U.S. intelligence officials waged a politicized campaign to undermine President Trump and his administration, and the politicization undermined American security, according to a former U.S. intelligence analyst.
Many “formers” directly or indirectly helped elect current President Biden and defeat Mr. Trump in the 2020 election.
“Current and former U.S. intelligence officers in unprecedentedly large numbers politicized intelligence in their opposition to candidate and then President Donald Trump,” Mr. Gentry stated in an article in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.
“The activists consistently refused, and still refuse, to accept responsibility for the politicization or the damage it caused to intelligence and broader national security.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, among others, aggressively pursued political agendas in opposition to Mr. Trump from 2016 to 2021, Mr. Gentry said, and their efforts, ongoing despite Mr. Trump leaving the White House in January, damaged the credibility of once-objective spy agencies.
The three officials and others. like former FBI Director James Comey, saw their anti-Trump efforts as justified, according to Mr. Gentry, because the former president was considered a national security threat who had to be ousted from office.
Mr. Trump as president spoke out against U.S. intelligence failures but also praised and supported — often in private — many of the spy agencies’ activities and programs.
Mr. Gentry, in the piece headlined, “Trump-Era Politicization: A Code of Civil–Intelligence Behavior Is Needed,” called for new guidelines for former spies similar to those followed by most former military officers to avoid politicization of intelligence agencies and their products.
The outpouring of leaks of intelligence and criticism of Mr. Trump during his administration was described by Mr. Gentry as “an astonishing reversal of the longstanding norm at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and elsewhere in the U.S. intelligence community that professional intelligence officers served all presidents as well as possible in apolitical ways, no matter the personal politics of intelligence officers or presidents’ views of intelligence.”
The resulting political attacks on Mr. Trump “amounted to a massive display of politicization ‘from below’ — that is, by intelligence producers — a previously unpardonable breach of professional ethics,” he stated.
After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Brennan called on serving government employees to refuse presidential orders.
For example, the former CIA director said on MSNBC that the FBI should refuse to follow presidential orders related to the Justice Department investigation launched in 2019 into missteps by the FBI and intelligence agencies, including Mr. Brennan, for their role in the failed investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian involvement in the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
“Other formers were also willing to advocate rebellious, even extra legal steps in opposition to Trump,” Mr. Gentry said.
Mr. Comey, the former FBI director, publicly acknowledged leaking information to the New York Times through a friend that he hoped would trigger the special counsel probe that would lead to Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.
“These attitudes and actions are consistent with traditional definitions of Deep State — a comparison the U.S. military has largely avoided — and fueled Trump supporters’ accusations that there was an intelligence Deep State out to get the president, which began early in Trump’s presidency,” Mr. Gentry said.
The politicization was not limited to the senior ranks of intelligence agencies.
Mr. Gentry also condemned former CIA analyst Ned Price, who claimed to have resigned in protest of Mr. Trump’s election and joined a political action group affiliated with the Democratic Party. He is now the chief State Department spokesman.
Former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Josh Campbell, now a CNN commentator, and Rod Schoonover of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research also resigned ostensibly in protest of Mr. Trump.
All three former officials wrote critical exit letters and bylined opinion articles criticizing Mr. Trump in the New York Times and Washington Post, major anti-Trump news outlets.
“Federal Election Commission campaign finance data show that all three were appreciable contributors to Democratic political candidates before they resigned, damaging the credibility of their claims of principled, apolitical motives,” Mr. Gentry said.
Mr. Gentry said the rationalization used by Mr. Trump intelligence critics followed a common theme that argued he “was so unprecedentedly evil that self-evidently selfless, patriotic intelligence professionals were morally justified, even obligated, to ‘warn’ of Trump’s deficiencies even years after he became president and after much of the world understood his political behavior.”
Another rationalization was that intelligence officers were exercising free speech in criticizing the president.
However, Mr. Gentry notes that traditionally intelligence officials stayed out of politics.
One case in point was former NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, who disclosed in 2018 that Mr. Clapper and Mr. Hayden tried to get Adm. Rogers to attack Mr. Trump.
“Guys, this is not helping,” Adm. Rogers said. “Pouring gasoline on the fire is not going to reduce the flame.” Adm. Rogers also said he worried that intelligence attacks on the president were undermining the nonpolitical nature of intelligence.
“Adm. Rogers’ one-time comments aside, the large number of former senior officers who have not engaged in partisan politicking or condemned the politicizers, while meaning well, have inadvertently become part of the problem,” Mr. Gentry said.
“Their silence suggests that they condone the politicization of the activists when in fact, if my interviews and other discussions are close to accurate, a silent majority of current and former intelligence officers wish the activists had kept quiet.”
Mr. Gentry stated that from 2016 the former intelligence officials and the intelligence community “leakers” believed they were saving the country from Trump.
“Many of Trump’s intelligence critics made clear in many ways that they consciously aimed to influence national policies,” he said.
“Others overtly applauded such activity,” Mr. Gentry wrote. “Former CIA officers Nada Bakos, Alex Finley, Cindy Otis, John Sipher, and Tracy Walder continued to denounce Trump frequently on Twitter in 2021, long after he left office, as did former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa.”
To solve the problem, Mr. Gentry urged a national debate on establishing a new code of ethics for “civil-intelligence” relations, similar to those regarding civilian-military ties.
The code should include a ban on partisan talk by career intelligence officers who retired from senior positions and active engagement from intelligence leaders to stamp out politicization.
Also needed are strong policies on leaks that have politicized intelligence, and restoration of the ethic that working intelligence officer “must leave their personal politics at home,” Mr. Gentry stated.
Intelligence products need better screening for politicization, and more professional behavior is needed from intelligence officials.
“The distaste many people have for Donald Trump does not make the politicization of intelligence appropriate or acceptable,” Mr. Gentry concludes, noting “Trump was elected president of the United States, and he deserved the best apolitical intelligence support the [intelligence community] could give.
“It was inappropriate for arrogant intelligence officers to think they had the authority to decide whether he deserved their approval and support, or not.”
Mr. Gentry said that “this politicization has been, and likely will continue to be, very costly in many ways.”
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