told me they had seen evidence of a conspiracy by FBI and CIA officials to force an American president from power,” he writes.
Rohde, now an executive editor at newyorker.com, depicts the faction that Trump calls “the deep state” as a cadre of civil servants dedicated to nothing more controversial than expertise and orderly functioning of the federal government. When some 80 former national security officials came together in March to endorse Joe Biden’s presidential bid, they dubbed themselves “the steady state.” Confronted with an erratic, lawless president, these functionaries want to be reassuring, and so does Rohde. Reality, however, is less comforting.
Rohde combines a lucid history of the abuses of America’s secret government agencies with a generous assessment of the congressional oversight process designed to keep the CIA and NSA under control. But Rohde’s account fails to explain why Trump’s “deep state” rhetoric, supposedly disconnected from political reality, succeeded in consolidating his support and winning an acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial.
The notion that America’s formal democratic institutions are but a facade for deeper power arrangements is hardly new. In the 1970s, Professor Peter Dale Scott offered a theory of “deep politics” to explain events ranging from the assassination of JFK to Watergate. In Scott’s view, networks of intelligence officials, organized crime, and arms traffickers shaped American politics at a subterranean level.
Scott’s perspective was an alternative and answer to the happy narrative of post-World War II American politics in which pragmatism was said to have prevailed over ideology. At home, prosperity was seen as broadly based. Abroad, America was an exceptional nation leading the world on a march to freedom, with the good men of the FBI and the CIA standing guard on “national security.”
The upheavals of the 1960s demolished this propagandistic facade of American identity. The civil rights movement, the violent white backlash, the explosion of urban riots, the carnage of Vietnam, the burgeoning antiwar movement, and the scandals known collectively as “Watergate” revealed a different reality.
America was a deeply unequal country whose domestic politics and foreign policy had been covertly influenced, and sometimes controlled, by secret government agencies, which lied, spied, and denied in service of their reactionary agendas. By the time President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, the post-war American narrative was defunct.
Congress stepped in to write a new narrative. As Rohde recounts in a series of deft personality profiles, a bipartisan Senate committee, led by Senator Frank Church, launched the first serious investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Over the bitter objections of senior CIA and FBI officials, the Church Committee and Edward Levi, a Republican-appointed attorney general, held the agency accountable for 25 years of abuses of power.
At the same time, Congress created a new regime for controlling the secret agencies. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees were supposed to be notified of all classified operations. In 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) established a secret court to review government applications to eavesdrop on Americans. And most federal agencies created inspector generals to audit operations and finances while protecting whistleblowers. The new narrative posited that the U.S. government had established democratic control over its secret intelligence agencies.
Rohde argues that “the Church Committee system” worked, albeit with diminishing effectiveness, from the 1970s until Obama’s second term when intelligence became “politicized.” Then Trump “blew up” this system. By replacing top intelligence officials with political loyalists, Rohde suggests, Trump is establishing his own “deep state” network in Washington to wield power in his second term.
Rohde’s history tends to undermine his argument that the intelligence community is led by civil servants defending democracy. He shows how the Reagan administration set out to flout the post-Watergate oversight process. When the House Intelligence Committee and the majority of Congress voted to forbid the CIA from supporting counterrevolutionary forces in Nicaragua, CIA director William Casey and Vice President George Bush simply bypassed the elected government. They covertly sold arms to Iran and used the proceeds to fund the contra forces.
Far more than Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy, Iran-contra was a “shadow foreign policy” conducted beyond democratic institutions and the Constitution. The Iran-contra conspiracy was exposed in November 1986, not by civil servants or Congress, but by news reporters in Beirut and Washington.
Nonetheless, the system worked, Rohde argues, because of the post-Watergate consensus about the need for accountability. President Reagan was forced to apologize. A bipartisan congressional investigation found fault with the CIA and the White House. William Webster, a judge, was brought in to keep the CIA in line.
