Although there are strong indications the Obama administration abused intelligence collection by U.S. agencies to gather information on the Trump campaign to leak to the news media, it also appeared to abuse another U.S. intelligence mission: intelligence analysis.
Congressional Democrats and the mainstream media consider it gospel truth that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump win. But should we treat this assessment as true in light of major errors in U.S. intelligence analysis in the past and its politicization? Is something gospel truth just because U.S. intelligence agencies say it is?
The truth is that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies did not conclude that Russia tried to interfere in the election or help Trump win. Not even close.
What Intelligence Has Really Confirmed About Russia
U.S. intelligence agencies issued two assessments on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The first was an October 7 statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that said WikiLeaks disclosures of Democratic emails during the election were “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts” but did not say there was any evidence of Russian involvement.
Moreover, although this statement said the U.S. intelligence community held this position, the memo was issued by only two agencies, and was called a “Joint DHS and ODNI Election Security Statement.” Hillary Clinton seized on this statement in the last presidential debate on October 19 by inaccurately claiming “We have 17, 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin.”
The fact that this memo was not an intelligence community document issued by all agencies with equities in this issue was very unusual. It also was suspicious that an unclassified intelligence analysis so advantageous to one presidential candidate was issued just before the election and only two weeks before the last presidential debate. In my view, this looked like looked like a clumsy attempt by the Obama White House to issue an intelligence assessment to boost Clinton’s presidential campaign and hurt the Trump campaign.
The second intelligence assessment on this question, issued on January 6, 2017, I believe represents a serious instance of a presidential administration manipulating U.S. intelligence analysis to issue a politicized analysis to sabotage an incoming president from a different political party. The January 6 analysis found that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and hurt Hillary’s candidacy to promote Trump. The assessment said this interference came at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What About All the Missing Intelligence Agencies?
Like the October memo, congressional Democrats and the news media have said this was the unanimous conclusion of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. But also like the October memo, this was not the case. The January 6 assessment was an “Intelligence Community Assessment.” Such analyses are usually issued and cleared by most if not all U.S. intelligence agencies and have a statement on the first page that usually reads “this is an IC-coordinated assessment.”
The January 6 Intelligence Community Assessment lacked such a statement because it reflected the views of only three U.S. intelligence agencies: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Security Agency. The CIA and FBI concluded with high confidence that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win. NSA concluded this with moderate confidence.
Why did other U.S. intelligence agencies with major equities in this issue not participate in the January 6 assessment? Why were the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security part of the October assessment but not the January one? Where were the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the military intelligence agencies?
The January assessment also was very unusual because it was such a conclusive analysis of a very controversial subject with no dissenting views. Based on my CIA experience, this is unprecedented and makes me wonder whether intelligence agencies that may have dissented were deliberately excluded.
There also is the question as to whether this assessment was written to conform to a predetermined conclusion by the Obama White House to undermine the Trump administration. The U.S. intelligence community has played political games like this before with interagency assessments to promote political agendas. One of the most notorious examples of this was the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program that was intended to undermine President Bush’s Iran policy.
There Are Indications Intelligence Has Been Politicized
CIA Director John Brennan’s role in approving this assessment raises serious questions about whether it was manipulated for political reasons. Brennan has been heavily criticized for politicizing intelligence for the Obama administration. This includes the role he played in the 2012 CIA talking points on the Benghazi terrorist attacks. He also has been openly and extremely hostile toward Trump before and after the election.
Given FBI Director James Comey’s statements at a recent House Intelligence Committee hearing that the conclusion in the January 6 assessment that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump was based on logic and not evidence, it is hard to believe this was not a pre-cooked conclusion driven by the highly partisan Brennan.
I strongly believe that if there were any evidence that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win, or that Russia and the Trump campaign collaborated to affect the outcome of the election, this intelligence would have been leaked by Obama holdovers in government and the so-called “Deep State” to The New York Times long ago. The fact that Comey could not point to such evidence and this information has not been leaked suggests there is no such evidence because this didn’t happen.
The current congressional investigations of possible Russian interference in the election and the Obama administration’s misuse of U.S. intelligence collection to surveil the Trump campaign must also include whether intelligence analysis was politicized to damage Trump’s candidacy and presidency. These investigations must look at how the above analyses were drafted, who drafted them, and why some agencies did not participate. The committees also need to uncover any evidence of the White House trying to influence the outcome of these assessments or excluding certain agencies from participating.
It is time to call out Democrats and reporters who portray the idea that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win as established truth because it is the unanimous assessment of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. I expect the congressional investigations will conclude this claim is false and actually represented a deliberate effort to manipulate intelligence analysis to undermine the Trump presidency.