I kept asking myself, why would Senator Feinstein approve a “report” whose main effect inevitably would be to damage America? And it occurred to me that it might be a mistake to try to understand this bizarre event in the usual context of domestic politics. It probably belongs to a different realm of analysis: national security, international affairs, and espionage. Maybe that was really the point of the operation.
It benefits our enemies, after all. It undermines other countries’ willingness to share information, and to work with us “in the field.” Anyone who takes life seriously must acknowledge that, quite aside from the merits of the “case” brought by Democrat staffers on the Senate Intel Committee, we’ve been damaged. It’s not the first time, but it hurts — it hurts even those of us who are not great admirers of CIA, and maybe it will hurt a lot more.
As Andy McCarthy puts it:
It has been one thing to tell our ascendant enemies — in actions and omissions that speak louder than words — that we have no stomach to fight them where they must be fought: on the ground where, we know, given time and space, they plot to kill Americans. It is quite another thing to buoy them with the assurance that a major party in this country has a bottomless appetite to fight Americans whose major allegiance is to America.
Time will tell.
It’s not the only case of its kind. I hope you noticed the news that German investigators have been unable to find any evidence that NSA actually snooped on Chancellor Merkel. You’ll recall that this explosive and very damaging allegation came from Edward Snowden, whose enormous dump of classified information has, we are reliably told, wreaked terrible havoc on the intelligence community.
Now it turns out that the top German prosecutor is considering the possibility that Snowden’s “NSA document” is a phony. Indeed, he seems to be certain it is:
the document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database.
There is no proof at the moment which could lead to charges that Chancellor Merkel’s phone connection data was collected or her calls tapped.
If that is confirmed, it will automatically throw a veil of doubt over other stuff Snowden claims to have stolen from NSA. In like manner, if, after five years of investigations, the Feinstein “report” contains false allegations, it undermines the whole thing.
Remember that the bulk of the Feinstein “report” is still classified, and that CIA officials are sticking by their claims that there are all manner of false allegations in the report.
So we’ve got two recent blows to our most important intelligence agencies, and for all we know the world-wide scandals, demonstrations, editorials and opinion pieces are based on bogus information. Maybe that bogus stuff is accidental, the result of the human errors that define our existence. But maybe it’s deliberate…after all, we’re in pain but others are popping corks.
How to think my way out of all these questions? I’m not smart enough, so I dialed up the greatest expert, the late James Jesus Angleton, who years ago headed CIA counterintelligence. Happily, my (very) unreliable ouija board worked right away, and there was Angleton (I’ve never been quite sure about the location of “there” and don’t expect to find out), raspy voice and all (he seems to have access to Camel cigarettes, or maybe his later favorites, Virginia Slims).
JJA: How goes it?
ML: We’re all fine, thanks. So far, so good. Got some good cigars the other day, a newish label with a bit of Peruvian tobacco blended with the usual Dominican and Nicaraguan stuff. Tasty!
JJA: I’ll have to look for that.
ML: You’ll love it!
JJA: Much obliged.
ML: I need some help understanding the Feinstein report on the CIA. She had to know it was very damaging to the country, didn’t she? And there’s no reason to think she was trying to accomplish some “worthy” objective, was there? So why?
JJA: Well let’s first underline your last point: the missing “worthy” objective. What’s the dog-that-didn’t-bark in this story? Answer: there are no recommendations. None at all. It’s striking, to me at least, that after producing thousands of pages of text, and bemoaning the Agency’s interrogation methods, there’s no call for new laws, or even for punishments of the “guilty” parties.
ML: Right. So why?
JJA: You answer it yourself with your first question. It was released to damage the country.
ML: She wanted to damage America? That’s hard to believe.
JJA: There are lots of people who think, in good faith, that confession of sins is both good for the soul and good for the body politic. The better to repent and improve oneself. It’s a version of American exceptionalism. Nobody else believes in it, but we believe, and actually do it. I had some unpleasant experiences with people of that ilk.
ML: Senator Church?
JJA: Uh huh. And Bill Colby.
ML: Ah yes. I rather thought you’d consider the possibility that some foreign intelligence service was involved in the Feinstein event.
JJA: Obviously. I see you mentioned Snowden earlier in this blog. Adults have to believe that Snowden was acting under the influence–and perhaps at the behest–of the Russian intelligence service, in order to advance Russian objectives, right? So how did that work, exactly?
ML: I don’t think we know that. And even if we did, we wouldn’t likely tell the world how we did, because that would…
JJA: Yeah, jeopardize sources and methods. But we can speculate, based on a lot that we do know. First, we know that Russian espionage is rampant in the West, probably equal to what it was at the height of the Cold War. A lot, in other words. Second, we know they and their allies–Cuba, for example– have succeeded in penetrating the US government. So start there.
ML: OK, there are Russian and Cuban and certainly Iranian spies here in town. Spying on us, stealing our secrets.
JJA: And manipulating us. When you recruit an agent, information flows both ways. You get secrets from your enemies, and you get to inject stuff into their body of knowledge. You can feed them things that will affect the way they view the world. And your agent can then report the results back to you: did your input work or not?
ML: So “false facts” might be deliberately planted, right?
JJA: Indeed. That’s what makes agents of influence so important. Those false facts might have many different purposes. Take the Germany/NSA story. It enraged the German chancellor and her whole government. It put a very important American alliance at risk. It undoubtedly convinced at least some German intel officers to punish us by withholding sensitive information, say, about Russian activities in Ukraine or Syria. And notice that you didn’t even have to have an agent in Berlin to pull it off, all you needed to do was to plant a bogus document in the Snowden files. It might also have been an attempt to shut down or at least sidetrack a joint German/US operation that was close to identifying a Russian agent inside one of the governments, or in NATO. I have no idea.
Now look at the Feinstein report from that angle. If you were running Russian operations in Washington, you’d have done your utmost to recruit people in the executive branch, and also on Capitol Hill, especially those working for the intelligence oversight committees. You’d be looking for people who are unhappy with agencies like CIA and NSA. Yes, you’d be using other recruitment tools as well–sex and money are the most useful–but getting a recruit who’s with you politically and ideologically is a real bargain. Historically they’ve worked out very well, don’t I know it?
ML: Yeah, Comrade Philby and the others…so maybe someone, say, on the Feinstein staff, might have been keen to damage CIA?
JJA: Well the two key staffers did steal material from CIA didn’t they?
ML: Huh? What?
JJA: Just read your Washington Post:
In 2010, Jones and his colleagues came across a key CIA document — an internal agency inventory of records that seemed to corroborate the Senate panel’s findings. Created at the direction of then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, the inventory was not meant to be shared with the Senate.
Committee staffers printed and removed the document, taking it to the Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill, where they placed it in a safe.
It was a heist. They weren’t supposed to see it in the first place–which raises the usual questions: did they just come across it, or were they tipped off to look for it, or what?
ML: I remember that CIA accused them of hacking, but I guess it was just petty larceny. And so?
JJA: And so it suggests a certain degree of hostility. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that the Russians had recruited Senate staffers. There’s no basis for that. I’m just answering your good question in a way that will show you how a counterintelligence professional would likely approach the issue.
At which point the usual static started up, a sure sign I was going to lose him.
ML: And Feinstein herself?
JJA: Lots of senators have worked closely with the Kremlin. Ted Kennedy for one. I doubt she has that sort of relationship.
ML: So she probably got there all by herself?
JJA: Who knows? She is obviously very angry, at the CIA, and at her country…
Smoke was pouring out of the ouija board…
ML: Why do you say that?
JJA: That’s…how you get…to be a useful idiot…sometimes.
And he was gone.