All of which is true, but… As Rohde notes, Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush and his attorney general, William Barr, dealt a “crippling” blow to the Congress’ ability to check the presidency. Barr persuaded Bush to pardon all the Iran-contra figures, including the three top CIA officials who had been indicted for perjury and obstruction. No one in Langley complained. Back then, the CIA thought Bill Barr was on the side of the national security angels. Only when he defended a president with a different agenda would Langley sour on him.
A decade later, the 9/11 attacks swept away most concerns about potential CIA and FBI abuses of power. In a wartime atmosphere, the CIA established a torture regime, blessed by top-secret Justice Department memoranda. The White House implemented a wireless wiretapping program so extreme that some insiders, including FBI director Robert Mueller, objected. And the CIA found that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, providing intelligence community rationalization for an illegal and ill-conceived invasion that ended in disaster.
Rohde spells out this history but ultimately gives the intelligence community a pass.
Former NSA director James Clapper told Rohde that when the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney White House pushed its bogus narrative about Iraq’s alleged rogue weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, “intelligence officers including me… were so eager to help that we found what wasn’t really there.” It was an honest mistake, said Joan Dempsey, a former senior CIA executive. “We were leaning far forward and we fell.” The candor is welcome, but it’s no substitute for accountability. On a momentous issue, the CIA chose not to speak truth to power, and was never compelled to explain to the American people how and why they made such a costly mistake.
Under Obama, the post-Watergate oversight system was further degraded. When the Senate intelligence committee investigated the torture program in 2014, CIA director John Brennan authorized a break-in at the committee’s Capitol Hill offices in search of an internal agency document. Brennan, abuser of the post-Watergate oversight system, would go on to criticize Trump for abusing democratic norms.
Rohde goes so far as to say the oversight system worked in the case of Trump’s attempt to extort a political favor from the Ukraine government. It is true that the complaint from a whistleblower was properly handled by the inspector general of the Office of National Intelligence. And the results were significant: congressional hearings, an investigation and two articles of impeachment.
“Despite Trump’s pressure… the system created in the 1970s to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse by presidents, intelligence agencies, and individual federal workers alike still functioned,” Rohde writes. “The Church reforms remained intact.”
This seems charitable in light of Trump’s acquittal. Yes, the oversight system functioned in a formal sense. Trump was impeached but acquitted, and only one Republican senator was persuaded that Trump’s Ukraine scheme was a high crime or misdemeanor.
It would be more realistic to say Trump is trying to finish what Reagan, Bush, Barr, Cheney, and Brennan started: the neutering of the post-Watergate intelligence oversight system. From 1947 to 2017, the intelligence community consistently elevated the demands of presidential power over the claims of democratic norms, international law, and Congressional oversight. Now the intelligence community is paying a heavy price in the form of a hostile president.
Only when Trump started asserting presidential powers for his own often-corrupt purposes—as opposed to national security doctrine—did the leaders of the intelligence community boast of “defending democracy” and “speaking truth to power.”
Rohde takes these claims at face value. He wants to believe the system is working. But a lot of evidence says otherwise. After Iran-contra, 9/11, two endless wars, and the lies about Iraq’s WMD, torture, and mass surveillance, and the unprecedented intervention of former spy chiefs in domestic politics, a lot of Americans—and not just Trump supporters—no longer trust the mandarins of national security, even if they are appropriately appalled by the president.
The intelligence community has a profound credibility problem, of which Trump’s “deep state” rhetoric is a symptom, not the cause. The cause is the intelligence community’s poor performance and lack of accountability since 9/11. The solution is not just a stronger oversight system but a fundamental rethinking of what we mean by “national security.”
The pandemic may force new paradigms, but Joe Biden probably will not. The often decent civil servants in the CIA and FBI who give voice to Rohde’s narrative are representative of Biden’s “steady state” supporters. They are justified in saying Donald Trump is a dangerous fool and must be removed from power by legal means. They are not anti-democratic plotters, but it is credulous to think of them as disinterested civil servants.
