Mar 5th 2020

Trump’s Great Purge 

by Kent Harrington

 

Kent Harrington, a former senior CIA analyst, served as National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, Chief of Station in Asia, and the CIA’s Director of Public Affairs. 


 

ATLANTA – After nearly four years of inveighing against the US intelligence officials and analysts who revealed Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump is finally acting fully on his paranoia by carrying out a purge. The recent defenestration of top US national-security officials may come as a shock to Americans, but it is no surprise to the Russians. For months, the joke making the rounds in Moscow goes that if Trump would only fire his spy chiefs, he could get his intelligence directly from the source: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among those ousted by Trump in the past month were the acting director of national intelligence, Admiral Joseph Maguire, and his deputy. But the removal of senior officials isn’t the most important part of the story. What matters most is that Trump wants to send a message to the intelligence community’s rank and file, which has consistently given the lie to his groundless claims about issues ranging from the North Korean nuclear program to climate change. Trump wants to intimidate US intelligence professionals into submission, and he might just succeed.

There is no question that Trump’s latest round of firings qualify as a “purge.” His interim choice to replace Maguire, Richard Grenell, who had been the US ambassador to Germany, is a notorious Trump sycophant with no intelligence experience. Grenell will happily play to the Oval Office’s audience of one. He has already ordered his own minions to start investigating alleged conspiracies among the intelligence officials who uncovered Russia’s election interference, and to pore over personnel files in search of those who may not be sufficiently loyal to Trump.

With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it isn’t hard to see Trump’s motive. In December, intelligence officials avoided the public portion of their annual threat briefing to Congress, following hearings a year earlier in which they provoked Trump’s wrath by contradicting him on almost every major national-security issue. The message from that episode was clear: Trump wants an executive suite staffed by servile appointees who will muzzle the intelligence agencies throughout the 2020 presidential campaign season. If Grenell does his job and completes the purge, Trump’s new DNI nominee should be able to sail through the Senate confirmation process with an innocent smile.

That nominee will be Republican US Representative John Ratcliffe, another consummate Trump toady. Ratcliffe’s attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the congressional hearings into the Russia investigation led Trump to pick him for the DNI job last summer. But revelations that Ratcliffe had inflated his resumé to make up for his lack of intelligence experience torpedoed his nomination, with even Senate Republicans admitting that loyalty to Trump is not a sufficient qualification for the job. Now the Senate will be faced with choosing between Ratcliffe and Grenell.

Ratcliffe’s history of shameless pandering suggests that, like Grenell, he will politicize intelligence whenever Trump demands. The intelligence community’s job is to deliver facts and nonpartisan analysis to the president, top policymakers, and military commanders, regardless of their stated policy preferences. But Trump has made many efforts to suppress or discredit intelligence he doesn’t like, and he is now likely to do so with abandon.

Both Republicans and Democrats have already raised alarms about the White House’s meddling in critical intelligence activities. In January, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned that the Trump administration was pressuring intelligence agencies to withhold information on Ukraine from congressional oversight. And in the Senate, an intelligence briefing to explain the imminent threat that supposedly justified the targeted killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani in January was met with bipartisan criticism over what looked like White House misrepresentations.

To be sure, presidents have every right to give intelligence agencies new directives and to remove officials for failures or missteps. After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, President John F. Kennedy installed an intelligence-community outsider, John McCone, at the helm of the CIA. And after the Iran-Contra scandal implicated CIA Director William J. Casey, President Ronald Reagan tapped William H. Webster, a former FBI director, to replace him. Nonetheless, until Trump, no president has so blatantly put his own political fortunes ahead of the country’s security by discrediting the very agencies charged with its defense.

Indeed, not even a president as ethically challenged as Richard Nixon has come close to Trump’s war on intelligence. Under pressure from the Watergate scandal, Nixon, in February 1973, appointed James R. Schlesinger to replace Richard Helms as CIA director, because the latter had refused to go along with the coverup. Upon arrival, Schlesinger downsized the agency, forcing out hundreds of experienced officers and unsettling the rank and file. But he never questioned the agency’s loyalty or discredited its work. Moreover, unlike Grenell and Ratcliffe, Schlesinger, who later served as secretary of defense, at least had national-security credentials.

Trump’s ceaseless attacks and installation of political apparatchiks at the top of the intelligence community has undoubtedly taken its toll on morale. US spies and intelligence analysts are trained to do their jobs with integrity and to take risks in the field. They are there to provide independent, nonpartisan information and analysis in the service of the country’s security. By ignoring their findings, denigrating their work, and hunting for signs of disloyalty, Trump’s actions have jeopardized that mission.

So far, the intelligence community’s leaders have said little about the damage that Trump has wrought. The most charitable explanation of their silence is that they are protecting the mission by keeping their heads down. That may be true. But at some point, silence becomes indistinguishable from complicity, particularly when those who are most responsible for the success of the mission are targeted by purges and bogus investigations. When those who should be receiving accolades are getting the boot, something has gone very wrong.


