US intel agencies deliberately sank Flynn, don’t care about national security – ex-CIA officer
There’s a war in Washington – Donald Trump is facing a conflict not just with the media, but also with his own intelligence community. Now that the military lobby is infiltrating positions of power, and as the CIA struggles to get its influence back, what kind of shift are we going to see in the corridors of power? Will the intelligence community keep leaking data, or will they rally behind the new leader? We ask former CIA intelligence officer, former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit – Michael Scheuer.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Michael Scheuer, veteran CIA officer, welcome to the show. It's great to have you with us. Sir, American spy agencies are withholding secret information from the president and his administration - and that's according to sources in Washington cited by The Wall Street Journal. An intelligence official also told the Observer paper that the ‘good stuff’ is kept from the White House. Are parts of the intelligence community engaged in a battle against the President?
Michael Scheuer: The intelligence community in the U.S. of course, has been completely politicised under two people: first under George Bush by keeping a Democrat named George Tenet in charge of the CIA, and he staffed the agency with pro-Democratic people, and, certainly, Mr. Obama staffed it full of Democratic operatives, people who are indebted to the Democratic party. Immigrants, hispanics, transgender people, homosexuals - people who have more affinity for Democrats than for America or for the Republican party. So, it is a problem, although, I think, probably it's a bit overblown.
SS: So, you think them being indebted to Bush and Obama because they gave them job at CIA, they would go into a battle against president?
MS: Not so much against Bush, but in favor of George Tenet who is a Democratic party operative. The glow of support for the Democratic party from the people they've put in there is very strong one, and the feel for the need their protection from the people who were sent into the agency and into different intelligence community organisations is very strong. But I think that, again, I think it's overblown, and I think the president will sort it out. He may well have to purge some people of the organisations for being too partisan.
SS: President Trump has accused the FBI and NSA of ‘illegally’ leaking information to the press, giving out sensitive information ‘like candy’ - are intelligence agencies deliberately trying to harm Trump’s Cabinet?
MS: At least, in the case of General Flynn it seems to be the case, because the only place that information could've come from was from NSA collecting or the FBI collecting intelligence. Now, it's not per se illegal to collect against the American citizen, as long as it's done passively and what I mean is they were surely collecting against the Russian Ambassador, that's fair game. But, generally, if they collect what an American is saying, it's not released and it's redacted, so, clearly, they meant to do Flynn harm and, unfortunately they did.
SS: The NSA intercepted the calls between Trump officials, then the FBI ordered to collect as much information as possible - according to the New York Times once again. Now are American intelligence agencies just spying on their own administration?
MS: I think, it's probably a mistake to take anything the NYT says with any bid of faith in what they're saying. They're clearly out to destroy this presidency, it's only a month old, and I think the President can handle the press, simply by going over their head in news conferences and twitter and videos and things like that. The real problem, though, is cleaning out the government of Democratic apparatchiks and people who are more inclined to want to cooperate with the world rather than protecting America first.
SS:Trump is saying that the leakers are ’going to pay a big price’. The Justice Department is already looking into these leaks. Is it possible to identify the leakers in this case - and what happens to them if they are uncovered?
MS: The tenets of the espionage law certainly cover that, as they should've covered Mrs. Clinton and hopefully they still will. Can they find them? There's a good chance they can find them. The problem we usually have is that they don't prosecute. But if they prosecuted a few people, I think that will persuade others not to do this. Certainly, it's a crime, certainly it's a blow against U.S. security. A lot of these people don't seem to be able to tell the difference between their duty to their country and their duty to their political party.
SS:The New York Times, and the Washington Post, CNN have all reported on Trump’s campaign contacts with Russian officials - nevertheless there’s been no evidence, like we've said so far, so far of the Trump team colluding with Moscow. The FBI has been investigating a scandalous Russia dossier for months but hasn’t been able to confirm any of the explosive claims - why does this Russia issue continue to be pedaled, if the allegations are just not adding up?
