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WMD, Part II: CIA “Cooked The Intelligence”

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WMD, Part II: CIA “Cooked The Intelligence” To Hide That Russia Favored Clinton, Not Trump In 2016

Matt Taibbi
Thu, Feb 15, 2:55 PM (1 day ago)

WMD, Part II: CIA “Cooked The Intelligence” To Hide That Russia Favored Clinton, Not Trump In 2016
Russia didn’t fear Hillary Clinton. “It was a relationship they were comfortable with,” some CIA analysts believed, but intelligence was suppressed. On the fall of the last great Russiagate myth
FEB 15

Former CIA Director John Brennan
It was all a lie.

The Trump-Russia scandal made its formal public launch on January 6th, 2017, when the office of then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper published an Intelligence Community Assessment, or ICA, dominating headlines and upending the incoming Donald Trump administration. The report declared Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” in the 2016 presidential election — they never used the word “interference” — to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton and “harm her electability,” thanks to a “clear preference for President-elect [Donald] Trump.”

It was powerful stuff. And dead wrong.

“They cooked the intelligence,” says a source close to a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia scandal, whose full findings have until now been blocked from release. “They made it look like Putin supported Trump,” the source added. “The evidence points the other way.”

The “cooked” January 6th, 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment. It never used the word “interference.”
The HPSCI investigators, who worked out of a “small office in Langley” and had broad access to classified documentation and witnesses from the CIA and other agencies, found U.S. intelligence analysts had “a lot of stuff about the Russians calling Trump ‘mercurial,’ ‘unreliable,’ and ‘not steady.’” On the other hand, the agency had information that Russians saw Hillary as “manageable and reflecting continuity. It was a relationship they were comfortable with.”

“We looked at the report and the sourcing they used to evaluate the sourcing,” we were told. “hen we dug further to look at the data available to them that they didn’t use, and it overwhelmingly contradicted their conclusions that Russia supported Trump.”

The effort to manufacture the Intelligence Community claim that Russians had a “clear preference” for Trump” was led by then-CIA Director John Brennan, whom sources also implicate in an unprecedented effort to place more than two dozen Trump aides and associates under surveillance prior to the election. U.S. intel leaders like Brennan coaxed foreign allies, particularly from so-called “Five Eyes” security partners like the United Kingdom, into “making contacts and bumping” Trump associates throughout 2016.

A crucial conclusion of the HPSCI investigators was that both the surveillance campaign and the rapidly assembled ICA were conducted for political reasons. This was not a national security investigation that turned political. It began as a political enterprise.

“They thought they could damage Trump,” the source said. “It had nothing to do with our relationship with Russia. It was just leveraging capabilities to undermine this rookie unprepared Trump campaign, because they were easy marks.”

This information squares with a report from a little-noticed interview of FBI Special Agent William Barnett, who was part of both the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe and the subsequent Special Counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller. On September 21, 2020, Barnett told investigators in a different review that the initial belief that the Trump campaign was “penetrated by Russians” was “opaque,” a case theory based on “supposition after supposition.” He described a lack of predication and a “get Trump” attitude among investigators, who were guided by what he called “astro projection,” which led them from dead end to dead end in an Ahab-like search for an elusive “quid pro quo.”

The information obtained by Public and Racket is based on information from three sources close to the HPSCI investigation, who described reports and internal documentation assiduously kept from the public for years. Though gathered by Republican-appointed investigators, the data came from the U.S. intelligence community’s own records of the Trump-Russia investigation, just like another probe conducted by the same office that has already been proven true – the FISA abuse investigation.

At the time of Trump’s inauguration, the House Intelligence Committee was chaired by California Republican Devin Nunes, who launched an inquiry into the Trump-Russia investigation in March of 2017. Within a year, this HPSCI team put out an initial “Nunes memo” describing FBI malfeasance in obtaining secret FISA surveillance on Trump figures like former aide Carter Page in the 2016 campaign. Though universally denounced by Democratic officials and media figures at the time of its publication in February 2018, the Nunes memo would be vindicated a year later by a scathing report on the same FISA abuses by Barack Obama’s appointee to Inspector General of the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, appointed by Barack Obama in 2012, confirmed the work of HPSCI investigators in a 2019 report
The Nunes memo dealt a blow to the credibility of the Trump-Russia investigation and the infamous “Steele Dossier” reports, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign firm, Perkins Coie. However, the 2018 memo only represented a share of the HPSCI team’s work, as intelligence officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations blocked release of other conclusions. In particular, results of a “3,000 hour” investigation into the creation of Brennan’s Intelligence Community Assessment have been in a “vault in the CIA” since 2018.

