I watched the recent Senate Hearing regarding Russian election interference with a combination of outrage and disgust. Much as I predicted, nothing was said that indicated anyone in the Trump administration — either present or former — had been guilty of collusion with Russia.
The hearing embodied the misdirection and obfuscation that has been the hallmark of "Russiagate" from the beginning — in addition to showcasing the highly selective moral outrage of the former Obama administration and its officials. Sadly, the intelligence community (IC) continued its downward spiral in the public’s view — this courtesy of politically appointed officials and pliant, sycophant bureaucrats. As a retired CIA officer, this pains me.
Let's examine some key points:
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seemed to be forthcoming and honest in his assessment of the situation. His key observations were that 1) The Russians were also believed to have hacked into Republican party databases 2) The DNC was hacked following unheeded FBI warnings, 3) Putin sought to "advantage" Trump (I suppose much like Obama sought to "advantage" French President Macron by endorsing him last week!)…but most importantly, 4) Clapper continued to see no evidence of collusion with Russia.
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, however, was far more disingenuous and slippery in her testimony. From my optic, Yates was relying on the "secret" rubric heavily, yet was very happy to document her speculation, the bureaucratic processes she enabled and the steps taken to allay her "concerns" over Flynn’s relationship with Russia. I took careful note of some of Yates’ statements, and my 18 years CIA experience has helped me to read between the lines of her testimony — and I do not like what I see.
When asked about Gen Flynn’s possible Russian collusion, for instance, Yates stated she couldn't answer, citing classified information as reason for declining. Oddly, she added that her "non-answer" neither implied his guilt nor innocence. Why would Yates add that disclaimer if she indeed had secret intelligence that Flynn was guilty of some crime? There isn't a logical answer to this. Such a statement, however, would make sense if Yates had no criminal evidence, but wished, hiding behind the curtain of secrecy, through inference to cast an unjustified shadow of suspicion on Flynn and by extension, the Trump administration — but without the messiness of an actual accusation.
Yates’ response to the question as to why DOJ was concerned when one Trump White House official apparently lied to another was that it created a situation where Flynn was "susceptible to blackmail by Russia." That is a personal assessment — no more. As a Case Officer who dealt with Russian Intelligence Officers on a weekly basis for many years, I would consider blackmail a possibility — not a certainty. Yates’ actions here were possibly benign, but is that the real reason she notified the White House?
It is CIA Operations 101 to build up book on one’s reporting sources (agents). Intel officers have to look at anyone’s actions or statements holistically — does Yates have a record that imparts trust? Should I, as a Case Officer, accept her testimony at face value? I am compelled to answer in the negative.
How about this possibility? A partisan Yates (her answers to Sen Cruz’ questions dispelled any doubts as to her partisan mindset) notified the White House of her "concerns" about Flynn ostensibly to avoid his "compromise" — but this act represented another, subtle means for an ex-Obama official to "stick it" to the Trump administration?
We must remember that official "concern for inappropriate behavior" can ultimately be a judgment call. We are expected, and have in the past, trusted public servants that claimed to have "classified information" and trusted that they would act in good faith and from impersonal motives. I would not trust Yates to fulfill these obligations.
Why did Yates not simply say that she had classified information that Flynn had committed a serious violation? She could have done this without breaking any rules (Flynn was in fact fired for obfuscation/lying — but that is not a crime). By dwelling on her — Yates by "concern," and inferring guilt, she was attempting to sabotage the Trump administration.
Yes — Yates obeyed the letter of the law, but much like Susan Rice, was playing "fast and loose" with the rules. This constitutes abuse of power in my book, plain and simple. An ornate theory? Yes, but not unprecedented — because I have personally seen this exact power play used in CIA as a means of character assassination.
The name of Counterintelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton is rather infamous at CIA. A once brilliant officer, in his later years Angleton initiated a vicious "mole hunt" in the early 1960s, an action that destroyed careers by casting a shadow of suspicion on some Agency officers from which they never recovered. I am sure Angleton followed all of CIA’s CI investigatory procedures to the letter; but no solid evidence was ever uncovered. This was not necessary, however to crush careers and lives — inference amounted to accusation. I can imagine Angleton at a Senate hearing giving similar testimony to that of Yates, had he been asked — lending credibility to his phantom chasing by hiding behind the classified "curtain."
Both Clapper and Yates pointedly denied leaking any information or knowledge of such leaks. Both denied targeting Trump or any other campaign officials. Interestingly, however, both stated that they had seen intelligence that included "incidental collection" of "unmasked" Trump campaign and administration officials. This seeming incongruence underlines that "unmasking" and "incidental collection" remain the crux of this entire affair — and the source of genuine scandal.
Susan Rice’s continued refusal to testify before the Senate is a large part of the real story.
The real story is not the accusation of Russian collusion — so far baseless — but is instead the Obama administration’s overreach responding to this Russian collusion allegation. The Obama administration gamed the system, to include using the intelligence community to unmask on a wholesale basis Americans in a sort of political fishing expedition.
So what is the average American to take away from this Hearing Monday? Sadly, it is that Yates represents another highly partisan senior government official (Susan Rice would be amongst the others) who seems to have been all too willing to abuse the power of her office to effect political gain — at the expense of the prestige of not only Justice, but the IC. By playing right to the edge of legality, but perhaps never crossing it, I suspect both Rice and Yates will never see charges brought against them — because though they have violated no laws, I firmly believe they have acted in bad faith and unethically (shocking for Washington, I know!)
Clapper in his testimony stated correctly that the goal of Russian interference in any Western election is for purposes of creating dissension and undermining trust in that society’s institutions. Unfortunately for us, we have any number of American officials who seem all too willing to assist Russia in that destructive mission.
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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