Call it what you will, the intelligence community/“deep state” is a power faction that seeks to regain what they lost in 2016: functional control of the U.S. presidency. The leaders of this faction now pledge allegiance to accountability and democratic norms in order to hasten Trump’s departure, but there is little sign they are serious about reforming the dysfunctional national security system that enabled his election.
David Rohde, former New York Times reporter, is publishing a book about Trump’s conception of the “deep state.” In an interesting interview with Terry Gross of NPR, Rohde explains how President Trump has successfully politicized the intelligence community and turned his critics among the former spy chiefs into useful foils–even decoys–for his own ambitions.
I haven’t read the book yet but in the interview, I think Rohde skims a little too fast over the story of how the U.S. intelligence community’s arrogance and poor performance has discredited the foreign policy establishment and national security elite. Rohde is astute about Trump’s intentions but, like a lot of people in Washington, he tends to overlook or underplay just how badly the U.S. national security system has failed in the 21st century. At least that was my sense of the NPR interview.
I assume that Rohde, an executive editor of newyorker.com who won Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for reporting that helped expose the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, knows this history, and I expect he covers it in the book. In talking to Gross, he does make the key point that the history of U.S. intelligence is essential to put Trump’s war on the “deep state”–his ongoing “intelligence purge”–into perspective.
Thirty years ago, the CIA escaped accountability for the Iran-Contra conspiracy, in which the agency’s top officials substituted their own foreign policy for the will of a Congress that explicitly barred the agency from intervening in Nicaragua’s civil war. In 1992, on the advice of Attorney General Bill Barr, President George H. W. Bush pardoned three top agency officers who mounted the scheme in violation of their oath to uphold the Constitution. Back then, few at the agency complained about Barr’s expansive views of presidential powers. Indeed, the CIA gratefully named their headquarters building after Bush. Now that Barr and Trump want to prosecute former director John Brennan, the CIA’s regard for the Constitution has suddenly blossomed.
Eighteen years ago, the CIA’s spurious findings about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction justified a war that destabilized the Middle East and killed millions of Iraqis, not to mention nearly 5,000 Americans. Director George Tenet got a medal for his blown assignment.
The establishment of an illegal, immoral and ineffective torture policy from 2002 to 2009 further discredited the agency. But when the Senate Intelligence Committee tried to do what the Church Committee did in the 1970s–establish accountability via full disclosure–the CIA censored the story, and President Obama didn’t dare object. Amnesia prevailed over accountability.
(Hollywood made a good movie, The Report, which tells the whole sorry story in gripping and accurate detail.)
Today, the authors of those failed policies–CIA directors Michael Hayden and John Brennan and NSA director James Clapper–are among Trump’s harshest critics. It’s not a conspiracy theory to think their desire to oust Trump is more self-serving than principled.
Trump, uniquely among the 2016 presidential candidates, supplied a political response to the failures of the national security elites in the 21st century. In 2020 only Bernie Sanders rivaled Trump in skepticism about the national security elite, which is why national security types quickly coalesced around Joe Biden. Between Trump and Sanders voters, a solid majority of the American electorate is implicitly or explicitly hostile to the country’s national security leadership. The intelligence community hasn’t come to terms with this reality.
The politicization of intelligence empowers Trump’s demonization of the intelligence community as a self-serving liberal cabal. His “deep state conspiracy” may be a fiction but it is a fiction stewed with unpleasant facts that the intelligence community prefers to avoid. The “national security” apparatus that launched, justified, and defended two failed wars costing trillions of dollars in the last twenty years is dysfunctional. It no longer commands widespread respect, and for good reason. It hasn’t earned it. Deep state conspiracy theories are the manifestation of the public’s mistrust. They are not the cause of it.
Endless war has enabled Trump to turned the tables on the intelligence community. Since 1947 the “deep state” agencies of the U.S. government–led by the CIA and NSA–have endowed the American presidency with unique, almost god-like powers. In return, every president since Ronald Reagan has protected the CIA and the intelligence community from accountability.
