While serving as chief of the CIA’s Middle East Division, I regularly testified with my colleagues on Capitol Hill before the Senate and House intelligence committees.
With the onset of the Arab Spring in 2010, the region entered a period of unrest unprecedented since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The growth of Islamic State, the Syrian civil war and a high-profile counterterrorism mission led to a spike in congressional interest in our analysis and oral briefings.
From 2011 to 2015, Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Maryland Democratic Rep. Charles “Dutch” Ruppersberger III was the committee’s ranking Democrat. Both were part of the elite “Gang of Eight” — a select group privy to special briefings which included the lead Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence panels, the speaker of the House, the majority leader in the Senate and their minority counterparts.
Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger might have disagreed on policy, but there was no ideologically predisposed bias when it came to our intelligence. When our reporting conflicted with their view of the world, they challenged their own assumptions and asked pertinent follow-up questions. At the CIA, I was trained to provide objective analysis based on the intelligence collected, and Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger always welcomed being briefed on what they needed to know — even if it wasn’t always what they wanted to hear.
It was Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican, who in 1947 coined the phrase, “Politics stops at the water’s edge.” Vandenberg rightly believed U.S. elected leaders should present a united front to allies and adversaries, whatever their political differences domestically. For decades, American politicians traveling overseas have avoided criticizing one another’s policies.
I witnessed firsthand, on trips to such hot sports as Yemen and Egypt, how Chairman Rogers practiced Vandenberg’s philosophy. He and Mr. Ruppersberger comported themselves similarly on Capitol Hill, where they assiduously avoided turning our findings into partisan fodder, as happens all too often today.
Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger understood real policy debate only happens when both sides agree on the underlying facts, and when they use intelligence briefings to inform rather than as an a priori justification of their policies. They deeply respected one another and took their oath to defend the Constitution seriously.
Today, our political process is practically devoid of the Rogers-Ruppersberger bipartisan comraderie. Instead, our hyperpartisan politics creates openings for attack and division, which our adversaries — Russia in particular — ruthlessly exploit. The Kremlin has proven particularly adept at using its sophisticated propaganda machine to amplify those divisions and partisanship in our politics.
Democrats and Republicans regularly trade charges of collusion, conspiracy and obstruction without the common ground necessary to defend against Russia’s espionage onslaught. Our elected leaders are directing their rhetorical fire at one another, rather than the KGB-operative-in-the-Kremlin Vladimir Putin.
Then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2015 CNN interview decried the House intelligence panel’s rising partisanship. Noting he had gotten along well with Democrats and Republicans as a businessman, Mr. Trump said his presidency would produce an era of bipartisanship and predicted he would be a “great unifier for our country.”
Instead, of course, partisanship has only grown worse, to the great benefit of the Kremlin’s troll factory of lies and propaganda. And even though we are under siege, we lack the wherewithal to mount the sort of bipartisan defense which just might deter Mr. Putin and his cronies.
The success of Mr. Putin’s attacks on our democracy depends to a great extent on how well we as citizens and the politicians whom we elect respect and buttress our democratic process — especially during and immediately following the upcoming presidential elections. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger understood that what binds us together as Americans should always outweigh what pushes Democrats and Republicans apart. During this most consequential moment in our history, we would do well to remember and live their legacy.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.
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