The Predicament of the US Intelligence Community

The recent release of the summary report by Special Counsel Mueller, who investigated the alleged connections between President Trump and Russia, has launched the US intelligence community into a spin. Special review by Brig. Gen. (res.) Hannan Gefen

Photo: AP

The summary report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated the alleged connections between US President Donald Trump and his people and the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his people, has determined that no such connections existed. This has opened a Pandora's Box whose findings will point the finger of blame at the US intelligence community and the US Department of Justice.

The investigation started because of a dubious dossier of "intelligence documents" compiled by a former MI6 officer, which contained material that raised suspicions about President Trump maintaining a cooperative alliance with the Russians, and the Russians possessing incriminating material and leverage on the President. The dossier had been prepared at the request of parties associated with the election campaign of the Democratic Party.

Between June and December 2016, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele submitted 17 memoranda to members of the US Democratic Party. He alleged that the memoranda had been collected by his sources in Russia. When questioned about the reliability of the information later on, he responded that he would not vouch for its credibility. Naturally, thus far he has not divulged the identity of his sources to the FBI or to any other authority.

The memoranda unveiled an alleged Russian "plan" to bring about the election of Donald Trump, thereby making Trump obliged to the Russians once he has been elected. The memoranda described an extensive system of connections between Trump and his people and the top echelon at the Kremlin; attempts by Russian oligarchs to recruit people from Trump's inner circle and other embarrassing information that could be exploited for extortion purposes. The documents were leaked in January 2017 by the initiators of the dossier, in their entirety, to the US media.

A review of the documents raises a strong suspicion that they were, in fact, a fabrication of a particularly low, even insulting standard. The memoranda provided full answers to questions asked by the financing parties and rely on sources that cannot be verified.

Anyone who ever collected materials from open sources in Russian websites and other websites is familiar with this type of gossip information. Any intelligence professional should have become suspicious and checked the sources of the information: the answers were provided immediately after the project had been ordered; no western intelligence service has succeeded in verifying even a small portion of the information or in obtaining similar information; the FBI had employed the British agent in the past as a source in the investigation into the corruption at FIFA – the international football association; the FBI severed its connections with the Briton after his conduct indicated reliability problems; one last point – the intelligence documents were endorsed by the heads of the US Intelligence Community, even though they had admitted the material was problematic.

James Comey, the Director of the FBI in those days, presented the dossier to President Obama and to President-Elect Trump. Through this presentation, the FBI implied that even though the dossier appeared to be problematic and was based on sources that could not be verified, the Bureau was investigating the matter. The dossier clouded the relations between President Trump and the Director of the FBI. The FBI eschewed the President's attempts to convince the Bureau to issue an announcement that would express reservations regarding the contents of the dossier. Eventually, the President fired James Comey.

John Brennan, the Director of the CIA during the Obama Presidency, and James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, announced that even though substantial portions of the documents had not been verified – they stood behind them. The President responded by revoking Brennan's security clearance. Pursuant to the dismissal of the Director of FBI, the Department of Justice appointed Special Counsel Mueller to investigate the alleged Russian involvement in the presidential elections.

At the same time, a team from the Inspector General's office at the US Department of Justice found WhatsApp correspondence by senior FBI officials, during and after the election period, which reflected a strong resentment of candidate Donald Trump and intentions to organize and prepare for his possible election, including statements indicating an intention and need to impeach the president. Those were the same people who initiated and conducted the investigation into the Steele documents.

The lion's share of the correspondence consisted of messages exchanged between the Deputy Director of the FBI and the Assistant Director of the Bureau's Counterintelligence Division and a senior legal counsel. There were also exchanges between senior counsel in the Department of Justice and the author of the report on maintaining the channels of reporting to the FBI after the dismissal of the two aforementioned officials.

Unfortunately for the Special Counsel, the same people, who were against Trump, played a leading role in the investigation team he assembled to investigate the alleged cooperation between the President and his staff and the Russians. They were dismissed from the investigation team immediately following the uncovering of the WhatsApp correspondence.

Among the activities they managed before their dismissal: they systematically leaked information to the media (they argued that the CIA had also leaked information on the matter); they brought about the dismissal of Michael Flynn, Trump's National Security Advisor, following an incomplete report he submitted during his investigation. The investigator was, of course, the abovementioned Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. Additionally, they endeavored to obtain a wiretap order for a consultant in the President's election staff on the basis of the Steele Documents, without divulging the sources of the dossier and apparently while misleading the court at the time when the wiretap order was issued.

Revelations & Dismissals

Following the revelation, the Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division was dismissed and the legal counsel left the Bureau. The Deputy Director of the FBI, who was in charge of the above team, was dismissed and, following a decision by the Attorney General, he would not receive a pension. This decision is particularly strict, as the man was only days away from entitlement. At the same time, other senior officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice were dismissed.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, formerly the Director of the FBI, issued indictments only in connection with the Russian cyber activity – which does not pertain to the President and his people. The preventive and spotting activity was carried out, in effect, as part of the normal routine of the cybersecurity organs, and was not the outcome of the special investigation, even though the indictments were served on behalf of the Special Counsel.

The attempts of the Special Counsel and US intelligence to verify allegations included in a document against activists in President Trump's staff came to nothing. Indictments were served on issues associated with financial conduct and tax evasion. One junior activist, who, at the outset of the affair, was described as a major channel in the Trump-Putin connection, was sentenced to 14 days' imprisonment for inaccurate statements made during his investigation by FBI. Another activist, portrayed as a chief liaison to the Russian oligarchs, was the subject of wiretapping that produced nothing. This man now appears in interviews for the US media and mocks the allegations against him.

President Trump's National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, was charged with obstructing information during an FBI investigation. This issue is the subject of controversy within the Bureau. As a result of the accusations, Flynn was forced to resign. In view of subsequent developments and the dismissal of FBI officials, the charges may be dropped or exchanged for a less serious administrative clause.

It should be noted that the FBI has already made some changes within its ranks following the dismissal of the senior officials who were involved in the management of the case during the first stage.

Pursuant to the release of the conclusions of the Special Counsel, the heads of the US intelligence community will probably be required to provide answers to the two houses and to the American public regarding what appears to be an intelligence blunder of the same order of magnitude as the investigations conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s. The same McCarthy became the symbol of the American fear of Communism spreading in the USA.