What happens when the intelligence community decides that Trump is too dangerous to be president?

A surge of public activism by former CIA personnel is one of the most unexpected developments of the Trump era

Two former CIA officers — both Democrats, both women, both liberal — were elected to Congress on November 6. Abigail Spanberger, former operations officer, was elected in Virginia’s 7th District. Elissa Slotkin, former analyst, won in Michigan’s 8th District. Both Spanberger and Slotkin incorporated their intelligence experience into their center-left platforms. Their victories tripled the number of CIA “formers” in Congress.

At the halfway point in Trump’s first term, these formers see themselves as a bulwark of an endangered democracy. The president and his supporters see a cabal of “deep state” radicals out to overturn the will of the people. With the appointment of Matthew Whitaker, an unqualified political operative, as Attorney General, Brennan said a “constitutional crisis” is fast approaching. The clash between a willfully ignorant commander in chief and a politicized intelligence community seems sure to deepen.

..I think the blatant disregard for the threat of foreign influence in our election and the demonization of the Intelligence Community was a turning point for a lot of us,” former branch chief Cindy Otis told me in an email. “. . . Critics can call me ‘The Deep State,’ but I joined the CIA under George W. Bush and the vast majority of people at CIA lean conservative on foreign policy/natsec [national security] issues.”

.. in the 1980s, former director Bush and a host of senior agency operatives joined the Iran-Contra conspiracy. They sought to subvert the Democratic majority in Congress that had banned covert intervention in Central America. The agency’s rank and file did not object. Indeed, many applauded when President Bush pardoned four CIA officials who had been indicted in the scandal.

..After the 9/11 attacks, the consensus in Langley that torture was a permissible, effective and necessary counterterrorism technique no doubt struck many intelligence officers as apolitical common sense. But, of course, adopting “extreme interrogation tactics” was a deeply political decision that President Bush embraced, and President Obama repudiated. The agency deferred to both commanders in chief.

.. The problem with Trump in the eyes of these CIA formers is almost pre-political. The president’s policy decisions matter less than his contempt for intelligence and the system that collects it.
.. When we see things that are blatantly wrong, and the president is responsible, it is fair to speak out,” Bakos said in an interview. “If you’re silent, you’re part of the problem.”

.. Former personnel know better than anyone that the CIA has a license to kill. The agency can spy, capture, bomb and assassinate. It can overthrow governments, foster (or smash) political movements, even re-organize entire societies, according to the inclinations of the president and his advisers.CIA operatives could trust both neoconservative George W. Bush and internationalist Barack Obama with that arsenal because they believed, whatever their politics, both presidents were rational actors. With Trump, they can have no such confidence.

Trump’s contempt for the intelligence profession, weaponized in his “deep state” conspiracy theories, has agency personnel feeling professionally vulnerable, perhaps for the first time. An irrational chief executive has shattered their apolitical pretensions and forced them to re-examine what their core beliefs require.

.. Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to Hayden, told me, “Until now I’ve been mostly a Republican voter at the national level because Republicans shared my views on national security. For a lot of people inside the national security community, that is not necessarily the case anymore. The Republican Party under Trump has abandoned people like us.”

.. When Pfeiffer told me, “Who knows? I might have to vote for Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders in 2020,” he sounded amazed by the possibility but not averse to it. Two years of Trump can do that to a former spy.

The point is not that the CIA is getting more liberal, says John Prados, author of “The Ghosts of Langley,” a history of the agency. Rather, the election results show that the voting bloc that supports the president now skews even more to the hard right. “The migration of [the] political spectrum to the right makes the agency look more liberal than it is,” he said in an interview.

.. “I find it sad — and maybe a few other adjectives — that Brennan now gets a pass for some of [the] things he did as director, just because he’s combatting Trump,” Prados said.

.. “If Trump is going to carry out a secret war against Iran as he seems to want to do, who is our ally?” Prados asked. “Mossad [the Israeli intelligence service]? Who can work with Mossad? The CIA. If that is Trump’s Middle East agenda, the interests of current CIA people and the formers may diverge.”

.. “Trump is not only relying on lies and falsehoods in his public statements, but I have to believe he is pushing back on the realities that are brought to him. Imagine Gina Haspel goes to the White House with a briefer to talk about the latest intel on — fill in the blank:

  • North Korea’s missile program.
  • What China is doing to supplant America in Asia.
  • Where Europe wants to go with NATO.

Does the president listen or care? Or even understand? We’re not in crisis on any one issue, but can we really say the government is functioning?

.. Harrington expects the mistrust between the president and the intelligence community to grow in the next two years.

“No director of any federal agency can turn away the inquiries of the Democratic House,” Harrington said. “CIA people have to deal head on with the consequences of a president who is fundamentally not dealing with reality.”

