The Politics of the Five Eyes

John Brennan,
Putin's Ball
The Five Eyes facilitated the counterintelligence investigation of contacts between the Trump campaign and agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[Inside the Five Eyes series: Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3| Part 4 is below]

The global Five Eyes signals intelligence network is now woven, almost invisibly, into the policy and politics of the English-speaking world. Its leaders are almost never seen in public. The first time that representatives of all five partners of the 75 year old alliance appeared together in public was in November 2018.

Yet as the member agencies of the Five Eyes and affiliated services, share secrets in real time, they not only challenge geopolitical rivals, like China and Russia. They also gain advantage over domestic factions and leaders perceived as threat to their mission.

Investigating a President

The Trump-Russia investigation is a case in point.

In April 2017 the Guardian reported tha  GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to candidate Donald Trump and known or suspected Russian agents. A source “close to UK intelligence” told British news site that the information was passed to the U.S. as part of a routine exchange of information. Australia also relayed material about the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016, according to the Guardian.

At the time of the Guardian story, a Fox News host charged that the GCHQ spied on president-elect Trump at the behest of President Obama, an allegation the network’s own reporters admitted they could not confirm.  In a rare public statement, the GCHQ called the allegation it spied on Trump “nonsense.”

But the denial of Trump Tower spying implicitly acknowledged that the British had taken counterintelligence action against Trump’s entourage. The Guardian reported the GCHQ “played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives.”

John Brennan
John Brennan, former CIA director (Credit: Jefferson Morley)

According to the Guardian’s sources, “GCHQ’s then head, Robert Hannigan, passed material in summer 2016 to the CIA chief, John Brennan. The matter was deemed so sensitive it was handled at ‘director level.’ After an initially slow start, Brennan used GCHQ information and intelligence from other partners to launch a major inter-agency investigation.”

The Justice Department inspector general concluded that the information the FBI received from the CIA justified the investigation and that there was no political bias involved.

Were the Five Eyes partners keeping tabs on a legitimate insurgent leader skeptical of traditional American alliances because they feared what he might do if elected? 

Or were they defending the U.S. government from a real counterintelligence threat emanating from the efforts of well-connected Russians to cultivate the Trump campaign?

It was both.

Raiding the Press

The influence of the Five Eyes on Australian media is increasingly evident.

In June 2019, Australian police raided the home of Annika Smethurst, a staff writer for  the Herald Sun newspaper, who had recently reported that the Australian Signals Directorate was looking to expand its surveillance capabilities.

The next day, police searched the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), where they downloaded and reviewed more than 9,000 documents related to the ABC’s 2017 report,  “The Afghan Files,” about possible war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Neil Gaughan, the acting chief of the Australian Federal Police, justified the raids as a defense of the Five Eyes.

 “The Australian government, or particularly the Australian enforcement and intelligence communities, rely on secret and top-secret information from our international partners, particularly our Five Eyes partners,” Gaughan said, “If we can’t be seen to protect our own internal information, [then] we are concerned that the information flow to us dries up.”

Was the Five Eyes threatened by legitimate critical reporting of its policies on the Afghan war and domestic surveillance? Or was it threatened by the unauthorized release of information it prefers to stay classified? Again, it was both.

ABC executive editor John Lyons said the raid was “a real violation because these are emails between this particular journalist and his boss, her boss, its drafts, its scripts of stories. I’ve never seen an assault on the media as savage as this one we’re seeing today at the ABC. … And the chilling message is not so much for the journalists, but it’s also for the public.”

Message: don’t stick your nose in the Five Eyes.

Part 5: The Five Eyes Face the Huawei Challenge

EE.UU: Agencia Central de Inteligencia (CIA)


De las principales agencias de inteligencia mundial


Más grande del mundo

El servicio de inteligencia más grande el mundo, la CIA asesora el presidente a través de un boletín diario y al Consejo Nacional de Seguridad y ejecuta operaciones clandestinas fuera de los Estados Unidos. Estas actividades incluyen: espionaje,  contrainteligenciaciberataquesacciones paramilitares and asesinatos a blancos con el uso de drones.