Kent Harrington, a former senior CIA analyst, served as National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, Chief of Station in Asia, and the CIA’s Director of Public Affairs. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020.
www.project-syndicate.org 

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Mar 31st 2020
EXTRACT: "The absence of effective federal oversight and management of the COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly be judged by historians as the biggest US governmental calamity of all time."
Mar 29th 2020
EXTRACT: " South Korea is one of the world’s most advanced countries........... But so, too, is the United States. Why, then, has the US lagged so far behind in its response to the pandemic? The short answer is that the US has a president who is fundamentally unfit for the job, both intellectually and temperamentally."
Mar 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "A large part of the fallout to date – particularly on stock markets – has actually been from negative sentiment rather than real effects."
Mar 24th 2020
EXTRACT: ".........every component of aggregate demand – consumption, capital spending, exports – is in unprecedented free fall. While most self-serving commentators have been anticipating a V-shaped downturn – with output falling sharply for one quarter and then rapidly recovering the next – it should now be clear that the COVID-19 crisis is something else entirely. The contraction that is now underway looks to be neither V- nor U- nor L-shaped (a sharp downturn followed by stagnation). Rather, it looks like an I: a vertical line representing financial markets and the real economy plummeting..............The risk of a new Great Depression, worse than the original – a Greater Depression – is rising by the day."
Mar 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "President Donald Trump and US policymakers have thus far favored piecemeal measures, especially when it comes to the state directing – indeed, reorganizing – the private sector. Their instinctive belief in the superiority of the market and private initiatives, regardless of the circumstances, leads them to recoil from the scale of government intervention needed to save our lives and livelihoods."
Mar 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Back in July 2019, while in Michigan for one of the early Democratic Party presidential debates, I was invited to a small dinner with Bernie Sanders. Toward the end of the meal, those who remained at the table included actor/activist Danny Glover, Dr. Cornel West, former Mayor Gus Newport, Jane Sanders, and a few key campaign staffers. What ensued was a free-flowing discussion of the agents of social and political change, sprinkled with personal recollections of and lessons learned from historical figures – many of whom had been known by my dinner companions.......I came away from that evening seeing Bernie Sanders in a different light. He was, and still is, a candidate for the presidency of the United States. At the same time, he must also be seen as a transformative figure in modern American political history."
Mar 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Why are we more scared of what is less likely to kill us? The psychological principle that makes us fear swine flu, avian flu, or COVID-19, but not the common flu is called fear of dread risks. It is easy to elicit fear of episodes in which many people die within a short interval, such as plane crashes or epidemics. But when just as many or more people die over a longer period – as with car accidents or the seasonal flu – it is difficult to scare the public into wearing seatbelts or getting vaccinated."
Mar 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "But if containment measures fail – as we are seeing in Italy just now – the banks may still end up in trouble. They may also stop lending again, in which case the asset bubbles would collapse and a long-term recession would become a certainty. Central banks and governments would have to step in with more assistance: as well as further interest rate cuts, they look likely to try more QE and potentially bailouts like in 2007-09 if necessary. But given the limited scope this time around, if the global economy stalls for the long term, these measures might still fail and central bankers could potentially lose control of the marketplace altogether. In such a situation, we would be in truly uncharted territory." PICTURE BELOW: WORLD DEBT.
Mar 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Russian resistance appears to have derived from fears that if they cut back exports and OPEC managed to keep the price high, US petroleum firms using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) would simply rush in to grab Russian markets in Europe........So the theory that Russia provoked the price fall to harm US fracking companies is incorrect. They provoked it to avoid being harmed by the American producers, as they saw it."
Mar 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "I was recently walking along East 29th Street in Manhattan, after visiting a friend at Bellevue Hospital, when I was roused from my thoughts by a middle-aged white male screaming at an old Chinese man, “Get the fuck out of my country, you piece of Chinese shit!” The old man was stunned. So was I, before I bellowed back (deploying the full range of my native Australian vocabulary), “Fuck off and leave him alone, you white racist piece of shit!”  The pedestrian traffic stopped. A young white guy with dark hair came storming toward me. As a non-pugilist by instinct and training, I braced for what was coming. He stopped just short of me and said, “Thank you for standing up for him. That’s why I fought in Iraq; so that people like him could be free.” "
Mar 6th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Dreyfus was originally arrested and convicted on charges of selling military secrets to Germany – France’s historical enemy. But because he was a Jew, his guilt was assumed from the start, particularly by most of the French officer corps. To ensure that the charges would stick, various conspirators fabricated evidence against Dreyfus, including a secret file that only the judges who handed down the conviction and prison sentence were allowed to see........In the Dreyfus Affair, a savagely right-wing press fanned the flames of anti-Semitism and intrigue among elites, just as Fox News does today against Trump’s enemies. Owing to these malign efforts, truth itself becomes blurred,........Most depressing of all, though, is the fact that no senior figure in the US has come forward to stand alongside Vindman. There has been no Zola to issue the equivalent of the famous “J’Accuse!” pamphlet, shaming the country’s complicit elites for their lies and corruption. Instead, men like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton have put their personal interests first, remaining mostly silent......"