If there’s one thing to be learned from talking to former CIA personnel, it’s the sense that the CIA system — powerful, stealthy, and dangerous — is blinking red about the latest news of an authoritarian leader in an unstable nation.

How Important Is the Protest Against Trump from the National-Security Establishment?

During the past few years, we have learned that, almost no matter how outrageous or potentially dangerous Donald Trump’s actions and words are, senior Republicans in Congress, on whose support Trump ultimately depends, won’t break with him. If anything, Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, and particularly on its process of selecting candidates, seems to be getting stronger.

It is therefore tempting to dismiss the growing protests against Trump’s decision to revoke the former C.I.A. director John Brennan’s security clearance as just another summer squall in the nation’s capital, one that will quickly blow over. But possibly—just possibly—this could turn out to be a significant political moment.

The blowback intensified on Thursday, when seven former C.I.A. directors issued a public letter supporting Brennan and denouncing the President’s decision. “We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar actions against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the letter said. The letter’s signatories included

  1. William Webster,
  2. George Tenet,
  3. Porter Goss,
  4. Michael Hayden,
  5. Leon Panetta,
  6. David Petraeus, and
  7. Robert Gates,

whose tenures as the head of the C.I.A. spanned five Presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

That is quite a list. Even the stoutest Trump defenders will have difficulty describing the letter as a partisan political ambush, although, of course, that will not stop them from trying.

.. In asking the President to revoke his security clearance, he was taking a step that could have negative financial consequences for him and his family.

(Many retired military and intelligence figures parlay their security clearances into valuable consulting gigs.)

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. the former C.I.A. chiefs didn’t go as far as McRaven did. They didn’t attack Trump’s over-all record, call him an embarrassment, or ask him to revoke their security clearances in solidarity with Brennan. But, Haass noted, “They were willing to put their names to something that will not go down well in the White House. It is one thing to take on an individual like John Brennan. But I don’t think the White House counted on this type of reaction. These are patriots. Many of them have served in the military. A lot of members of the Trump base will respect these people.”

.. For months now, Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and pro-Trump media figures like Sean Hannity have been vilifying former senior government officials with long and distinguished records, including Brennan; James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence; and James Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

In the coming days and weeks, the vilification campaign may well extend to McRaven and the former intelligence chiefs who signed the public letter. Will Trump’s base care more about them than they did about Clapper?

.. On Capitol Hill, some Democrats have expressed concerns that Trump’s actions are intended to silence people who might serve as witnesses in any eventual impeachment process or other legal proceeding. Most senior Republicans, predictably enough, are keeping quiet or expressing support for the President’s treatment of Brennan. The “President has full authority to revoke [Brennan’s] security clearance as head of the executive branch,” Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.

..  especially in the run-up to the midterms, Republicans are unlikely to come out strongly against Trump’s actions, much less hold hearings on them. But he pointed out that, back in 1954, a substantial amount of time—six months—elapsed between Welch’s exasperated remonstration of McCarthy and the Senate’s historic vote to censure the Wisconsin senator, which put an end to his reign of terror.

.. “Sometimes, only in retrospect do actions or words emerge as a key moment, or a tipping point. We’ll only know in retrospect if this is one of those moments.”

Donald Trump Weighs Ending Security Clearances for Six Ex-Officials Who Have Criticized Him

White House says Trump could revoke clearances of ex-national security officials

President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of six former senior national security officials, the White House said Monday, moving to punish them for comments purportedly politicizing the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, without specifying.

The threat, which national security analysts described as unprecedented, prompted concerns it was an effort by the president to silence critics.

“An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic, and un-American,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Ms. Sanders told reporters that the administration is looking at the clearances of former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA Michael Hayden, former national security adviser and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Ms. Sanders said the individuals, many of whom are outspoken critics of the administration in the news media, lend “inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”

.. Millions of Americans hold security clearances, needed for many government and private-sector jobs. The practice of having senior national security officials retain clearance after leaving government is longstanding and serves various functions, national security officials and analysts said.

National security officials often go on to work in the private sector, particularly at defense contractors, and need access to classified information to support the government. Former officials keep clearances to assist in ongoing criminal and national security investigations. The clearances offer continuity between administrations on intelligence and national security matters, and also would enable former officials to return to active service in a national emergency and offer expertise.

.. “There really isn’t that much precedent of removing clearance of former national security official unless they are indicted or convicted of some criminal offense,” said Evan Lesser, president of ClearanceJobs, a career website. “But ultimately the president does have the power to grant or revoke clearances really to whomever he wants.”

.. Mr. Clapper, on CNN, said, “This is kind of a petty way of retribution for speaking out against the president.”

Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah

Beginning in August 2002, Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner to undergo “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Since the Spanish Inquisition, these practices have been characterized as torture.[1][2] There is disagreement among government sources as to how effective these techniques were; some officials contend that Abu Zubaydah gave his most valuable information before they were used; CIA lawyer John Rizzo said he gave more material afterward.[3]

.. Since 2006, Abu Zubaydah has been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. While in CIA custody, Zubaydah lost his left eye.[4]

.. Although President George W. Bush claimed in 2006 three examples of intelligence derived from the torture of Abu Zubaydah by the CIA, which he said showed that it was justified, later reporting has established that the prisoner gave two of the names under conventional interrogation by the FBI, and intelligence analysts already had leads from other sources to the third person.[1]

.. Ali Soufan stated that “[w]e kept him alive. It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.”[6] The agents attempted to convince Abu Zubaydah that they knew of his activities in languages he understood: English and Arabic.[7][8] Both agents believed they were making good progress in gathering intelligence from Abu Zubaydah.[1][9]

 .. During these sessions, Abu Zubaydah revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as “Mukhtar” to Abu Zubaydah, was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks[10] and that American José Padilla had wanted to use a “dirty bomb” in a terror attack.[1][5][6][7]
.. When the CIA interrogation team arrived a week or two later than the FBI team,[10] they concluded that Abu Zubaydah was holding back information and that harsher techniques were necessary.[5][7][9] The CIA team was led by CIA contractor and former Air Force psychologist James Elmer Mitchell.[6][11] Mitchell ordered that Abu Zubaydah answer questions or face a gradual increase in aggressive techniques.[6
.. In 2009 Soufan testified before Congress that his FBI team was removed from Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation multiple times, only to be asked to return when the harsher interrogation tactics of the CIA proved unsuccessful.[12]Ali Soufan was alarmed by the early CIA tactics, such as enforced nudity, cold temperatures, and blaring loud rock music in Zubaydah’s cell.[1][6] Soufan reported to his FBI superiors that the CIA’s interrogation constituted “borderline torture.”[8] He was particularly concerned about a coffin-like box he discovered that had been built by the CIA interrogation team.[6] He was so angry he called the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, Pasquale D’Amaro, and shouted, “I swear to God, I’m going to arrest these guys!”[1][6] Afterward, both FBI agents were ordered to leave the facility by FBI Director Robert Mueller.[6][8][13] Ali Soufan left, but Steve Gaudin stayed an additional few weeks and continued to participate in the interrogation.[8]
.. “We were able to get the information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.”[6]
.. Rohan Gunaratna, an al-Qaida expert and a government witness in the José Padilla case, said that “most of the information that was exceptionally useful to the fight against al-Qaida came from Abu Zubaydah, and it came before the U.S. government decided to use enhanced techniques
.. Dan Coleman, a retired FBI official and al Qaida expert, commented that after the CIA’s use of coercive methods, “I don’t have confidence in anything he says, because once you go down that road, everything you say is tainted. He was talking before they did that to him, but they didn’t believe him. The problem is they didn’t realize he didn’t know all that much.”[9]
.. Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.[13]
.. The SERE program was originally designed as defensive in nature and was used to train American pilots and other soldiers how to resist harsh interrogation techniques and torture if they fell into enemy hands.[1][18] The program subjected U.S. military trainees to techniques such as “waterboarding . . . sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to extreme temperatures, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds at extremely damaging decibel levels, and religious and sexual humiliation.”[22] For the CIA, Mitchell and Jessen adapted SERE into an offensive program designed to train CIA agents and contractors on how to use the harsh interrogation techniques or torture to get information from prisoners
.. All of the tactics listed above were later reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross as having been used on Abu Zubaydah
.. Mitchell and Jessen relied heavily on experiments done by the American psychologist Martin Seligman in the 1970s known as “learned helplessness.
.. Mitchell believed that Zubaydah must be treated “like a dog in a cage.”[1] He said the interrogation “was like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while, he’s so diminished, he can’t resist.”[1]
.. the Washington Post reported in 2009 that “not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions
.. A former intelligence official stated “[w]e spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”[27] Ron Suskind said, “we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.”
.. Abu Zubaydah claims he lied under interrogation to prevent further torture.[29]

Some of the various false leads he provided are the following:

  • Al Qaeda planned on blowing up “soft targets” such as apartment buildings, supermarkets, and shopping malls.[30]
  • Attacks could occur against the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.[31]
  • There were plots against banks in the Northeastern United States.[32]
  • There was going to be a nerve gas attack on a major U.S. subway system sometime around July 4.[33]
  • Al Qaeda plotted to detonate a jacket full of explosives on a civilian airliner and that the planners had used their own metal and explosive detectors to figure out how to successfully accomplish the mission.[34]
  • Al Qaeda knew how to build and smuggle a dirty bomb into the United States.[35] Abu Zubaydah later retracted this allegation.[36]

.. George Tennet who was so impressed that he initially ordered us to be congratulated. That was apparently quickly withdrawn as soon as Mr. Tennet was told that it was FBI agents, who were responsible.