“We had two teams. There was the larger team back at the ranch at [HPSCI] headquarters, doing our thing with the depositions and fighting DOJ,” says former Principal Deputy to the Acting Director of National Intelligence Kash Patel, who led the overall HPSCI probe. “Then we had a couple of IC subject matter folks that were reviewing everything that happened, specific to the ICA that Brennan had authorized.”

The smaller group of “IC subject matter folks” worked out of that small office at CIA headquarters, with “ingress and egress” strictly controlled by the Agency. This unit’s work on Brennan’s Assessment resulted in a report of “about 18 pages,” written by four primary authors. The team also contributed materials that ended up in a binder that Trump tried to declassify in a frantic struggle in the waning days of his administration.

Patel two years ago told RealClearInvestigations that the release of this report describing “significant intelligence tradecraft failings” was blocked by former CIA director Gina Haspel, who played a significant part in this story. Haspel was CIA station chief in London in the summer of 2016, and the FBI could not open its “Crossfire Hurricane” probe of Trump in the U.K. without her help.

“If the FBI wants to go overseas, they have to get permission from the host nation,” says Patel. “And the way you do that is through the intelligence community.” Haspel of course became CIA Director in the summer of 2018.

Sources told Public and Racket that Brennan and the ICA authors “embellished” their conclusion by upgrading unreliable sources to reliable. Investigators found “3-4 instances” in which they couldn’t find a “credible historic reporting line” for sources in the ICA report, and found the “source rating” had been changed. Dissent, even within Brennan’s group of 24 “hand-picked” analysts — not from 17 agencies but just three — was overruled.

One former senior CIA official said such activity has to be weighed carefully. Elevating sources with little or no history could be a “mortal sin,” as it was in the WMD affair when negative information about the infamous “Curveball” source Rafid Ahmad Alwan was withheld. However, the official said it “also might not be” a sin, as the absence of a reporting line isn’t the same thing as the presence of negative information. You have to have “some flexibility… to tinker.”

However, multiple sources said Brennan’s exclusion of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research (INR) were and are red flags pointing to a manipulated conclusion.

“The real story is that Brennan and Clapper succeeded in marginalizing both the State Department and the DIA, which has primary responsibility for the GRU,” says former CIA official Ray McGovern.

Former Russian ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock in 2018 described being told by a “Senior official” that “the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research did, in fact, have a different opinion but was not allowed to express it.”

“State and Defense are the two big players,” agrees another former diplomat with a connection to the case. The CIA in recent times has occasionally kept State out of the loop out of concerns about leaks, but to keep out the DIA was “crazy,” the source said.

The story of a highly influential whitewashed intelligence product whose true conclusions only became known later is, of course, not new. This also happened in the WMD affair, when a politically charged intelligence report concluded that Saddam Hussein was intent on pursuing nuclear weapons. This allowed officials like then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to maintain the U.S. had “bulletproof” evidence of Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda. Not until 2015 – a dozen years after the fact – would it become known that the report said there was “no operational tie” between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

The declassified Iraq NIE
The novelty in the 2017 case is the use of an intelligence report to launch a domestic political operation, as opposed to a foreign invasion like Iraq. The ICA’s conclusion about Russia’s motives, and its inclusion of an appendix containing material from the controversial “Steele dossier,” became the pretext for four intelligence chiefs – Brennan, Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, and NSA chief Mike Rogers – to brief then-president-elect Trump on its contents.

However, there’s significant independent verification of the idea that the “Russia favored Trump” conclusion was indeed “cooked.” Former Director Brennan’s own book, Undaunted, describes how he not only overruled NSA director Mike Rogers but “two senior managers for the CIA mission center for Russia,” whom he decided had “not read all the available intelligence.”

It’s well-known that the NSA and Rogers never moved off their conclusion that there was not “sufficient evidence to support a high-confidence judgment that Russia supported Trump,” as Brennan put it. They expressed only “moderate” confidence in the idea.

Less well-remembered is that the FBI and then-director Comey appeared to change their minds. Days before the 2016 election, senior officials told the New York Times that the FBI was not only (correctly) disavowing reports of a “secret channel of email communication” between Trump and Russia’s Alfa Bank, but that “even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

In the first week of December, the CIA and FBI each gave secret briefings to the Senate. These presentations appeared to conflict so much on the question of whether or not the interference was to help Trump that the differing accounts were leaked to the Washington Post, which quickly published “FBI and CIA Give Differing Accounts on Russia’s Motives.”