Fundada en 1947, la CIA ha intervenido en los asuntos de otros países durante todas las siete décadas de su existencia. El estudio de un especialista  encontró intervenciones de los Estados Unidos en las elecciones de 81 países entre 1946 y 2000, donde la CIA juega un papel destacado en la mayoría de los casos.

Las operaciones más notables de la CIA incluyen el derrocamiento de los gobiernos de Guatemala e Irán, asesinatos y conspiraciones contra líderes extranjeros en los años 1950 y 1960s, los experimentos de control mental MKULTRA, y, con el FBI, el programa de contrainteligencia (COINTELPRO) dirigido a líderes liberales, de izquierda y de los derechos civiles tanto casa como en el exterior.

La agencia lidera la llamada “Guerra al terrorismo” de los Estados Unidos. Los oficiales de la CIA advirtieron al Presidente George W. Bush que Osama bin Laden estaba “decidido atacar los EE. UU.”  apenas cinco semanas antes del 11 de septiembre de 2001. Luego de los ataques, las fuerzas paramilitares de la CIA lideraron la invasión de los EE. UU. en Afganistán.

A instancias del Presidente George W. Bush, la agencia también estableció un sistema global de ejecución, lugares negros y tortura. La agencia jugó un papel destacado en la captura de Khalid Sheik Muhammed, organizador de los ataques el 9/11, y otros sospechosos de terrorismo. Cuando el Presidente Barack Obama tomó posesión en 2009, la agencia renunció a las “técnicas de interrogatorio extremas.” La agencia reafirmó su política de “no tortura” en 2018.

El error más famoso de la agencia apareció en Diciembre 2002 Estimado de Inteligencia Nacional afirmando que Saddam Hussein de Iraq tenía armas de destrucción masiva. El estimado resultó ser completamente equivocada.

La agencia se ha convertido en un blanco del Presidente Trump quien comparó sus líderes con “Nazis” antes de asumir la presidencia. En respuesta, los antiguos directores de la CIA Michael Hayden y John Brennan han criticado duramente al presente.

La directora es Gina Haspel, una funcionaria que hizo carrera en operaciones y fue nominada y ratificada luego que Mike Pompeo se convirtiera en Secretario de Estado. En 2013, el presupuesto de la CIA fue de $15 mil millones. Haspel ha dicho que la agencia emplea a 20.000 personas.

Más información

De las principales agencias de inteligencia mundial

Barr Says Investigation into CIA’s Russia Findings Continues

John Brennan
John Brennan
Former CIA diretor John Brennan (Credit: Jefferson Morley(

Even a global plague won’t stop Attorney General Bill Barr from pursuing former CIA director John Brennan.

The latest on the investigation of U.S Attorney John Durham comes from the Washington Examiner:

Durham was appointed last year by Barr to review possible misconduct by federal law enforcement and intelligence officials in the Russia investigation. The review upgraded into a criminal investigation in the fall, allowing Durham the power to impanel a grand jury and hand down indictments. Democrats have criticized the review as a politically motivated scheme to undermine the work of former special counsel Robert Mueller and attack President Trump’s perceived enemies.

The legal question is whether Brennan (or other top national security policymakers in the Obama White House) violated any laws while pressing for an investigation of scores of contacts between Trump’s campaign and presumed Russian state agents.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz reviewed the criminal investigation of Trump’s entourage and concluded there was no political bias. But Horowitz did find the government’s application for a continuing wiretap on Trump adviser Carter Page was riddled with bad information that was unfairly used. Civil liberties activists and libertarians have long warned that the FISA courts are prone to abuse by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The case of Carter Page proved they are right.

Many of the policymakers and pundits who defended the FISA process as fair and functional are the same people who defend Brennan as a public servant. If they misjudged the intelligence/law enforcement system, they might have a blind spot about one of its leaders.

There’s no doubt that Barr has politicized the Justice Department and is deploying it in service of an unfit and autocratic president. But Barr’s abuses do not necessarily mean Brennan is innocent of wrongdoing.

