A recent CIA briefing given to the Senate indicating that the Russian intelligence services sought to manipulate US elections to favor President Elect Donald Trump has ignited a firestorm across the political spectrum, however, it also signals something far more perilous: a brewing civil war between the incoming president and what will be his primary source of strategic intelligence: the CIA.
The debate goes back and forth about what the Russians did or did not do regarding the hacking of emails from the DNC and Hillary’s campaign chief of staff John Podesta. This article will not delve too deeply into the technical details as others in the intelligence community with access to the requisite information will be charged with sorting out what happened. Rather, we will look at what could become a serious rift between Trump and the CIA, one that could lead to an outright revolt within our government.
In the face of the CIA’s claims of Russian malfeasance in US presidential elections, Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to bemoan the CIA as getting it wrong, the same way they did with WMDs in Iraq back in 2003. Whether or not the CIA was the agency that “got it wrong” on that issue is debatable as the Bush administration had already made a policy decision and then forced intelligence to fit their narrative.
“It’s a dangerous game to play to badmouth your own intelligence agency, especially when it is reporting on threats to American democracy,” former CIA case officer Jeff Butler told SOFREP. “The problem is Trump is taking it personally. He ought to say, ‘if this is true, we will address it and make sure foreign nations do not interfere in our elections.’”
Former CIA Operations Officer James Powell commented that such public criticism from Trump is not recommended because, “despite our credo that we do not shape policy and only inform it, it may and more likely will, influence future reporting a la WMD’s and Iraq (though probably not on that scale). The scary question to me is in which direction will this ‘silent influence’ go if it involves issues like Russia?”
The CIA’s future relationship with the incoming president will depend heavily on Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. Seeking diplomatic relations and enhanced cooperation with the Russians is perfectly acceptable to CIA staff, but if Trump takes it a few steps further, he will be facing an insurrection within his own intelligence agency.
Determining the truth behind the e-mail leaks is important, but it must also be realized that whatever the facts of the matter, there is a sizable faction within the CIA that has long believed that Trump’s presidential campaign was completely infiltrated by Russian intelligence. Likewise, Trump has every incentive to defend his election to the most powerful office in the world as being completely legitimate, despite claiming that the election was rigged during his campaign.
While the Trump White House is still taking shape, early communication from a SOFREP source indicates that the Trump administration plans to reverse course in Syria, abandoning Obama’s position of regime change that would remove President Assad. This would also include working with the Russian military in Syria in order to facilitate a joint military solution for defeating ISIS, Al-Nusra, and other Jihadist groups.
If such a deal with the Russians came to involve some type of quid pro quo, senior staff at the CIA could potentially go to war with the White House. For instance, if a joint operations base with the Russians is opened in Syria or if the Russians agree to work with and coordinate with American forces in the region, but in exchange for the CIA scaling down their counter-Russian activities in Eastern Europe. At this point, such arrangements are hypothetical but these fears exist within segments of the intelligence community.
In the near future, Donald Trump will have to walk a fine line on two fronts. Finding an acceptable political and military solution to the crisis in Syria is one. During the campaign he promised to defeat ISIS, and do it fast. At the same time, President Elect Trump will have to find a way to come to terms with his own intelligence service.
From a Russian perspective, the entire debate about the DNC email hacks are irrelevant from a factual standpoint. For Russia, all that matters is that the debate is taking place. Russian intelligence seeks to take advantage of pre-existing fissures in American society, exacerbating them using fairly sophisticated influence operations. To this end, intelligence services could seek to deepen political rifts during elections, exaggerate racial tensions in places like Ferguson in Russian state-run media, and snuggle up to groups that challenge the US government like Occupy Wall Street.
Inserting true information (DNC emails in this case) into a society, knowing that the society will react in a manner which favors Russian strategy follows an intelligence doctrine studied by Russian intelligence for over forty years called reflexive control theory.
At this point, no matter what happens, Russia wins. The longer the American political elite spend fighting each other the better. But a full-scale revolt between the CIA and the American president, one in which they hurl insults at each other in public and selectively leak information to the media? Now that’s a dream come true for the Kremlin.
Image courtesy of CNN Money