A week later, on December 16th, 2016, the Post published a different story, called “FBI in agreement with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump,” announcing the FBI’s change of mind. Unnamed officials surfaced to explain that lawmakers who felt the FBI and CIA had differing accounts “misunderstood,” telling the paper, “The truth is they were never all that different in the first place.”

When Comey testified in the House and revealed the existence of an investigation into Trump in a blockbuster televised proceeding in March, 2020, he made a point of fixing the date of the FBI’s certainty about Russia’s motives in December 2016, i.e. after the election. This led to a little-noticed confrontation with former Texas Congressman Mike Conaway:

CONAWAY: The conclusion that active measures were taken specifically to help President Trump’s campaign, you had that — by early December, you already had that conclusion?

COMEY: Correct, that they wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him. I think all three we were confident in, at least as early as December.

CONAWAY: The paragraph that gives me a little concern there… I’m not sure if we went back and got that exact same January assessment six months earlier, it would’ve looked the same.

In sum, of the three agencies primarily responsible for the ICA, which was compiled in less than four weeks – Obama ordered the review on December 9th, 2016 – the NSA never supported the “high confidence” conclusion, the FBI appeared to change its mind, and two of Brennan’s own CIA analysts disagreed with the conclusion. In the end, the conclusion rested almost entirely on Brennan’s own judgment. Sources believe Brennan relied a great deal on one human asset, allegedly in Russia, who allegedly had access to the very desk of Vladimir Putin and was publicly described as “instrumental” to the CIA’s judgment on Russia’s motives.

This “highest level source for the US inside the Kremlin” was deemed so important that a high-level operation was apparently executed to “exfiltrate” him from Russia, reportedly – the story was leaked to CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others – out of fears for his life. The official was later identified by the Russian newspaper Kommersant as a mid-level diplomat named Oleg Smolenkov and was so frightened for his safety he bought a house under his own name in Stafford, Virginia, the news reaching the world via

The “Intelligence Community Assessment” is a relatively new product in the arsenal of the intelligence agencies. The old standard used to be the National Intelligence Estimate, used throughout the Cold War, often to inform Congress about national security trends. The NIE became a statutory responsibility of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) when the latter was created in 1979. NIEs looked “three to five years out,” as the former CIA official put it. A shorter paper called the Special National Intelligence Assessment, or SNIE, was created to fill demand for a more agile product looking 1-2 years into the future. Shorter still was the Intelligence Community Brief, or ICB, a six-page report with a quick turnaround that became more popular after 9/11.

The ICA rests between a SNIE and an ICB, a report of 20-30 pages that is supposed to comprise views of analysts from multiple agencies and “noting any disagreements in analytic judgements,” as the Congressional Research Service once wrote in a memo to Senator Dianne Feinstein. Disagreements do not appear to have been noted in this case.

Virtually every major contention of the original Russiagate probe has now been debunked, from the notion that the Trump campaign had a secret “back channel” to the Kremlin in 2016, to the idea that a Trump aide was an “agent of a foreign power,” to accusations of “collusion” with the GRU or Russian hackers. Even the idea of election “interference” in 2016 was largely a press fiction. As noted in the Columbia Journalism Review opus about the Trump-Russia scandal by Jeff Gerth, reporters from papers like the New York Times used phrases like “the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history,” and even the Pulitzer Committee commended prize-winning Times and Post reporters for their coverage of “Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connection to the Trump campaign.”

Not even Brennan’s team ever used the term “interference.” “Influence campaign” was as far as they went, and no connection between the Trump campaign and “influence” activities was ever established.

There are still large segments of the population that believe there was a Russian campaign to help Trump and avoid a Clinton presidency. If there’s any proof that this conclusion is true, Republicans and Democrats alike should be demanding its release. Figures like Brennan, Comey, and James Clapper should especially be pounding a table to get that data out.

Absent such evidence, the HPSCI report — especially considered in light of all the surrounding evidence that dissent was suppressed — should allow us to consider that myth exploded. The still-blocked raw research needs to come out, however. In an election year in which the question of who violated norms first is paramount, voters need to see everything.

“It will come down to the documents,” is how one source put it. “The public needs to see them all.”