Troll fantasies aside, there is zero chance Brennan will be charged with “treason,” a crime that only be committed in wartime. Brennan will not be charged with mounting a “hoax,” because that is not a criminal charge either.

Brennan might be vulnerable on two points of law.

  1. The handling of classified information. Clearly, some high-level former intelligence officials shared classified information with certain news reporters before and after President Trump was elected. The Justice Department has used the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. If Brennan or some other top official were found to have given information to an unauthorized person, a creative and aggressive prosecutor might be able to construct a criminal indictment.
  2. Violations of privacy. Brennan was alarmed both before and after Trump’s election about his campaign’s contacts with the Russians. He knew of the FBI’s ongoing investigations. He and other senior officials had the right, under U.S. law, to “unmask” the names of Americans picked up on NSA surveillance. President Trump has claimed, without evidence, that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Did Brennan or others go beyond authorized “unmasking?” If they did, they might be vulnerable to criminal charges.

Trump Kills FISA Reform

While President Trump routinely savages Brennan, he recently demonstrated how his “deep state” discourse is fundamentally unprincipled.

It happened when Democrats and Republicans in Congress agreed on some measures to fix FISA. As Lawfare explains:

On March 11, the House passed H.R. 6172, a compromise on the FISA reform issues, on a bipartisan 278-to-136 vote. H.R. 6172 would extend the relevant surveillance authorities through 2023 but also includes reforms aimed at limiting existing authorities. Attorney General Bill Barr supported the House bill—but notwithstanding Barr’s endorsement, President Trump issued a veto threat by tweet on March 12.

In other words, President Trump personally killed FISA reform. He had to fix the system that abused his former adviser Page. He had a chance to reform the very “deep state” agencies he demonizes–and he refused.

Brennan Under Scrutiny

So should we sympathize with John Brennan as he is pursued by a politicized Attorney General and an unprincipled president?

Brennan is more abrasive than sympathetic. I personally am glad that he admires Colin Kaepernick but wokeness should not put us to sleep. Brennan has injected himself into the arena of presidential politics like no former CIA chief since George H.W. Bush. He can’t be surprised he’s a political target.

Nor can Brennan (and his defenders) be surprised that many Americans, not just Trump and Barr, fear that “deep state” actors might compromise democracy.

Senior CIA officials have illicitly spied on Americans in the past. CIA director Richard Helms presided over Operation CHAOS, a massive domestic spying program, from 1967-1974.

In the 1980s, CIA director William Casey (and former director George H.W. Bush) helped organized the Iran-Contra conspiracy to bypass the Congress and the constitution. Four top CIA officials were indicted (and pardoned.)

(Want to know more about the Iran-Contra conspiracy? It was a “milestone in post-truth politics.” For the whole story, try listening to the Luminary podcast.)

Brennan himself authorized an illicit break-in at the offices of the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee in 2015 (a burglary scarily dramatized in the taut Adam Driver thriller, The Report.)

Close law enforcement scrutiny of senior CIA officials is appropriate. It is not necessarily a “witch hunt.”

The Carter Page FISA debacle is a symptom of a dysfunctional national security system that grants enormous leeway to senior intelligence officials without much accountability. Brennan deserves the presumption of innocence until we see what Durham finds.

Source: Barr says John Durham’s Russia investigation persists during coronavirus outbreak

How the U.S. Intelligence Community Is Intervening in the 2020 Election

Bernie Sanders
Brennan & Haspel
Former CIA director John Brennan and current CIA director Gina Haspel at the funeral of President George H. W. Bush, Washington DC, December 5, 2018. (Credit: CNN)

President Trump’s ongoing purge of the intelligence community, along with Bernie Sanders’ surge in the Democratic presidential race, has triggered an unprecedented intervention of U.S. intelligence agencies in the U.S. presidential election on factually dubious grounds.

Former CIA director John Brennan sees a “full-blown national security crisis” in President Trump’s latest moves against the intelligence community. Brennan charges, “Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s.” But congressional representatives, both Democratic and Republican, who heard a briefing by the intelligence community about the 2020 election earlier this month say the case for Russian interference is “overstated.”

