Ex-Intel Chiefs Are Right to Warn of 'Unprecedented' Trump Threat as He Pushes 'Idiotic' Deep State Lies: Pulitzer-Winning Reporter

The former intelligence chiefs have lied and spied, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about Trump.

The spectacle of former U.S. intelligence chiefs taking the lead in opposing President Trump is making a lot of people’s heads spin. On the right, the once-venerated CIA and FBI are now scorned corrupt nests of liberal subversives. Breitbart charges the FBI is the “command center” of the anti-Trump Deep State. On the left, the once-mistrusted intelligence agencies are now seen as a bulwark against Trump’s incipient tyranny. Says Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, “God bless the ‘deep state.

The confrontation is confusing because it is unprecedented. The White House and the CIA have clashed before, most notably during the Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter presidencies. But never before have retired barons of espionage, subversion, surveillance, threat analysis, law enforcement, code breaking, and counterterrorism turned so savagely on an elected commander-in-chief.

Former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI director James Comey, and former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden have all written bestselling books in the past years that make their case against Trump. And former CIA director John Brennan’s denunciations of Trump on CNN are so voluminous they could be compiled into a book.

These men don’t waste any breath on the now defunct art of Washington politesse. Brennan said Trump’s press conference with President Putin was “nothing short of treasonous.” Clapper said Trump’s continuing denials of collusion between his campaign and Russia are “very disturbing.” Comey likens Trump’s personal style to that of organized crime bosses, and says Trump is “morally unfit” to be president. Hayden suggests that a foreign intelligence service reporting home from Washington would conclude “President Trump appears to be what the Americans call a bullshitter.”

The 45th president has responded in kind, claiming he is the victim of a “criminal deep state” and its allies in the media. “Comey was a terrible and corrupt leader who inflicted great pain on the FBI!” he tweeted in May. Clapper, he added, is “the worlds dumbest former Intelligence Head” and “a lying machine.”

Brennan, Trump tweeted, “has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community.”      

It may be tempting to view this rhetorical warfare between the president and these retired intelligence officials as a squabble among scoundrels.

After all, John Brennan did help implement the post-9/11 torture regime that disgraced the CIA, and he did help suppress the Senate intelligence committee report on it. James Clapper did lie when Sen. Ron Wyden asked him about the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. Michael Hayden did approve Stellar Wind, a warrantless wiretapping program that James Comey found “clearly unlawful.” And Comey did approve a watered-down version of Stellar Wind. And he intervened inappropriately in the 2016 campaign, not once but twice, with unauthorized statements about Hillary Clinton’s email.

Glenn Greenwald says the intelligence chiefs are hypocritical poseurs unworthy of trust or even respect. The other day he tweeted:

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, goes further. He told Radio Sputnik on July 25, “Six weeks from now, John Brennan, James Comey and others at the highest level will have to answer for their shenanigans with respect to the soft coup attempt to prevent Trump from winning the presidency and later to make him impotent to carry out the policies he wished to create a decent relationship with Russia.”

Are the former intelligence chiefs truth-tellers or coup plotters?

To put these perplexing development in historical context, I spoke with my friend Tim Weiner, a former New York Times reporter who has an essay on the Trump v. Deep State cage match in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

Weiner is also the author of Legacy of Ashes, a history of the CIA, and Enemies, a history of the FBI. Both books are punchy, vivid chronicles that do not flatter their subjects or aspire to artificial balance. The Agency doesn’t much like him.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Jefferson Morley: What do you make of the argument that the men you call “intelligence emeriti”—Comey, Clapper, Brennan, and Hayden—have no credibility about Trump because of their role in mass surveillance and torture programs during the Bush years?

Tim Weiner: If there is a body of thought that says Comey cannot be telling the truth about Trump because he screwed Hillary Clinton during the campaign; that Hayden cannot be telling the truth about Trump because he carried out Stellar Wind; or that Brennan can’t be telling the truth about Trump because he watched over drone strikes, well, that is insane. There’s the old line of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the mark of a good mind is to be able to hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same. That argument is a straw man.

JM: Stephen Cohen, contributing editor to the Nation, says that Brennan and others who found Trump’s Helsinki summit “treasonous” are “criminalizing diplomacy.” Comment?

TW: If Stephen Cohen has a soft spot in his heart for Vladimir Putin, he ought to examine it. You have to be an effing idiot to think Putin is promoting a global cooperation, international harmony, or Atoms for Peace.