Now the secret agencies that have lost the public’s confidence find themselves confronting a president who wields the immense power of the office with the clear corrupt intent: to eliminate those in the intelligence community, and the federal government in general, who want to hold him accountable. The president who had gone rogue on a national security elite that assumed it would always have functional control of the presidency. Now the unaccountable intelligence community suddenly has a hankering for accountability.
Better late than never you might say. But maybe it is too late. Maybe the hollowed-out institutions of democracy–balkanized political parties, a Congress for sale, disrupted news organizations, and coopted courts–that couldn’t hold the CIA accountable for Iran-Contra or torture or Iraq’s non-existent WMD, cannot hold a lawless president accountable either.
Terry Gross asked Rohde a key question.
Do you feel like the president is creating a deep state of his own?
ROHDE: I do, and that’s really what I fear. And I don’t know if, you know, this is a calculated thing by Trump or if he’s just reacting to the political maelstrom around him, but he’s – sort of under the guise of stopping a coup that doesn’t exist – Trump is steadily upending the checks and balances that have really protected American democracy for centuries now. He’s politicizing the Justice Department and other parts of the government to protect his friends and attack his enemies. And he’s basically creating a parallel shadow government filled with loyalists.
The acting director of national intelligence is a Richard Grennell, a former press spokesman with no intelligence experience. Trump’s nominee for the job permanently is John Ratcliffe, a Texas congressman best known for inflating his resume.
Rudy Giuliani is sort of a private citizen carrying out this shadow foreign policy. Sean Hannity is a private citizen acting as a communications arm of the White House. And none of them, you know, have to answer government accountability government disclosure laws. They can all carry out their work in secret. So ironically, Trump is creating, you know, a shadow government without transparency, without democratic norms, without any kind of public process. And he’s creating a deep state of his own.
Rohde is right that Trump is succeeding. He may even be winning adherents among his putative enemies. Early in her tenure as CIA director, Gina Haspel refused to put the agency’s stamp of approval on Trump’s effort to whitewash the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But then in March 2019 Haspel issued a factually dubious public statement describing Trump as an “engaged and knowledgable” consumer of intelligence. In January 2020 Haspel broke with Capitol protocol and applauded the president during his State of the Union address. If Trump wins a second term, he will likely have friends at the top in Langley.
The U.S. intelligence community is not a “deep state” conspiracy. It is a political faction, clad in official secrecy, and protected by general friendly media coverage.
The intelligence community loathes and fears President Trump for his ignorance, his flouting of the traditional policymaking process, and now his desire to get control of U.S. intelligence agencies, starting with the Office of Director of National Intelligence. (ODNI)
One sign: an intelligence briefing in which a senior ODNI exaggerated the threat posed by Russia in the 2020 election. Both Democrats and Republicans who heard the briefing thought it was overstated.
The intelligence community also sees the rise of Bernie Sanders and fears him for a different reason. Sanders rejects much the national security agenda that the intelligence community has pursued both in the Cold War and the war on terror. In the era of endless wars, Sanders’ position is increasingly attractive to voters and thus increasingly threatening to the national security elite that yearns for the pre-Trump status quo.
The IC’s hostility to Sanders was signaled by the leak to the Washington Post. On Friday, the Post reported that “U.S. officials” had briefed Sanders a month ago on alleged Russian efforts to help his campaign.
The leak about a supposedly confidential meeting on the eve of the Nevada caucus signaled hostility from official sources.
The CIA knows that Russian support for Sanders is nothing compared to support for Trump. The Oxford Computational Propaganda Project found the Internet Research Association (IRA) efforts on behalf of Sanders were miniscule compared to their support for Trump. The alleged Russian effort of behalf of Sander is exaggerated too.
The leak to the Post generated the headlines that implied Russia’s help for the Vermont senator was somehow comparable, which is false. The leaked story, in short, was a smear.
Sanders was rightly dismissive.
