Trump Took Too Long to Revamp the CIA and Fire the FBI Chief
A covert alliance between political opposition forces, media and intelligence service elites for eviscerating a US administration – and eventually bringing the president down – is a rare occurrence in American history. But this is what is happening now. The three confederates have hit on the “Russian syndrome” as their most effective weapon for derailing Donald Trump’s presidency, preferably before he settles in at the Oval Office.
President Trump, either through inexperience or underestimating the strength of the forces ranged against him, played into their hands when he and his advisers started out by brushing aside the intelligence community and underestimating the debilitating impact of their leaks. He was confident he could outmaneuver the opposition by forging advantageous deals with Vladimir Putin for setting out a rational division of the world into spheres of influence. To this end, he sought understandings with Moscow in three fields:
1. Agreed spheres of influence in contested arenas like Syria and Ukraine – on land and sea. In Syria, he adopted the secret deal Barack Obama struck with Vladimir Putin in September 2015, which assigned regions east of the Euphrates River to American control and west of the river, to the Russians.
In the last fortnight, this understanding sprung its first crack when Russian special forces troops began moving east to aid the pro-Iranian Syrian push to the Iraqi border. (See a separate item.)
2. Co-opting Russia as America’s partner in the fight for eradicating the Islamic State. Putin has long harbored an ambition for equal partnership with the US against Islamist terror. His offer was repeatedly snubbed – first, by Bill Clinton in the 90s, when he offered Russian cooperation for the war on Al Qaeda, then by George W. Bush in the early 2000’s, and lastly, by Barack Obama who rejected and misled him over the 2011 Libyan war. Trump now stands willing to create a US-Russian partnership of equals in Syria.
3. The Russian president has long resented US interference in his country’s internal affairs, especially when they moralize on the state of human rights and democracy. He found assurance on this point in Trump’s speeches in Riyadh and Jerusalem this week, which emphasized that America had no wish to tell other countries how to live their lives or step in to dictate American values.
But Trump’s quest “to get along with Putin” was overtaken by the flood of damaging leaks from “anonymous sources” and has come close to upending his efforts to work with Russia for bringing the Syrian conflict to an end.
More recently, Trump tried hitting back at the “anonymous sources” hiding out mainly in two places:
a) He ordered the new CIA Director Mike Pompeo to start reorganizing the agency with a view to decapitating the leadership held over from the Obama administration.
Pompeo was told to focus on the Directorate of Operations, which was judged to be harboring the primary sources of the “anonymous leaks.”
This directorate’s elite spies and cover action specialists once made it the elite section of the service, until the Obama administration curtailed those functions, in favor of counterterrorism operations that centered on drone strikes for killing terrorist leaders. Director Pompeo has been working under the Washington radar to restore the Directorate to its former functions and so neutralize the Obama appointees.
Former CIA chief John Brennan’s role as a leading figure in the pro-Obama campaign to discredit Trump was not in doubt – certainly after his testimony on Tuesday, May 23 before the House Intelligence Committee. In reference to the 2016 campaign, he said he had been concerned by “a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Mr. Trump’s associates,” but then acknowledged that he “could not say definitively there was actual collusion” and admitted that those contacts might have been benign.
The White House called “Mr. Brennan’s testimony the latest example of a former official from the Obama administration describing great concern, but offering no public proof of wrongdoing.”
b) In dealing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Trump took the opposite course to the one he pursued in the CIA. Rather than purging the departments tasked with handling the Russian investigation, he fired the bureau’s director, James Comey. The president judged Comey to be a weak and unpredictable factor in the intelligence conspiracy against him, after his bizarre handling of Hillary Clinton’s email affair during the 2016 campaign. Comey then decided not to prosecute her for “reckless negligence” although the FBI Director is not authorized to make such decisions.
It turns out that Trump realizes belatedly that he erred in not dismissing Comey as soon as he entered the White House; by the time he got around to it, it was too late.
The pro-Obama and pro-Clinton factions still buried at the top levels of the American intelligence community are driving at full throttle in their campaign to trip Donald Trump up and encompass his impeachment. They are backed by his Democratic as well as his Republican, opponents. Brennan and Comey may have lost their jobs, but they still have their stings and control of “anonymous sources” as weapons.