.. Immediately, on the instructions of the contractor, harsh techniques were introduced, starting with nudity. (The harsher techniques mentioned in the memos were not introduced or even discussed at this point.) The new techniques did not produce results as Abu Zubaydah shut down and stopped talking. At that time nudity and low-level sleep deprivation (between 24 and 48 hours) was being used.

.. After a few days of getting no information, and after repeated inquiries from DC asking why all of sudden no information was being transmitted (when before there had been a steady stream), we again were given control of the interrogation. We then returned to using the Informed Interrogation Approach. Within a few hours, Abu Zubaydah again started talking and gave us important actionable intelligence. This included the details of Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber.”

.. The tapes were destroyed on November 9, 2005.[38] When this became public in 2007, the CIA Director at that time, Michael Hayden, asserted that the continued existence of the tapes had represented a risk to the CIA personnel involved.[39] He asserted that if the tapes had been leaked, they might cause the CIA personnel to be identified and targeted for retaliation.[40]

Former CIA chief: Trump’s travel ban hurts American spies — and America

President Trump’s executive order on immigration was ill-conceived, poorly implemented and ill-explained. To be fair, it would have been hard to explain since it was not the product of intelligence and security professionals demanding change, but rather policy, political and ideological personalities close to the president fulfilling a campaign promise to deal with a threat they had overhyped.

.. Paradoxically, they pointed out how the executive order breached faith with those very sources, many of whom they had promised to always protect with the full might of our government and our people. Sources who had risked much, if not all, to keep Americans safe.

..But as a former station chief told me, in the places where intelligence officers operate, rumor, whisper and conspiratorial chatter rule people’s lives. It doesn’t take paranoia to connect the action of the executive order with the hateful, anti-Islamic language of the campaign. In the Middle East, with its honor-based cultures, it’s easier to recruit someone we have been shooting at than it is to recruit someone whose society has been insulted. 
.. the fundamental posture of an intelligence service looking for sources is that “We welcome you, you have value. Our society respects you. More than your own.” He feared that would no longer be the powerful American message it once was.
.. The simple idea of America didn’t hurt either. The station chief said that one of the fundamentals of his business was selling the dream. The Soviets “had a hard time with that. We had it easy. A lot of intelligence targets — officials, military figures, African revolutionaries, tribal leaders — railed against our policies, our interventions, many things . . . but they loved America. It was the idea of the country as a special place. They didn’t necessarily want to go there, but it was a place they kept in their minds where they would be welcome.”
.. These effects will not pass quickly. These are not short-term, transactional societies. Insults rarely just fade away. Honor patiently waits to be satisfied. In the meantime, we will be left with the weak and the merely avaricious, agents who will cut a deal just for the money, the worst kind of sources.

You Must Serve Trump

Of all the conservatives who opposed Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency, his most vehement opponents were the men and women who had served in past Republican administrations, and particularly in the departments of state and of defense. One hundred and twenty-two Republican foreign policy hands signed a letter denouncing Trump as a menace to American values and world peace.

.. George W. Bush’s C.I.A. director, Michael Hayden, suggested that Trump was a useful idiot for Russian interests. Both neoconservatives and realists — Robert Kagan and Paul Wolfowitz, Brent Scowcroft and Richard Armitage — indicated that they would vote for Hillary Clinton.

.. If they fear how Trump might govern, can they in good conscience work for him?

The answer, for now, is that they can and should — and indeed, precisely because they fear how Trump might govern, there is a moral responsibility to serve.

.. For the next four years, the most important check on what we’ve seen of Trump’s worst impulses — his hair-trigger temper, his rampant insecurity, his personal cruelty — won’t come from Congress or the courts or the opposition party. It will come from the people charged with executing the basic responsibilities of government within his administration.

.. So to the extent that Trump’s approach to governance threatens world peace, that threat can be mitigated by appointees with experience and knowledge, and magnified if their posts are filled by hacks and sycophants instead.

.. But here the Republican Senate has a crucially important role to play. Trump cannot appoint cabinet officials without the approval of many senators who opposed or doubted him throughout the campaign — from Mike Lee and Jeff Flake to John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

.. If a Trump presidency lurches into naked authoritarianism — abusing executive authority in unprecedented ways, issuing immoral or illegal orders to the military — then there will be an obligation not to serve, but to resign.

And the gray area between these two obligations will create a lot of territory in which Trump appointees could succumb to moral corruption, justifying their toleration for enormities on the grounds that “the greater good requires me to stay.”

Ex-CIA Chief: Armed Forces would have to disobey Trump Torture Orders

Referring to Trump’s suggestion to torture suspected terrorists and kill their families, Gen. Michael Hayden told TV host Bill Maher, “If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.”

“You’re required not to follow an unlawful order. That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict,” Hayden said. “I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language candidate Trump expressed during the campaign.”