Opinion: Deforming the US National Security Council

Steve BannonThere has been much consternation and confusion over the maneuverings engineered by United States President Donald Trump with the National Security Council (NSC). By now everyone knows the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have been essentially demoted down to Principals Committee meetings, with the no-doubt unsatisfying caveat that “when their specific expertise” is needed they will be asked to attend the main Principals meeting with the President. The irony, of course, is that both of these offices have always been oversight and unifying leadership positions: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs oversees and coordinates discussion and debate between the heads of all the military branches while the ODNI was basically created to go do the thing the Department of Homelandq-quote Security was initially meant to do after 9/11 —coordinate and improve communication and cooperative transparency across the entire US Intelligence Community. It is therefore somewhat mystifying as to why two deeply experienced actors with comprehensive knowledge of military and intelligence affairs writ large would be inexplicably categorized as ‘knowledge specialists’, not required for the big general meeting. It is not like the ODNI came into the NSC meetings pre-Trump as the ‘Basque subject matter expert’ alone, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs laid claim to being the world’s only ‘Gulf of Aden’ maritime security specialist. While it is still too early to know, it seems a logical bet that there is some personality conflict or discomfort between these two men and the incoming member(s) that Trump has designated. Safe money is on General Michael Flynn. But since that right now will remain unsubstantiated rumor and gossip, we are left with nothing but conjecture.

Which leads us appropriately into the appointment of Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon as a permanent sitting member of the National Security Council. Read more of this post

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Trump removes DNI, reinstates CIA on the National Security Council

Trump CIAThe White House announced on Monday a revised policy that reinstates the Central Intelligence Agency on the National Security Council. Chaired by the president, the NSC was established 70 years ago as a forum to provide the commander-in-chief with advice from senior civilian and military officials before making key decisions on domestic and foreign affairs. Principal attendees of the NSC include the US vice president, the secretaries of state, defense, and energy, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the director of national intelligence. Last week, the White House removed the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from the Principals Committee —the core participants— of the NSC. A statement from the White House said that they would be invited to join the Principals Committee only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”.

On Monday, a new statement by the White House revised last week’s memorandum, by listing the director of the CIA as a “regular attendee” in NSC meetings. When asked by journalists about the change, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that “[t]he president has such respect for [CIA] Director [Mike] Pompeo and the men and women of the CIA, that today the president is announcing that he will amend the memo to add the CIA back into the NSC”.

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA was viewed as the most powerful and influential agency in the US Intelligence Community. It answered directly to the president and its director mediated between the White House and all of the nation’s intelligence agencies. That changed in 2005, when the administration of George W. Bush established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as the central coordinating body of the US Intelligence Community. In the same year, the Bush administration replaced the CIA director’s place in the NSC with the DNI. Since that time, the DNI has acted as the de facto intelligence representative on the NSC. But Monday’s memorandum changes that, by essentially removing the DNI from the NSC and replacing him with the director of the CIA. Some believe that the change is bound to create tension between the DNI and the CIA, two agencies that have had a stormy relationship in the past decade. The CIA and the ODNI have not yet commented on the amended memorandum issued by the White House.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 January 2017 | Permalink

CIA report sees Russia behind bombing of US embassy in Georgia

GRU emblem

GRU emblem

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A classified US intelligence report indicates that Russian intelligence is behind an ongoing string of bombings in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which have included an attack on the US embassy in Georgian capital Tbilisi. The attack, which took place on September 22, 2010, damaged the embassy’s exterior wall. A subsequent investigation by the Georgian Ministry of the Interior concluded that the bombing was coordinated by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, also known as GRU. The investigation identified one GRU officer, Major Yevgeny Borisov, as the primary instigator of the attacks. Borisov, who is believed to be operating in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, was tried and convicted in absentia for his alleged role in the bombings. Now an article in The Washington Times says that a US intelligence report compiled last December by the CIA, with input from several US spy agencies, echoes the conclusions of the Georgian investigation into the bombings. The Times quotes “two US officials who have read” the report as saying that “it confirms the Georgian account” and fingers Major Borisov as the one of the main culprits behind the bombings. It also quotes “two Obama administration officials” who say that the US Department of State has taken up the issue with “the most senior levels of Russia’s Foreign Ministry”. Read more of this post

South African spy chief had secret US talks, embassy cable reveals

Moe Shaik

Moe Shaik

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
South Africa’s spy chief regularly gave the American embassy in Pretoria detailed information on internal African National Congress (ANC) politics, according to a diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks. The cable, entitled “Zuma Advisor Threatens to Expose Political Skeletons”, was authored on September 10 2008 by the embassy and communicated to several recipients, including the State Department, CIA, and the National Security Council. It reveals that Moe Shaik, who heads the South African Secret Service (SASS), the country’s external intelligence agency, met regularly with an unnamed political officer of the US embassy and “always share[d] insights into the motivations and strategies of the Zuma camp”. The reference is to Jacob Zuma, President of the governing ANC, who assumed the organization’s leadership in May of 2009, after a bitter internal party struggle. Several months prior to Zuma’s election as ANC’s President, the organization’s rival faction, which was loyal to Thabo Mbeki, attempted to challenge Zuma’s eligibility by leveling corruption charges against him. Read more of this post

Analysis: Forged Irish passports have long history

Passports

Passports

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
At least six of the nearly 30 Mossad assassins who killed Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last January in Dubai, used forged Irish passports to enter and leave the United Arab Emirates. This upset the Irish government, but did not surprise intelligence observers familiar with the long history of forged Irish passports in the international espionage and smuggling worlds. The Mossad and the CIA are among several intelligence agencies known to routinely rely on cloned Irish passports to enable their agents to move around the world undetected. In 1986, several Iran-Contra affair insiders, including US National Security Council member Oliver North, covertly traveled to Iran using forged Irish passports. The Provisional Irish Republican Army is also known to possess significant quantities of false Irish passports, which it uses to enable its senior members to network with supporters abroad. Read more of this post

China not top priority for US spy agencies under new policy

US and China

US and China

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
American intelligence agencies have been directed by the US National Security Council (NSC) to downgrade intelligence collection on China. Under the directive, which was first proposed last October, Chinese intelligence targets will be coded “Priority 2” (Pri-2), from their current “Priority 1” (Pri-1) status. The Washington Times reports that the move is part of a wider Obama administration effort “to develop a more cooperative relationship with Beijing”. The latter recently requested a new bilateral relationship with Washington, free from “Cold War and power politics mentality”. But the NSC proposal was contested by CIA director Leon Panetta and director of national intelligence Dennis Blair. Read more of this post

Analysis: Bush focus on Daily Brief skewed policy decisions

Lieberthal

Lieberthal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A study by a Brookings Institution analyst says the “unprecedented” level of importance given to the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) by George W. Bush skewed his administration’s policy decisions after 9/11 and had negative consequences for the US intelligence community. The PDB arrives at the US President’s desk every morning with highly classified summaries of the latest findings from America’s intelligence community. The importance given to the PDB, whose contents are often highly speculative or unprocessed, varies with Presidents. But Kenneth Lieberthal, former National Security Council staffer in the Bill Clinton administration and senior fellow at Brookings, says the Bush cabinet overwhelmingly relied on the PDB to make policy decisions, which were often based on information that lacked substantial analysis. Read more of this post