The President-Elect’s First War

By Andrej Mrevlje |

As I write this, the battle for control over the country’s intelligence agencies rages on. There is chaos in Washington, D.C., where Congress is back in session and the signals coming from Trump Tower are already colliding with the government.

Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee interrogated Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who reiterated that Russian agents interfered in the U.S. election and dismissed the credibility of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a day after the president-elect appeared to back Assange over the Intelligence Community.

Today, the bosses of the CIA, FBI and the other 15 agencies that comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) will meet the president-elect in Trump Tower. They will listen to his position and to why he thinks that Russia was not involved in spying on the Democrats and meddling with the elections. Then somebody — probably Clapper — will take his testimony and add it to the IC’s findings. I would love to be a fly on the wall and listen to this confrontation. Unfortunately, the doors will be sealed so tight that even a small fly like me would never be able to enter.

As Clapper promised yesterday in the Senate, his office is preparing a detailed unclassified report on the matter so that the public will know the actual state of things. At this point, it is reasonable to ask if Trump’s transition team will also publish his version of the story. I honestly doubt it. A tweet or two perhaps?

All this is happening just two weeks before  Donald Trump is to be sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States. On that very day, Trump hopes to raise $75 million for his inauguration parade and other festivities for the occasion. With all the cash pouring in, Trump will also be celebrating his first presidential business deal. But the morning after the parade, the streets in Washington, D.C. will be taken over by one million women who plan to march against the newly installed president even before he has the chance to sign his first presidential order. That is how Trump’s presidency will start — and probably how it will continue for the rest of his time in the White House. Especially if Congress and the future White House can’t decide who controls the army of American spies. The drama keeps the country in suspense. At this point, nobody can predict whether Trump’s America will lift off and fly or hit a wall and crash like a heavy truck.

In mid-November, I started to wonder what was happening. I realized that we did not have any idea of what was to come as we watched the president-elect receiving and vetting candidates for his cabinet during that rainy weekend in New Jersey. Every now and then, Trump would appear at the doorstep of his golf club villa, wave to the press, shake hands with visiting dignitaries like Mitt Romney and James Mattis, and then disappear into the house after giving a thumbs up to the press.

It was on that day — when many of us were thinking that Romney would, after all, be a better choice for Secretary of State than Rudy Giuliani — that we got hit over the head with a tweet that arrived from  Moscow. “Romney is a sideshow. The real story you’re not hearing about is a revolt within the US Intelligence Community,” Edward Snowden tweeted.

What the hell? Don’t they have a firewall in Russia? And since Snowden attached a link to a piece from the Washington Post, I almost started to think of Russia as a free country.

But where should I look? I thought, taking Snowden seriously. Soon after this first tweet, there was another one that included a quote from another piece that appeared in the Washington Post that same day. Snowden even added his own highlights:

Instead, in the past year and a half, officials have discovered two major compromises of sensitive hacking tools by personnel working at the NSA’s premier hacking unit: the Tailored Access Operations (TAO). One involved a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, Harold T. Martin III, who is accused of carrying out the largest theft of classified government material. … But there was a second, previously undisclosed breach of cybertools, discovered in the summer of 2015, which was also carried out by a TAO employee, one official said. That individual also has been arrested, but his case has not been made public. The individual is not thought to have shared the material with another country, the official said.

Snowden’s underlining felt like it came from some personal vendetta, pointing out that the NSA continues to have security issues. The piece that Snowden tweeted reveals the wrongdoings of one of the potential candidate for the president-elect’s future cabinet. It’s the story of Admiral Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, who met with Donald Trump without notifying anyone — apparently to discuss a future job with him. As the Washington Post reported in the aforementioned article:

The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed. …

Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

This intrigue never came to a conclusion, since Rogers is still in his position as the head of NSA, while it’s obvious that he will not replace James Clapper as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in Trump’s cabinet. Rogers probably won’t work for Trump at all. Was it because of a divide between the two? Because Rogers, unlike Trump, believes that Russia interfered with the U.S. elections that brought Trump to power?

In the same Washington Post piece, there was also a hint that Rogers was perhaps trading some information with Trump and was responsible for the breaches that pushed Snowden to tweet us his hints.

So where do we stand now? As the D-Day of learning who the real Donald Trump is approached, the atmosphere is getting even more heated. The polarization between what seems to be the leftover establishment and the ever-increasing, bulldozing power of the president-elect is reaching the point of no return. When the president-elect openly praises a person like Julian Assange for disputing U.S. intelligence reports that Russia strategically hacked and leaked internal emails from top Democratic sources, then a strange new coalition begins — one that includes everybody from Sarah Palin to Julian Assange, and from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin. Even people who apparently support Edward Snowden.

This increasing confrontation between the Intelligence Community and Trump’s new regime in the making has finally been translated into an article that appeared on Wednesday night in the Wall Street Journal:

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said.

The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said.

The planning comes as Mr. Trump has leveled a series of social-media attacks in recent months and the past few days against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and mocking their assessment that Russia stole emails from Democratic groups and individuals and then provided them to WikiLeaks for publication in an effort to help Mr. Trump win the White House.

One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment.

It’s just as Snowden tweeted! The Intelligence Community is rebelling, while the president-elect is convinced that he needs a firm grip over the Community — which, according to him, needs to become less politicized and more obedient. “Among those helping lead Mr. Trump’s plan to revamp the intelligence agencies is his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who had served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until he was pushed out by Mr. Clapper and others in 2014. Also involved in the planning is Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), whom Mr. Trump selected as CIA director,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

We do not know whether the Intelligence Community’s rebellion against Trump is due to ideological or operative differences. Do they know something that nobody else does? What are Trump’s plans and goals? Who are his allies? Does he have a strategy? Will he be able to change the rusty old establishment? Or have the CIA, FBI, and DNI seen a ghost that scared them? Perhaps they’ve seen something about the president-elect’s real intentions — something completely overboard? If so, who is the planner? Is it Trump or the people that stand in the shadows that surround him?

All this is very intriguing. On the one hand, it would be interesting to see what Trump’s intentions are. But on the contrary, once he gets the upper hand, it will be hard to stop him. That is now the name of the game. So far, what we do know for a fact is that the president-elect wants to have very tight control over intelligence and the repressive apparatus of the country — perhaps as a tool. But a tool to do what?

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