The Situation Report: From Scorned DIA Chief to Trump’s Intelligence Gatekeeper

CIA historians have written entire books on how agency officials and analysts should get to know different presidents and how to most effectively communicate vital intelligence information to the most powerful person in the world.

But there’s no chapter (yet) in the CIA’s Getting to Know the President that could possibly prepare career intelligence professionals for President-elect Donald Trump’s inclination to publicly call into question the value and integrity of the analysis of our nation’s intelligence services. And that’s exactly what the tweeter in chief did on Tuesday.

But what’s really behind this very public rebuke? The truth is it has very little to do with the intelligence collected on Russian hacking activities. What Americans are watching play out 140 characters at a time, according to current and former intelligence professionals interviewed by The Situation Report, is a distasteful game of political retribution orchestrated by Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn.

Intelligence community veterans who spoke to The Situation Report paint a disturbing picture of a Trump national security team, led by Flynn, that is deeply skeptical of the CIA’s track record during the Obama administration—so skeptical, in fact, that Friday’s scheduled briefing on Russian hacking activities has already been discounted as little more than a political ploy.

Many of those same officials—all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject matter—describe an already tumultuous web of relationships among the most senior intelligence agency heads. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who is leading the review of Russian hacking activities, fired Flynn in 2014 largely because of Flynn’s tendency to bully anybody (including the White House) who didn’t agree with his hyper-partisan assessments. Clapper also recently tried to fire NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, who sources say is likely to retire to pursue the DNI position under Trump.

But it was Flynn who rode the right coattails to victory and it is Flynn who now serves as the intelligence gatekeeper for Trump.

“Trump is rightfully concerned,” said a former intelligence official who expressed support for Flynn. “He doesn’t know who’s friend or foe in the intelligence community right now. Clearly the intelligence community missed it on ISIS. They have been wrong on a lot of things and they don’t want to admit it. What have they got right? It’s a pretty short list.”

A former senior official who served at a major intelligence agency said Flynn, the former director of intelligence at the Joint Special Operations Command under Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has a valid point about the quality of the intelligence he saw coming from the national intelligence community when he was in Iraq. “He wasn’t a happy consumer of intelligence and I don’t necessarily disagree with him,” the official said.

But the man who some see as a talented maverick with a reputation for straight talk is seen by others as just another “embittered ex-staffer.” And that, combined with his position as Trump’s national security adviser, makes him a dangerous wild card.

“I think Flynn has Al Haig written all over him,” said a former CIA officer, referring to former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, a retired Army general who famously put himself in charge of the White House when President Ronald Reagan was shot. “Flynn got fired and he’s pissed off. The national security adviser always controls how much access the intelligence community gets to the president. And Flynn is shitting all over the intelligence community right now.”

For some veteran intelligence community members, that’s exactly what needs to happen. “Until the intelligence community purges itself of these very narrow-minded bureaucrats, we’re going to keep being wrong,” said an official supportive of Flynn’s approach. “And I don’t blame Trump for not wanting to be wrong.”

A former senior agency leader who knew Flynn when he served in government offered a word of caution about the maverick former general. “I always thought he was a mustang, but that he also needed to be managed,” the official said. “He was doing all of the right things, but it was the way he went about doing them.”

That has a former CIA officer very worried. “You are one GS-12 officer away from a fuck-up every day. I swear to God this is going to come back to bite Trump in the ass. The problem with Flynn is simple: ‘Fuck you’ is not a policy.”

5 Comments
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    Good post Dan. I would quibble with you where you state your sources "..paint a disturbing picture of a Trump national security team." Your sources seem to be more evenly split about Flynn, but kudos to you for reporting both sides. Up to now, the public has seen no real evidence that shows Russia was instrumental in the "hacking" of the DNC or Podesta emails. The Podesta emails were a simple phishing attack that anyone could have performed - no sophisticated tools required for that. The DNC hack used an outdated Ukranian malware kit that was readily available on the internet. Many of the IP addresses identified in the joint DHS/FBI report are known addresses of hosting providers. Latest revelation (if it is true), no one from the US intelligence agencies actually got their hands on DNC equipment to perform their own independent analysis. They are simply basing the technical conclusions from the CrowdStrike report who was hired by and paid by the DNC. From a technical perspective of we have seen, I would argue not only Trump but the American people should be very skeptical. Maybe the report next week will change my mind as Clapper "pushes the envelope".
  2. Anonymous | - Reply
    The majority of the opinions expressed in this article regarding General Flynn read as largely supportive of his skepticism with the intelligence agencies performance. So it is pretty outrageous to label this as a personal vendetta and political payback.
  3. Anonymous | - Reply
    Agreed, good post Dan. And well said, "Anon @ Jan 6, 2017 AT *8:01 AM"... I'm very close to this subject, and you are so accurate in all of the points you make. The difficult thing to discern: was their sole reliance on the CrowdStrike report a matter of laziness or divisive politics. I believe US citizens believe it as the latter, and that is the largest part of the problem. There were many technical flaws in the prior report including the mincing of unrelated actors and vector terminology, where industry experts read as a sophomoric attempt to force a conclusion (bought and paid for). I think Flynn will get things right and will do well. To be a fly on Trump's SCIF wall today = priceless. Trump's body language today will tell it all...
  4. Dan Verton | - Reply
    Thanks for the Feedback folks. Good points all around.
  5. Anonymous | - Reply
    Great and balanced reporting. Conclusions should include that there is at least a disagreement concerning how intelligence is conducted and whether or not our intelligence agencies and leadership have become to dangerously partisan where US National Security is concerned. Trust is earned and validated by results. US National Security has been placed at risk and requires re-basing on principles that reinforce the security of US interests at home and internationally. Properly conducted, there should be no argument over where the data leads to produce evidence. There seems to be a political climate that permits superficial and symptomatic information to replace the diligence to unearth the data required. All of this is directly attributable to leadership and direction not founded on the principles that should be bipartisan and unashamedly protective of the US Constitution.

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