US intelligence officials called to resign despite Trump’s Russia retraction

Putin and TrumpSeveral American former intelligence officials have called on their active colleagues to resign despite President Donald Trump’s retraction of his remarks about Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. On Tuesday, the US president issued an unusual retraction and correction of his public statement on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, in which he appeared to side with the Kremlin over his own Intelligence Community’s views. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is the coordinating body of the US Intelligence Community, has said that Russia tried to systematically interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections. According to the ODNI, the Kremlin’s goal was to augment the already heightened discord in American political life and deepen the mistrust between the electorate and state institutions, including Congress and the White House.

But President Trump dismissed those conclusions on Monday, while speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin following the US-Russia summit in the Finish capital. During the joint press conference of the two leaders, the US president was asked to publicly adopt the US Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. But instead of doing so, Trump said his Russian counterpart had strongly denied the American accusations. “My people came to me”, said Trump, referring by name to his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, and “said they think it’s Russia”. However, Trump continued, “President Putin […] just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be”. Following strong criticism of that comment, much of it from his own supporters, the US president retracted it on Tuesday in Washington, saying he misspoke in Helsinki. According to Trump, he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t”.

The US president’s odd retraction came just hours after DNI Coats –a Trump appointee– issued a rare public statement rejecting Trump’s comments in Helsinki. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”, said Coats, adding that his office’s conclusion had been based on “unvarnished and objective intelligence”. Coats’ predecessor, former ODNI James Clapper, said during an interview with CNN on Tuesday that, if he still led the ODNI and had been “publicly thrown under the bus” by the president in that manner, he “would have stepped down in a heartbeat”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Should the CIA kill less and spy more?

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Central Intelligence Agency’s awkward silence about the recent resignation of its Director, General David Petraeus, is indicative of an organization that remains distinctly uncomfortable with publicity. The added layer of the sexual nature of Petraeus’ impropriety has increased exponentially the degree of unease at Langley. Yet sooner or later the news media will move on to something else and General Petraeus will fade into the distance. For seasoned intelligence observers, however, the question of the CIA’s future will remain firmly in the foreground. In an interview earlier this week with Wired magazine, former CIA Director General Michael Hayden (ret.) opined that Petraeus’ resignation presents the Agency with the opportunity to return to its operational roots. Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009, said that the Agency has been “laser-focused on terrorism” for many years. Consequently, much of its operational output “looks more like targeting than it does classical intelligence”, he said. His views were echoed by the CIA’s former Acting Director, John McLaughlin, who told Wired that the most significant challenge for the post-Petraeus CIA “may be the sheer volume of problems that require [good old-fashioned] intelligence input”. Yesterday, meanwhile, saw the publication of two opinion pieces by two of America’s most experienced intelligence watchers. In the first one, The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus urges United States President Barack Obama to pause and think about the role of America’s foremost external intelligence organization before appointing a successor to General Petraeus. For over a decade, argues Pincus, the CIA’s focus has been to fulfill covert-action tasks in the context of Washington’s so-called “war on terrorism”. But through this process, the Agency “has become too much of a paramilitary organization” and has neglected its primary institutional role, which is to be “the premier producer and analyst of intelligence for policymakers, using both open and clandestine sources”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #769 (analysis edition)

John McLaughlinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is S. Korea’s spy agency losing its capabilities? The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s primary external intelligence agency, is presumed to spend around US $1 billion a year, most of which it uses to spy on its northern neighbor. But when asked about the identity of the young woman who frequently accompanies new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his public appearances, the state intelligence agency offers no clear answer. Although it was seven months ago, at the time of Kim Jong-il’s funeral, that the woman was first spotted, the agency still does not know who she is. In the past 20 years, NIS has undergone a process of transformation to rid it of political functions. But the lingering question is: have the changes compromised the overall capabilities of the giant organization?
►►How 10 years of war has changed US spies. John McLaughlin, who was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as Deputy Director and Acting Director from 2000-2004, says he is often asked how American intelligence has changed in the 11 years since 9/11. His answer is that the changes are profound and have been transformative. Perhaps the most important thing to realize about American intelligence officers in 2012, he says, is that this is the first generation since Vietnam to have been “socialized” –that is hired, trained, and initiated– in wartime. And to a greater degree than even the Vietnam generation, their experience approximates that of their World War II forbears in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) –the organization to which most American intelligence officers trace their professional roots.
►►Assessing the Social Media Battlefield in Syria. While the numerous insurgent factions and the Syrian security forces engage each other in combat in towns and cities to secure tangible battlefield gains, the warring parties are also waging a contentious information war in cyberspace, specifically within the virtual arena of online social media. The various strands of the opposition in Syria —political and violent— have taken to social media since the earliest stages of the uprising to advance their agendas. Analogous to their role in facilitating communication and information exchange during the wave of revolts that have been sweeping the Arab world since 2011, new media platforms such as the array of social media websites and related technologies that are available to the public at virtually little or no cost have become crucial to shaping how the crisis in Syria is portrayed and perceived.

News you may have missed #668

John McLaughlinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA chief says war against Iran would be ‘very bad option’. Former CIA acting director John McLaughlin (pictured) said the United States can engage Iran through diplomacy, sanctions or military action, but warned the latter choice “would be a very bad option”. Speaking during a panel discussion in Washington Tuesday, McLaughlin said direct military action with Iran could grow to involve Hezbollah, the militant group based in Lebanon.
►►US warns Israel on Iran strike. US defense leaders are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran, over US objections, and have stepped up contingency planning to safeguard US facilities in the region in case of a conflict. The US wants Israel to give more time for the effects of sanctions and other measures intended to force Iran to abandon its perceived efforts to build nuclear weapons.
►►Iran tightens security for scientists after killing. The nature of the extra security was not disclosed, but it was reported a day after Iran’s Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, an outspoken promoter of Iran’s nuclear independence, said that investigators had identified and detained an unspecified number of suspects in the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy director at the Natanz enrichment site.

News you may have missed #499 (CIA edition)

CIA trickery and deception manual revealed in new book

CIA manual

CIA manual

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A CIA manual of surreptitious behavioral and signaling tricks, which was recently discovered by researchers, has been declassified and published in a new book. In The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, espionage historian H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace, former director of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, have reproduced the entire manual, which was supposed to have been destroyed by the Agency. Remarkably, the manual’s main author was John Mulholland, a professional magician and editor for 23 years of The Sphinx, America’s authoritative magazine for magicians. In 1953, Mulholland left the stage and The Sphinx to work full time for the CIA, which he did for several years. Read more of this post