The U.S. intelligence community is in the midst of a severe crisis. It has been used, or perhaps allowed itself to be used, as a tool of political destruction, against some of the same U.S. citizens it was created to protect.
What I am talking about is the continuing “Wiretapgate” debacle. We are seeing the widespread abuse of intelligence by an incumbent administration to target political opposition. Long a technique in the developing world — a tactic I often witnessed as a CIA station chief working abroad — the Third World has come to roost in the United States. It is a tragedy of the first order.
The danger of politicization is widely accepted throughout the intelligence community as the greatest hazard, in theory, to the intelligence profession. If an intel service cannot be accepted as an unbiased arbiter, it loses the trust of its people, and risks becoming irrelevant and unheeded. History is littered with intel failures; one need only look to the invasion of Iraq to see how politicization can lead to costly failure and a “trust gap” that can take years to bridge and resolve.
Truth, despite the naysayers, is objective and absolute. The intelligence community has a responsibility to provide the most informed truth to the president. The truth, warts and all, will always be the soundest basis for any foreign policy. This is what our multibillion-dollar intel leviathan owes the American people and its government.
It has become clear to the American public, however, that intelligence leadership learned long ago to stop listening to its own philosophy.
The twin serpents of politicization and political correctness — a Soviet term, by the way — walk hand in hand throughout the intelligence community, as well as every other government agency. The PC mindset that now dominates every college campus is also positioned firmly throughout our government — particularly within the intelligence community, which saw its greatest personnel influx ever in the post-9/11 environment. Today’s intelligence community, the average age of which I would estimate at 32, was raised under the beleaguered Bush administration and reached professional maturity primarily under the Obama administration, immersed in a PC environment.
In this PC world, all diversity is embraced — except diversity of thought. Federal workers have been partisan for years, but combined with the rigid Obama PC mindset, it has created a Frankenstein of politicization that has never been seen before.
Watching Evelyn Farkas admit on TV that the Obama administration wanted the intelligence community to “get as much information as you can” before Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE took office resembles some sort of social science experiment gone bad — and it frames the problems wrought by PC/political brainwashing. Here a mid-level official, permanently dwelling in a bubble of progressive liberalism, acknowledged being complicit in the breaking of U.S. ethics rules and perhaps law — because, as she explained, that’s what they needed to do!
Farkus has all the right credentials: a Ph.D. and a career shuttling between academia, the government and the press that is the hallmark of the anointed “Washington insider” class. What is lacking, however, is any level of self-awareness, common sense or judgment. She is emblematic of the denizens of the Deep State that everyone in Washington likes to tell us doesn’t exist.
I am here to tell you, having served in the CIA and the Naval Reserve, that the Deep State does indeed exist. And it’s not a bunch of centrally controlled drones in black robes meeting at midnight. The Deep State is made up of thousands of similarly credentialed, remarkably “un-diverse” civil servants and political appointees who saw themselves promoted rapidly during the eight years of the Obama administration. The appointees have left, but make no mistake — the progressive civil servants remain.
There is little doubt that intel leadership saw Obama’s relaxation of rules regulating the sharing of NSA raw intelligence — for which there is NO operational justification — and did nothing. They also saw the Obama administration’s demand for “incidental” collection on the Trump campaign at an unprecedented level — and still they did nothing.
Like some binary poisonous reagent, these dynamics combined to foster an environment ripe for political abuse and leakage — a fairly transparent attempt, from the point of view of any discerning intelligence officer. This weaponization of intelligence for the sake of discrediting the political opposition I have seen in Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Moldova and elsewhere — sadly, it is now on our shores.
The present culture of the intelligence community and the shameless political shenanigans of the Obama administration combined to create this disaster. In earlier times, such a gambit would have failed; CIA leadership famously stood up to the Nixon administration when asked to domestically spy on Justice during Watergate, for example. It seems that today we lack the character and the competence to ensure that the intelligence community honors the trust of the American people.
Scott Uehlinger is a retired CIA station chief and naval officer. A Russian speaker, he spent 12 years working in the former Soviet Union for CIA. In addition to teaching at NYU, he is a frequent TV commentator on National Security and is co-host of the weekly podcast "The Station Chief," available on iTunes or at www.thestationchief.com
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