MS: Russia is a big boogeyman for the U.S., always has been. You have to remember that people who run our foreign policy, the neoconservatives - not only they are extremely pro-Israel to the point where they should be members of Knesset, but they join the Israelis in many ways in their hatred for Russians, and so, it's just a matter of hate. I think, Mr. Trump won the day already with central part of the United States, where most working people live, when he said "I will try to get along with Russia and Mr. Putin. I see no reason for the first step to be animosity" - which seems to be fairly liberal approach to deal with superpower. I don't know what more to say than that. Russia, there's a gene in the American character, because of the Cold War that immediately, it's hackles up once the word "Russia" is mentioned. If Putin and Trump can smooth things over and work, if not closely, at least..
SS: Yeah, I mean, Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan warned Trump against ‘embracing Russia’, saying the President does not understand the threat Moscow poses - why is mending ties with Russia considered to be a threat among both the Republican and Democrat establishment?
MS: The Republicans, because they're run by the neoconservatives and the Israeli first lobby in this country and they will always be excessively pro-Israeli and excessively anti-Russian, that's no way around that until people like Senator Graham and Senator McCain either pass away or retire. Mr. Brennan, of course, is a Democratic apparatchik, more and more you read that he's probably in the pay of the Saudis, which would not surprise me... I tend to think that he was just playing politics, there seems to be some kind of a plan to make the operation of the presidency under Mr. Trump impossible, by the Democrats, by the New York Times, by some members of the government, the intelligence community. Mr. Trump has a big hill to climb now.
SS: Trump’s top officials aren’t that much in favour of closer ties between Moscow and Washington - who’s going to have the final say in this regard, the president, or his cabinet? What's your take?
MS: Mr. Trump is going to have the final say, mam. I think, if we've heard anything in the past two years is that Mr. Trump has the way - he listens, he talks to very important and very respected, very knowledgeable people, and he makes his own decision. We've seen, if he falls out with someone, as in the case of General Flynn, who got fired not for what he did but for trying to cover it up or trying to lie about it - Trump will carry the day. I think, it's so important for foreigners to realise that the great bulk of the American public, notwithstanding what the New York Post and the Washington Times and CNN and all those other people say, the bulk of the American people actually enjoys seeing a president make a decision, actually, like he has a job to do, and not just pontificate about his own personal ideas.
SS: While it’s the Russians who are blamed for all US security breaches lately - Ex-Navy officer Hal Martin - the NSA contractor dubbed the second Snowden - has been arrested for major theft of govt data. Martin stole 50 thousand gigabytes of information which he openly stored in his home, he had classified papers lying around in his car.. How did the NSA miss this massive breach, once again?
MS: Well, again, after 9\11 the intelligence community in the U.S. expanded to the extremely large extent, and they subcontracted vetting processes, clearance processes to companies that actually didn't do a very good job about it. So, Snowden was able to do what he did, and he got away, he got to Russia and he helped the Russians. He should certainly be brought home and punished for that, but there certainly was the security breakdown on our side, also.
SS: Martin worked for the same NSA contractor Snowden did and obviously the NSA didn’t find about the security breach right away - does that mean the government may simply be unaware of other violations in its system?
MS: I think, without a doubt. When you choose not to use your military to win wars that you're involved in - as was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we didn't a tenth... the world didn't see a tenth or a twentieth of American military power applied. The default position is to go to the intelligence agencies to do things that intelligence agencies are not equipped to do, whether it's military operations or law enforcement operation. The result of that default was to expand the intelligence community and bloat it, and they certainly were not prepared for the security side of that expansion.
SS: In his final days in office Obama has dramatically expanded the reach of American government surveillance - giving 17 agencies the right to spy on citizens. Why did he choose to leave this kind of power to the Trump administration last minute? Do you support the move?
MS: I think he probably realises that because of his 8 years in power, the situation inside the U.S., the law enforcement situation and terrorism situation is out of control, as it is in Europe. He wanted to, I don't know, wanted to expand these capabilities... but Trump will get blamed for using them. I think you've seen that if Trump does something that Obama did, no one knows that Obama did it, like the immigration ban - he followed Obama's example. So Obama, here, in the U.S., is a useless man who accomplished nothing, and, indeed hurt the U.S., but he's treated in a some ways as a saint. Mr. Trump is going to have to just man up and shoulder that theme. Again, though, if you don't win your war with your military, with your conventional forces, you must rely on the intelligence community, and the more the intelligence community is relied on, the more tools it needs, and therefore, this kind of surveillance will become necessary, as someone has to defend the Republic.