Mar 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "After nearly four years of inveighing against the US intelligence officials and analysts who revealed Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump is finally acting fully on his paranoia by carrying out a purge. "
Mar 3rd 2020
EXTRACTS: "........the next global recession could be around the corner – and that it may look a lot different from those that began in 2001 and 2008.........unlike the two previous global recessions this century, the new coronavirus, COVID-19, implies a supply shock as well as a demand shock. ..........In contrast to recessions driven mainly by a demand shortfall, the challenge posed by a supply-side-driven downturn is that it can result in sharp declines in production and widespread bottlenecks. In that case, generalized shortages – something that some countries have not seen since the gas lines of 1970s – could ultimately push inflation up, not down."
Feb 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "The EU must ask itself if it is prepared to do what is necessary to remain an independent player, united in the common interest of all Europeans. Otherwise, Europe’s viability as a democratic, sovereign entity in control of its own destiny will be called into question – and therefore tested by adversaries – like never before."
Feb 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The world economy has clearly caught a cold. The outbreak of COVID-19 came at a particularly vulnerable point in the global business cycle. ...........This matters little to the optimistic consensus of investors. After all, by definition shocks are merely temporary disruptions of an underlying trend. While it is tempting to dismiss this shock for that very reason, the key is to heed the implications of the underlying trend. The world economy was weak, and getting weaker, when COVID-19 struck. The V-shaped recovery trajectory of a SARS-like episode will thus be much tougher to replicate – especially with monetary and fiscal authorities in the US, Japan, and Europe having such little ammunition at their disposal. That, of course, was the big risk all along. In these days of dip-buying froth, China’s sneeze may prove to be especially vexing for long-complacent financial markets."
Feb 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that this new coronavirus is likely to do much more damage than SARS. Not only has COVID-19 already caused more deaths than its predecessor; its economic consequences are likely to be compounded by unfavorable conditions – beginning with China’s increased economic vulnerability.................So far, US investors seem unconcerned about these risks. But they may be taking too much comfort from the US Federal Reserve’s three interest-rate cuts last year. Should the US economy falter, there is nowhere near enough room for the Fed to cut interest rates by 500 basis points, as it has in past recessions."
Feb 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Beyond the usual economic and policy risks that most financial analysts worry about, a number of potentially seismic white swans are visible on the horizon this year. Any of them could trigger severe economic, financial, political, and geopolitical disturbances unlike anything since the 2008 crisis."
Feb 18th 2020
Extract: "In late 2019, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) once again had the opportunity to poll public opinion across the Middle East and North Africa about many of these issues that are of such critical concern to the region and its peoples..............One of the more intriguing results in our 2019 survey were the changes in Arab views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Arabs still blame the US and Israel for the absence of peace and have little confidence that the conflict can be resolved in the near future. Maybe as a result of this despair, this issue now ranks low as an Arab priority. Also noteworthy is the fact that majorities in most Arab countries now say that normalization with Israel, which they acknowledge is already happening, may be a good thing. This development shouldn’t be overstated, however, since there is still no love for Israel. It appears, from our survey, to be born of frustration, weariness with Palestinians being victims of war, and the possibility that normalization might bring some economic benefits and could give Arabs leverage to press Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Global dissatisfaction with democracy has increased over the past 25 years, according to our recent report. Drawing upon the HUMAN Surveys project, the report covered 154 countries, with 77 countries covered continuously for the period from 1995 to 2020. These samples were possible thanks to the combination of data from over 25 sources, 3,500 national surveys, and 4 million respondents. Not surprisingly, the gloomy headline finding – rising democratic dissatisfaction – attracted the most attention. Less widely discussed, however, is the “good news” – that a small sample of countries has bucked the trend, and have record high levels of satisfaction with their democracies."
Feb 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "This is how dictatorships begin. As the US prepares for its next presidential election in November, it is every citizen’s responsibility rationally to examine Trump’s dictatorial impulses, which reelection would only reinforce. It is not safe to assume that he won’t go too far, or that he is too much of a “mediocrity” – as Leon Trotsky called Stalin (an assessment with which many Bolsheviks agreed) – to transform his country......Vladimir Lenin, himself a ruthless Bolshevik, wrote in 1922 that, “Stalin concentrated in his hands enormous power, which he won’t be able to use responsibly,” owing to traits like rudeness, intolerance, and capriciousness. Trump has all of them in spades. The more power he concentrates in his own hands, the dimmer the long-term outlook for American democracy becomes. His reelection could mean lights out."