The chiefs of Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, have long been public figures in Israel. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo made headlines by saying Israel’s security would be enhanced by some kind of deal.
When the Obama and administration and five world powers were negotiating the Iran deal, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy made headlines by supporting the agreement.
But, until now, no Mossad chief has ever moved on to become the country’s prime minister. That could change with the growing political profile of Yossie Cohen, the current Mossad chief. Cohen is not shy about sharing his covert exploits (he spoke with pride recently about Mossad’s assassination program). He does not deny his political ambitions.
Cohen is one of the two people directly suggested by Prime Minister Netanyahu as his successors in the future – the other being Ron Dermer, who is now Ambassador to US. Cohen is playing it smooth: “People tell me that I can step into Netanyahu’s shoes. I certainly see myself in the Israeli leadership also in the future. But I have not yet decided.” Cohen is likely to continue his job for a couple of years, to end up with a five-year term like his predecessor Tamir Pardo, and then he would have to be on a three-year “cooling-down” period before entering politics. Benny Gantz went into politics right after his period was over, after he was army Chief of Staff.
Its seems like spy chiefs are growing into political roles everywhere. Vladimir Putin was a KGB intelligence officer. Former intel chiefs John Brennan, James Clapper and Michael Hayden are leading critics of Trump. Yossi Cohen follows in their footsteps.
A new Reuters story, published by Ha’aretz in Israel, says the CIA does not spy on the United Arab Emirates, a key Middle Eastern ally that is pulling out of the U.S.-backed war in Yemen. If true, its a blind spot at a time when the region is on the brink of war and U.S. allies are turning on Washington in response to Israeli attacks.
And yet, in a highly unusual practice, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) does not spy on the UAE’s government, three former CIA officials familiar with the matter told Reuters, creating what some critics call a dangerous blind spot in U.S. intelligence. The CIA’s posture isn’t new. What’s changed is the nature of the tiny but influential OPEC nation’s intervention across the Middle East and Africa – fighting wars, running covert operations and using its financial clout to reshape regional politics in ways that often run counter to U.S. interests, according to the sources and foreign policy experts.
The reliable Brazil Report offers a fascinating snapshot of the intelligence agency of the second largest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Now known as ABIN, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency was previously known as National Intelligence Service or SNI. The country’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has expressed admiration for SNI, which powered a military coup in 1964, a coup supported by the American CIA.
According to journalist and researcher Elio Gaspari, author of a best-selling book series on Brazil under military rule, twenty years after the inception of SNI, Gen. Couto e Silva admitted that “We tried to create an information service, but we got screwed.”
It was espionage turned inwards, aimed at identifying and destroying the opposition while spreading enough fear to discourage any manifestation of dissent. To that end, the SNI went far beyond gathering intelligence. It persecuted artists, promoted censorship, and kidnapped and tortured antagonists of the regime. It even created its own false-flag terror attacks.
Now, under the new president’s direction, the agency is signaling that it will return to domestic politics. In bureaucratic terms ABIN is subordinate to the Office of Institutional Security, (GSI), now headed by retired General Alberto Heleno.
As military commander of the U.N. Stabilisation Mission in Haiti in 2004-2005, Gen. Heleno commanded 6,000 blue helmet soldiers and led an assault on Cité Soleil that has been blamed for dozens of civilian deaths. He was also floated as possible vice president for Bolsonaro during the 2017 presidential election.
According to a report from newspaper Estadão, the GSI intends to return to its “golden years” of the military government and keep a close eye on indigenous people and the Catholic Church—historically associated with left-wing movements in Brazil, and more so now under the leadership of Pope Francis. More specifically, the article claims that the GSI is set on monitoring the upcoming Pan-Amazonian Synod, which will take place in October 2019 in Rome.
According to the Vatican, the official meeting of bishops will call for “a Church with an Amazonian face” that seeks “a model of alternative, integral, and solidarity-based development, grounded by a code of ethics that includes responsibility for an authentic, natural, and human ecology.” In other words, the synod intends to help curb deforestation and the destruction of native peoples inhabiting the Amazonian forest—an agenda seen as anathema to the right-wing government of Bolsonaro. “We want to neutralize this,” Gen. Heleno said to Estadão, criticizing the “progressive clergy” for its “interference in Brazilian domestic affairs.”