SS: As he was taking office there were reports - once again, in the New York Times - that Trump was planning to restructure the intelligence community - because it’s become too ‘bloated and politicised’ - does it need this overhaul?
MS: Yes, it does. It is way too big and there's too few qualified people from the intelligence community of this size in the U.S.. Our education system has so broken down that we don't train people to love their country anymore, we don't teach them American history. We teach them not to be the U.S. citizens but citizens of the world, and so, they lack, I think, in many cases a killer instinct which is key in the intelligence work and again, its especially key when your leaders are too cowardly to apply military force against enemies that threaten the country.
SS: Obama has loosened political oversight over the CIA - at the same time, with the government officials expecting the agency to support their political ideas - do you think the agency needs more control from the elected government or can it be trusted to be left alone?
MS: The Agency, mam... one of the biggest things that I have been surprised by, is the idea that Agency is ever left alone. The Agency is palsied by lawyers, you can barely go down the hall to use men's room without permission from a lawyer. What you need most of all is for people to stop appointing party apparatchicks, like John Brennan, like Mike Morell, like George Tenet, to position where they can create a situation that's more like a social experiment - how much can we make this agency diverse and multicultural rather than how can we make this Agency an instrument for successfully promoting and supporting American foreign policy.
SS: An example of the way the CIA politicised intelligence is for example the false ‘evidence’ it presented to launch the Iraq war. If the intelligence is compiled according to policy, and not the other way around, does this mean the White House acts on the intelligence it wants to hear, not on what is actually happening?
MS:To be fair, mam, I think the entire world thought that there were some kind of WMDs in Iraq. The problem I had with the whole process is that most of the information about WMDs in Iraq came from people who wanted to overthrow Saddam but couldn't do it by themselves. I think the Agency has just come out of working in four different resistance situations - Nicaragua and Namibia, Cambodia and Afghanistan - and the one thing you learn very quickly was unless you could corroborate from other sources what the resistance was telling you, you would end up acting on false information, and I think, that's largely what's happened here. The information wasn't good and George Bush and Dick Cheney were dying to go to war with Iraq, event to extent of ignoring the main enemy, which was then Al-Qaeda and now it's the Islamic State.
SS:Yeah, but my question is - all of this, does this still mean that the White House acts on the intelligence it wants to hear, not what's really going on?
MS: I can't tell you, mam, under Mr. Trump how that will work out, but the one thing I did see, I went to work under Reagan administration, and ended up under Bush's' administration, the Junior Bush, the second Bush, and what I saw was the general politicisation of the American foreign policy-making, national security policy, to bend the information to fit the political needs of the President at the time. Not killing Osama Bin Laden, for example, was purely a political decision, so mr. Clinton wouldn't look bad if it went wrong... I think it's a process that needs to be undone. I'm not smart enough to know how to do that, but what you're looking at is not a concern in American foreign policy for the protection of the Republican, but for the protection of the President.
SS: The CIA conducts its own covert military operations, it operates a targeted killing programme - and sometimes its actions overlap with those of the Pentagon. In Syria the different CIA-backed and Pentagon-backed rebels groups ended up fighting each other. Is there a competition between the military and the intelligence - or can the two operate as a united front?
MS: There's probably some competition to the extent that CIA is doing military activities, that they have been ordered to do, which normally would fall to the military. So, there's probably, some resentment on part of the military, but the military also, in a lot of cases, doesn't want to do these things. I doesn't want to go after people and capture them, it doesn't want to do the waterboarding, it doesn't want to do other kinds of activities, that unfortunately, are necessary in this day and age. The other point that I would make is that the American military is an extraordinarily slow and cumbersome organisation. When we had to invade Afghanistan after 9/11 for example, the CIA was on the ground, had built tents, had the coffee warmed, before any military got there.
SS: While the military lobbies for perpetual war, can Trump’s ideas of less American involvement and “making deals” with other powers will outweigh the hawkish opposition?