“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”
But the IC efforts to delegitimize Sanders are sure to continue.
It was, in the eyes of Trump World, the very clubhouse of the Deep State: the plush, blue-carpeted, wood-paneled 13th floor auditorium of the National Press Club, located in the heart of the Washington swamp, just two blocks from the White House.
The Halloween-eve panel discussion featured a line-up of heinous perps indicted by the “stable genius” of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: On the far left sat the bulky former CIA director John Brennan (“a liar about being a liar,” according to Donald Trump); on the right, the amiable former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe (“major sleazebag”). In between, two dutiful understudies held forth: former acting CIA directors Mike Morell (“total Clinton flunky”) and John McLaughlin, the only speaker on the stage not yet honored with a vilifying Trump call-out. At one point, McLaughlin said, “Thank God for the Deep State,” which RT and Fox News cited as proof of perfidy in the president’s critics.
The event was, according to the participants themselves, a defense of the federal government, a gathering of the leaders of the American civil service—“a crown jewel of the American government,” in McLaughlin’s words. They occasionally threw shade on Trump while voicing justified concerns about election integrity in 2020; unqualified praise for the intelligence community’s commitment to truth-telling; and debatable claims about that community’s apolitical character.
They encouraged the many young people in the audience to pursue careers in intelligence and law enforcement. “He won’t be president forever,” Morell said. The event, sponsored by the Gen. Michael V. Hayden Center at George Mason University, was titled “2020 Vision: U.S. Intelligence and the Presidential Election.” It enabled me to see something more clearly: The CIA is emerging as a domestic political party.
I don’t mean this in a conspiratorial sense (though it has conspiratorial implications), and I don’t mean it literally. Although there are three former CIA employees in Congress (and a fourth is running), the CIA does not resemble the Democratic or Republican parties. But in practice, the U.S. intelligence community, led by former officials, is developing into an organized political faction—call it the Intelligence Party. Like other factions, at home and abroad, this faction is seeking to gain public support and influence the 2020 presidential election to advance its institutional and political interests.
For Trump World, the October 30 event embodied the dreaded Deep State in action. The president’s embattled defenders demonize the CIA as a secretive law-breaking organization, but seem unconcerned about the verifiable harm it actually does in the world (such as torture, arms trafficking, drone warfare, and regime change).
Nor do Trump stalwarts commend the intelligence community for the good things it does (counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and counterproliferation). No, the CIA is the enemy because of its intellectual sophistication and lack of slavish loyalty to the president.
For the former leaders of the deep state organizations, the U.S. intelligence community—comprised of 17 different agencies with a combined budget of more than $70 billion a year—is defending the highest standards of public service, analytical thinking, and patriotic action by resisting the president’s anti-democratic impulses. What the intel community actually does—and whether it serves the interests of American democracy—is not explained in these leaders’ attacks on the ignorant real estate mogul who lives around the corner.
In the panel discussion, Brennan restated the Intelligence Party’s message on Russian interference in the 2016 election, calling it “a sweeping and systemic effort” that may or may not have changed the outcome of the election. McCabe stressed that Trump’s victory turned on tallies in four states, including Michigan, which was decided by 11,000 votes out of nearly 5 million cast. He noted that Paul Manafort, Trump’s now-felon campaign manager, had shared polling data from those four states with Russian interlocutor, Konstantin Kilimnik, in August 2016. Looking ahead to 2020, the panel was not optimistic; Morell said the Russians were undeterred by the U.S. response to their 2016 interventions. “They are doing it here, right here, right now,” he said.
The agency’s defenders insist it has shed the legacy of its Cold War excesses. Yet in the 2000s, top CIA officials, including Brennan and Hayden, collaborated with the Bush administration in implementing a legally dubious, morally repugnant regime of torture, with only the most superficial approval of Congress and zero input from American taxpayers and voters. And when the Senate Intelligence Committee sought to publish its investigation into the abuses, the CIA, led by Brennan, deposited much of the report into the memory hole of official secrecy.