On February 21, it was leaked to the Washington Post that “U.S. officials,” meaning members of the intelligence community, had confidentially briefed Sanders about alleged Russian efforts to help his 2020 presidential campaign.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller documented how the Russians intervened on Trump’s behalf in 2016, while finding no evidence of criminal conspiracy. Mueller did not investigate the Russians’ efforts on behalf of Sanders, but the Computational Propaganda Research Project at Oxford University did. In a study of social media generated by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Oxford analysts found that the IRA initially generated propaganda designed to boost all rivals to Hillary Clinton in 2015. As Trump advanced, they focused almost entirely on motivating Trump supporters and demobilizing black voters. In short, the Russians helped Trump hundreds of thousand times more than they boosted Sanders.

The leak to the Post, on the eve of the Nevada caucuses, gave the opposite impression: that help for Trump and Sanders was somehow comparable. The insinuation could only have been politically motivated.

What’s driving the U.S. intelligence community intervention in presidential politics is not just fear of Trump, but fear of losing control of the presidency. From 1947 to 2017, the CIA and other secret agencies sometimes clashed with presidents, especially Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Carter. But since the end of the Cold War, under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, the secret agencies had no such problem.

Under Trump, the intelligence community has seen a vast loss of influence. Trump is contemptuous of the CIA’s daily briefing. As demonstrated by his pressure campaign on Ukraine, his foreign policies are mostly transactional. Trump is not guided by the policy process or even any consistent doctrine, other than advancing his political and business interests. He’s not someone who is interested in doing business with the intelligence community.

The intelligence community fears the rise of Sanders for a different reason. The socialist senator rejects the national security ideology that guided the intelligence community in the Cold War and the war on terror. Sanders’ position is increasingly attractive, especially to young voters, and thus increasingly threatening to the former spy chiefs who yearn for a return to the pre-Trump status quo. A Sanders presidency, like a second term for Trump, would thwart that dream. Sanders is not interested in national security business as usual either.

In the face of Trump’s lawless behavior, and Sanders’ rise, the intelligence community is inserting itself into presidential politics in a way unseen since former CIA director George H.W. Bush occupied the Oval Office. Key to this intervention is the intelligence community’s self-image as a disinterested party in the 2020 election.

Former House Intelligence Committee chair Jane Harman says Trump’s ongoing purge of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is a threat to those who “speak truth to power.” As the pseudonymous former CIA officer “Alex Finley” tweeted Monday, the “‘Deep state’ is actually the group that wants to defend rule of law (and thus gets in the way of those screaming ‘DEEP STATE’ and corrupting for their own gain).”

Self-image, however, is not the same as reality. When it comes to Trump’s corruption, Brennan and Co. have ample evidence to support their case. But the CIA is simply not credible as a “defender of the rule of law.” The Reagan-Bush Iran-contra conspiracy, the Bush-Cheney torture regime, and the Bush-Obama mass surveillance program demonstrate that the law is a malleable thing for intelligence community leaders. A more realistic take on the 2020 election is that the U.S. intelligence community is not a conspiracy but a self-interested political faction that is seeking to defend its power and policy preferences. The national security faction is not large electorally. It benefits from the official secrecy around its activities. It is assisted by generally sympathetic coverage from major news organizations.

The problem for Brennan and Co. is that “national security” has lost its power to mobilize public opinion. On both the right and the left, the pronouncements of the intelligence community no longer command popular assent.

Trump’s acquittal by the Senate in his impeachment trial was one sign. 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. Sanders’ success is another sign.

In the era of endless war, Democratic voters have become skeptical of national security claims—from Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, 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. So is the intervention of the U.S. intelligence community in presidential politics.

Trump’s Intelligence Purge Rattles National Security Establishment

John Brennan
John Brennan
John Brennan’s crisis (Credit: Jefferson Morley)

Former CIA director John Brennan calls it a “full blown national security crisis.”

Soon to be ex-acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire says Congress that Russia is seeking to influence in the 2020 presidential election on behalf of President Trump.

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.

The DNI, created in 2004, is not an intelligence agency itself but it oversees the work of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, whose collective budgets amount to $75 billion annually.

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.