Like President Trump, Bolsonaro seeks to deploy intelligence services to neutralize political actors or movements that challenge reactionary populist government.
The report of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, as summarized by Attorney General Bill Barr, significantly qualifies the U.S. intelligence community’s January 2017 finding about Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
The unclassified findings of the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency set the stage for the special prosecutor’s investigation by asserting that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at affecting the U.S. presidential election.
The subsequent public statements of the former directors of those agencies encouraged the implication. Former CIA director John Brennan charged Trump’s post-election behavior was tantamout to treason.
Former director of National Intelligence James Clapper said it “hard to believe” Trump didn’t know about his campaign’s contacts with Russian state actors.
Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden described the famous meeting of Trump officials and Russian operatives at Trump Tower as a“classic”intelligence operation.
The CIA-FBI-NSA report did not address the conspiracy issue but it went farther than any intelligence finding about a U.S. president in suggesting compromising behavior. Even before Trump took office, the three leading U.S. intelligence agencies stated that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” They assessed that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
All three agencies agreed with this judgment. CIA and FBI expressed “high confidence” in this judgment; NSA had a “moderate confidence.”
Two Strongest Cases
Two cases brought by Mueller offered the strongest evidence of a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian state actors: the Feb. 2018 indictment of 13 Russians working for the Internet Research Associates, and the January 2019 charges against political trickster Roger Stone.
The IRA case laid out how Russian social media operatives sought to influence the election with pro-Trump and and anti-Clinton messaging. The case against Stone detailed his backchannel communications with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who released email from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign.
The January 2017 finding did not address whether candidate Trump had cooperated or collaborated in the Russian efforts but its language–“aspired to help”–certainly left the implication that collusion was possible, if not probable. The former spy chiefs took that implication and ran to the cable news bank with it.
Mueller’s report, as summarized by Barr, indicates the former spy chiefs overestimated Trump’s culpability. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings does not contradict the NSA-CIA-FBI findings but it does but it does qualify them in two significant ways.
According to Barr, Mueller concluded that Trump and his entourage did not collaborate with Putin and his operatives, that Russian aspirations to help Trump were not reciprocated by the Trump campaign.
What is certain is that Mueller decided neither the IRA nor Roger Stone case was strong enough to bring charges of conspiracy.
No Social Media Conspiracy
From Barr’s letter to Congress.
The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election. As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired knowingly or coordinated with the IRA in its efforts, although the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.
No DNC Hacking Conspiracy
Mueller’s report, as described by Barr, repeated U.S. government allegations that the Russians “government actors” used Wikileaks to disseminate emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations. (Wikileaks founder Julian Assange denies the charge.)
In any case, Mueller concluded that Trump and his entourage did not criminally conspire or coordinate with the Russians in such hacking activities.
From Barr’s letter:
The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.
In short, Mueller’s finding is that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, sought to influence the election and offered to help the Trump campaign but the campaign did not respond in any way that rose to the level of criminality.
That judgement modifies the U.S. intelligence communities’ findings by refuting the implication that the Trump campaign had reciprocated the Russian overtures.
You know those days at the office when you have to coddle your boss’s ego just because you’d like to keep your job?
Gina Haspel and Dan Coats had that kind of day.
They know the boss is cranky. Last month Trump rubbished Haspel’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee as “lame.” He griped about Coats within earshot of a Washington Post reporter.
After ABC News reported that Trump’s intelligence briefers have learned to focus on economic issues to keep his attention, the CIA director and the director of national intelligence, put out a rare public statement praising Trump.
“Speculation, including that from former and unnamed intelligence officers, about what occurs in our Oval Office briefings is wrong,” according to a joint statement from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, which was provided to ABC News. “Simply put, these anonymous sources are not there as we deliver timely, unbiased intelligence and work alongside an engaged and knowledgeable President on the most complex national security issues.”
Is Trump really “engaged and knowledgeable?”
Such a statement may be true on certain issues, and thus defensible. It may be good for Haspel and Coats’ job security. But it undermines the reputations they have cultivated for speaking truth to power.