MS: I certainly hope so, mam. I think, Mr. Trump has a great opportunity to let Mr. Putin, if he'd like to, to have to deal with the Arabs for the next 50 years, I think that would be wonderful thing, for example. Whether he can pull it off or not - I don't know. The American Congress is really owned, more or less, by the Israelis, less by the Israelis than by Jewish American citizens here in the U.S. They say, you know, "jump", and the American Congress almost to a person says: "how high?". That's a very hard nut to crack. I think Mr. Trump needs to do that, or we will be engaged in endless and ultimately bankrupting wars in the Middle East for no purpose. It does not matter to the U.S. for example, who rules in Kabul. It does matter to Russia, I think, but it doesn't matter for us.
SS:You believe the conflict in Syria is one that US has no interest in - do you think the new administration will give up its ambitions in the Syrian campaign?
MS: Do I think or do I hope? I certainly hope they do, I certainly think any common sense review of what's going on in Syria - I think that war is going to be 6 years old next month? The only Americans who have been killed have been people who wanted to be on the ground, messing around on the battlefield, whether they were NGO people or journalists, and a few U.S. soldiers because Obama re-intervened there. It doesn't matter for us who rules in Damascus or in Baghdad. Let the parts fall where they may. Ultimately, that's heading towards a Sunni-Shia war which could do nothing but benefit the U.S.
SS: America is conducting anti-terror campaigns in Yemen, in Libya, it’s aiding troops in Iraq, it's still present in Afghanistan - you want the US to pull out, end its interventions, but is it that easy? I mean, can the US just leave Afghanistan and have the Taliban take over, doesn’t it have a responsibility to stay there now?
MS: No. We have no responsibility for anything. Our responsibility was to destroy the people that attacked us in 9/11 - Osama Bin Laden is dead, Al-Qaeda is at least dormant or semi-dormant for the moment. We always have the power to go back and do it again and do it the right way, which is overwhelming it with an indiscriminate military force. Right now, what we've tried to do is impose values, sordid Western values on Afghans, who are Muslims, and sincere Muslims, and want no part of it. It's a never-ending battle. We could stay there forever and we would never change a thing in Afghanistan. That's just the beginning of wisdom for one part of the country. I think it would apply to Yemen or any other Muslim country. We have nothing to offer that they want. The only way we can impose it is by a bayonet.
SS: The Washington-Tehran track is heating up right now. Trump’s team wants a review of the nuclear deal, it’s imposing new restrictions, while Tehran is growing more defiant. How far can these tensions spike? Is a US-Iran military conflict now in the cards once again?
MS: It certainly sounds like it does. I hope it isn't. The Iranians are no threat to the U.S., they are threat to Israel, they are a threat to the Saudis - let the regional powers settle their problem. There's 1.6 billion Muslims, a small portion of that are Shia - if the Sunnis can't defend themselves against the enemy that's infinitesimally smaller than they are, then they deserve to get defeated. But, who cares who rules in Tehran? Even if they have a nuclear weapon, which they will get, there's no reason why they shouldn't from their perspective - they are still not going to represent the power that Russia, Great Britain or the U.S. represents. They still get smashed in any attempt to take us on in any meaningful way.
SS: Now, I know that your book, your analysis has been quoted by Bin Laden himself, as well as ISIS - is this strange kind of acknowledgement flatter you or makes you uneasy?
MS: No, it flatters me in a sense that they see American who understands and listens to what they say. Osama Bin Laden would've been a great western politician in a sense that he stayed on message. He basically said "we don't give a damn how you treat your women, what your women wear, whether you drink whiskey, if you vote, if you have freedoms or liberties - we want you to stop intervening in our country", and that's what I wrote. I wrote that in 1999, the Agency suppressed it for 2 years, 2,5 years, it was published in 2002, I think. It was right then, it is right now. As long as we intervene, we are the glue that holds together the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the rest of them. I'm not sure they would stop fighting us entirely, but it would be much-much more manageable and also they would turn to their other enemies - the tyrannical Arab states, the Israelis, other people in the region. And it's better for those people to get killed than for Americans to be attacked and killed.
SS: Alright. Mr. Scheuer, thank you for this wonderful interview, we were talking to Michael Scheuer, veteran CIA officer, who used to head the Agency's Bin Laden unit, discussing the CIA's role in the American power balance and its influence on a country's politics. That's it for this edition of SophieCo, I will see you next time.