In the face of Russian meddling and Trump’s indifference to it, the Intelligence Party is mobilizing again. What is new is the open involvement of former top intelligence officials in electoral politics and the selection of a president. Trump’s assault on the U.S. governmental system gives them little choice: The president is a threat to their ethos and their budgets, because they are a threat to The Donald’s dreams of omnipotence and multimillion-dollar business deals. Agency veterans, with ample experience in analyzing authoritarian governments and implementing regime change policies, know full well the danger that someone like Trump poses. For both parties, the 2020 election is the inflection point. This increasingly open power struggle between the secret agencies and an out-of-control president is not the only unprecedented feature of America’s constitutional crisis, merely the most puzzling.
The event’s moderator, Margaret Brennan—no relation to John “that we know of,” she joked—is a senior correspondent for CBS News, and she noted that she’s actually a work colleague of Morell, a national security contributor for the network. For their parts, Brennan and McCabe should probably pay rent on the chairs they occupy so often in the MSNBC and CNN studios, respectively. McLaughlin, too, has a perch, on the Washington Post editorial page. For many mainstream newsrooms, reporting on the CIA’s ubiquity in domestic political coverage is not a priority. It might lend credence to Trump’s ravings.
The Intelligence Party is threatened most immediately by its former ally, Attorney General Bill Barr. Last April, Barr said the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of multiple contacts between the Trump entourage and Russian state actors amounted to “spying.” Last week, the Justice Department let it be known that its probe into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, is now a criminal investigation.
McCabe said he had expected to hear from Durham and that he would cooperate. “It’s on my list,” he said, to laughter. The problem, he continued, is that “some folks, and possibly even the attorney general, are bringing a set of preconceived notions and biases to that investigation”:
If that’s the case—and I don’t know that it is, but there are certainly some indicators that it might be, or that the purpose of the investigation is not really to get to the bottom of what did we know and why did we make the decisions we did, but it’s more to run out political conspiracy theories—that causes me great concern.
McCabe is right to worry. With Trump taking a beating on impeachment, the Democrats—and the Intelligence Party—have regained momentum lost after the damning but understated Mueller report dropped. The president needs a comeback, and questions about the factual basis of the Trump-Russia investigation offer an opening. But the Durham inquiry is not the biggest problem facing the Intelligence Party; based on the Mueller report, federal agents had ample reason to investigate Trump’s entourage.
The leaks that followed Trump’s election are probably the bigger legal vulnerability for the former spy chiefs. The Federalist, a Trump-friendly website with shadowy funding run by a Republican political operative and a serial plagiarist, has provided a narrative template that an aggressive prosecutor might be able to fill in with legal charges: In this account, Brennan and Co. orchestrated a “coup” via a series of leaks to the Washington Post, New York Times, and NBC News, designed to hamstring Trump’s presidency before it even began. These leaks, attributed to “U.S. officials,” involved classified information, namely the CIA-NSA-FBI assessment of Russia’s role in the election. The passing of classified information, depending on the circumstances, could be construed as a violation of the Espionage Act, the same law used to prosecute whistleblowers like Reality Winner and Edward Snowden. The former spy chiefs didn’t say it at the panel, but their body language betrayed the thought: Trump’s response to impeachment is likely to be indictments.
At the reception afterward, I asked Brennan if he felt the attorney general was conducting the Justice Department investigation in a fair-minded way. “Are we on the record?” he asked. I said yes. “I’m not going to comment,” he said.
“Are you at all concerned,” I asked, “about the agency’s growing profile in domestic politics?”
Brennan put a friendly finger on my chest. “The CIA is not involved in domestic politics,” he said. “Period. That’s on the record.”
This he asserted confidently, at an event where he had just spoken about about influence campaigns on swing voters and implied that Hillary Clinton might be right in calling Rep. Tulsi Gabbard a Russian asset. Even seasoned analysts, it seems, have their blindspots.