Trump represents an unprecedented and unfathomable threat to constitutional government in this country. It is remarkable that these very conservative stalwarts of the national security state are attacking the president of United States, but we entered a zone of danger when Trump was inaugurated. I believe these guys are responding with all the knowledge at their command to fight him. This doesn’t absolve them of any real, or imagined, misdeeds, including serious misdeeds. It just means in this case, they’re right. Trump is a threat. Trump is a liar. If anyone is qualified to raise the possibility that the president and his inner circle are in the thrall of Putin, it’s these guys.

JM: What about the argument that these men are invested in waging a new Cold War against Russia?

TW: It’s idiotic. It is an undeniable fact that this country was attacked in 2016 by a very sophisticated covert operation involving information warfare, propaganda, cyber-attacks, and political warfare that aimed to a) attack Hillary Clinton; b) support Donald Trump; and c) most importantly, disrupt and damage American democracy. It is also an irrefutable fact that this campaign is continuing. I believe that Robert Mueller, having laid the foundation of the nature of the Russian attack, is going to, in due course, identify Americans who conspired with the Russians.

You and I are old enough to remember Watergate. We’re at the stage we know there was a break-in. We’ve established the people who conducted the break-in. We are now going to see the ties between the burglars and the Committee to Reelect the President, and then we’ll see the ties to the White House. I have no doubt that that is where this is going. If people are too blind to see that because of ideologies, they better wake up.

I’m not exactly a cheerleader for the intelligence community. I have a pretty long record of analyzing and criticizing what they do. I’m [as] aware as anybody of crimes committed by CIA, NSA, and FBI. But no intelligent person can read what these guys have said about Trump and disagree. They’re saying that the president has played the role, at a minimum, of useful idiot, in aiding and abetting this very dangerous Russian operation. It may be hard for people to get their heads around the fact that they are right about this, but it would be a very good thing to do.

JM: Presidents and the intelligence agencies have struggled for power in the past. How is Trump’s beef with the CIA and FBI different than, say, Richard Nixon’s?

TW: Nixon hated the CIA and got rid of director Richard Helms because he wouldn’t take the fall for the Watergate burglary. When J. Edgar Hoover died, Nixon put a stooge, L. Patrick Gray, in charge of the FBI, in the mistaken belief that if he could control Gray, he could control the Bureau. If the FBI hadn’t done its job, Nixon would have served his term out. It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein who brought down Nixon. It was the FBI.

Again, you have to hold in your head the opposite truths: that the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, represented an immense danger to American civil liberties and the Constitution, and that the FBI defended the Constitution in bringing down Richard Nixon. This is not a black-and-white world.

JM: After the CIA’s abuses of power were exposed in the 1970s, Congress created a new regime for regulating intelligence agencies. The FISA courts were established. So were the congressional oversight committees. Has this system worked to hold the intelligence community accountable?

TW: In fits and starts. When George W. Bush ordered NSA to conduct warrantless eavesdropping, it was the FBI, in the person of Director Robert Mueller, and the Justice Department, in the person of Acting Attorney General James Comey, who told Bush to stop it. And he did, kicking and screaming the whole way.

How did Mueller and Comey do it? By threatening to resign. Bush said in his memoir that that would have been his version of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, and it might have cost him his reelection. So he backed down. That is power, and that is power wisely used.

Are the intelligence oversight committees working? Well, one is and one isn’t. In the House, Devin Nunes has done more to destroy the intelligence oversight process than anybody in the last 40 years. It’s going to take a long time to repair the damage.

Are FISA courts working? Hard to say. In the case of Stellar Wind, it was a FISA judge, Royce Lamberth, who was the first to call the warning, and he told Mueller. So the system worked, sort of.

JM: Is it hypocritical for American officeholders and law enforcement officials to complain about Russian meddling when the U.S. has interfered in so many countries’ elections?

TW: It is never lawful and legal for any nation to intervene in another nation’s election. When the CIA did, it was obviously wrong, and saying the Russians did too is no defense. But everybody has to recognize that this is different. Russia’s goal in 2016 was not to swing an election. It was to disrupt American democracy. Putin’s political warfare aims to disrupt every democracy from the western border of Russia to the West Coast of the United States. Trump is a soldier in a war against American democracy, a war that Putin is commanding and controlling. This is what Comey, Clapper, Brennan and Hayden are yelling about.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.



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Jefferson Morley is a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute. He is the editor of the JFK Facts blog and author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press). Follow him on Twitter @JeffersonMorley.