With the recent revelations that the U.S. government was monitoring Trump Tower for months as part of an investigation into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, we find that yet again, President Trump was correct in his previously vilified accusations of the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
I recall the Saturday morning when the president issued his famous tweet. I was texted by a close friend, and State Department officer, who accurately predicted the press storm that would follow.
At the time, after reviewing the tweet itself, I immediately knew that Trump’s accusations had some basis in fact. This was due to two factors: 1. The belief that Trump would likely not hurl an accusation without basis, and most importantly, 2. My knowledge of the inner-workings of the U.S. intelligence community (USIC).
Toward the latter part of my career, I had seen the increased politicization of my parent agency, the CIA. This was not merely the constant political correctness that began to creep into more and more aspects of CIA (and American) culture — but also the corrosive effect of that politicization of intelligence community leadership — extending down sometimes into mid-level management.
This was a tragic legacy of eight years of the Obama administration — and was not confined to the U.S. intelligence community. It was also seen in the IRS, the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and the Pentagon.
Eight years is a long time in the life of a government bureaucrat; and I saw a process, slow and uneven — but existent — that elevated individuals in the organization more on the basis of their political affiliation or "bureaucratic" skills — rather than their actual operational experience or professional competence.
Of course, the CIA continues to move excellent officers into senior ranks — but these were becoming more the exception than the rule. Headquarters "commandos" were rising at a faster rate than their brethren, who where toiling away in environments like Iraq, Afghanistan, or the former Soviet Union (my bailiwick).
Closer to the (political) centers of power — and the promotion panels — many such people rose rapidly as the agency continued its post 9/11 expansion program. My colleagues in the FBI, the Secret Service, and other agencies saw the same within their organizations.
Following the trauma of the very political Iraq War, the agency became more concerned with projecting a "new face" toward the Obama administration. Unlike previous years, it proved itself all-too-willing to comply with the social engineering that were the watchwords of that administration.
The agency’s ranks have traditionally been politically diverse, but there has always been a slight tendency for the collective to more favor Democratic rather than Republican leadership. Perhaps eager to cast off the mantle of Geroge W. Bush, the CIA, and its (appointed) leadership in particular, embraced the Obama agenda.
The Obama administration, however, proved to be tone-deaf in matters of foreign policy. This was the time, after all, when Obama signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran — an absolute travesty of a document that I or any other intelligence officer would have deemed impossible scant years before.
This was the environment where in 2014-2015, 40 military intelligence professionals at Special Operations Command (SOCOM) complained to their inspector general that they had been directed to alter intel products that showed ISIS surging; this was against the Obama narrative.
Goaded on by political officials like Susan Rice, Sally Yates and Samantha Power, abetted by pliable bureaucrats such as Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr., the intelligence community became more politicized than ever.
Insulated by the "inevitable" victory of Hillary Clinton, these officials and/or those appointed below them, began to short circuit the controls, for partisan gain, that keep our intelligence community as the servant of the American people — not the master.
The nature of the reach, access and power of our nation’s intelligence agencies demands that we install people within it of the highest character. Relevant laws and regulations, such as FISA procedures or the unmasking protocol, allow for some leeway given the natural ambiguity of intel operations. This same leeway, however, leaves the system open to abuse should an individual inside have a more malevolent (or political) agenda.
Persons such as Susan Rice, invoking "national security," suddenly want to know why the Emirati crown prince is visiting the Trump transition team — despite the fact that such visits are exactly what transition teams are supposed to do. But don’t worry, she can invent a national security justification for doing so.
Using "national security," the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) okayed monitoring of foreign contacts of the Trump campaign. This was simply a way to backdoor listening to campaign officials — to determine what was going on or merely to ensure detecting some "dirt" which could then be leaked to the press.
The New York Times actually was first to report, via a leak of classified information, that the "wiretapping" was occurring as a way to embarrass the Trump camp
Using FISA obviates the need for a warrant — or to furnish any but the flimsiest proof before a "secret" court and a single Judge — that just may have been (wink,wink) appointed by the Obama administration.
Officials such as Sally Yates, used carefully parsed words before U.S. Senate committees, such as "counterintelligence concerns" to smear by implication former National Security Advser Lieut. Gen. Michael Flynn. As far as revealing real intelligence whether the Russians actually tried to do so — well that can't be discussed, because it's "classified."
What went wrong? This system functioned smoothly enough for years, but what changed was that the "politicization of everything" in U.S. society (which hit overdrive during the Iraq War) suddenly meant a blank check for the party in power. Not only could they target whom they pleased, when they pleased, but any carelessness on their own part — private servers, violations of the Espionage Act — would be swept under the rug.
This is the way that Third World intelligence agencies are run. This was the type of competitive intelligence reporting that I loved to obtain on a rival service when serving overseas — proof positive that an organization so riven with rival factions and internal political "dirty tricks" was virtually useless.
How would a Russian intelligence officer, or our general public, view the effectiveness of our agencies today?
Without a doubt the hardworking rank and file of our intelligence community suffer lowered morale and a lost sense of mission as they see their organizations become a collective punching bag. Some of the blame can be laid at the agencies — who, under Obama, allowed politics to drive personnel assignments and internal restructuring to the detriment of operational effectiveness.
Not enough people stood up and protested, because that became career suicide. Others, such as myself, saw the writing on the wall, had their retirement, and "punched-out" for greener pastures — and the agencies lost all that collective experience. Why fight the tide?
Our enemies, you see, welcome our politically correct mindset and "reorganizations," understanding that they herald reduced operational effectiveness.
But looking at the larger picture, we are not just talking about a hobbled intelligence community. The recent revelations on "wiretapping" signify something deeper — a danger to our Fourth Amendment freedoms.
As many born behind the Iron Curtain can say, once an intel or law enforcement agency begins targeting an individual, rather than a crime, we are approaching a police state.
Given that virtually anyone has an indiscretion in their life, allowing any agency to have the power to indiscriminately poke into the background of citizens in whom it is "interested" has the potential for danger. This is how many intelligence services I was deployed against operated. I have no desire to see such practices become commonplace in our country.
An investigation into, and punishment of, the parties involved in wholesale unmasking and uncontrolled surveillance for political purposes must be pursued.
Scott Uehlinger is a retired CIA Station Chief and Naval Officer. A Russian speaker, he spent 12 years of his career abroad in the former Soviet Union. In addition to teaching at NYU, he is a frequent Newsmax TV and Fox Business TV commentator, and has a weekly podcast, "the Station Chief," that can be found on iTunes or at www.thestationchief.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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