Four of the people said the change has resulted in less information about Russia going to the White House, but the exact reason for that – if Elwood has blocked it, or if Russia’s officers have become disillusioned and produce less or even self-censorship for fear. to be reprimanded – is less clear.
An administrative official explained the reduced Russia-related intelligence service from the CIA to the National Security Council as a matter of “quality over quantity.” Another administration official said that although the CIA is not the only agency providing intelligence to the NSC, that official̵
The increased scrutiny within the CIA comes as the Justice Department, through prosecutor John Durham, continues to investigate intelligence results on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election – and in particular the conclusion of Russia’s analysts that Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened specifically to increase Trump’s candidacy. chaos.
Trump, who has publicly opposed the intelligence service’s conclusion that Russia intervened in 2016 to strengthen his candidacy, has also worked to bring the intelligence service further under his control since his acquittal in February. He has installed loyalists in top positions as Director of National Intelligence and the highest intelligence service in the NSC staff.
Current and former officials have said that the president is still extremely sensitive to Russian interference – to the point where they are reluctant to raise the issue. As recently as last Thursday, the president blew up his own FBI director on Twitter to testify that Moscow was trying to “sow strife and division” and “humiliate Vice President Biden” in an attempt to influence the 2020 campaign.
A CIA spokesman did not dispute any of the actual allegations in this article. But he withdrew the idea that Haspel’s improved scrutiny was politically motivated. “Review of intelligence product and process is exactly what Director Haspel is expected to do, not just because it’s her job, it’s her life’s work – developing sources, reviewing information and verifying assumptions – it’s in her blood,” the CIA spokeswoman said. Timothy Barrett. “She rightly asks difficult questions and makes sure that intelligence is confirmed, double-checked and then runs through the knob. Any suggestion of a political motive for how she runs this agency is rejected. ”
Haspel’s review of intelligence services coming out of the CIA’s Russia House has led to some recent vacuuming. The head of Russia’s House, whom officials declined to identify by name because they work undercover, was fired earlier this year, according to four current and former officials who are familiar with the matter but remain at the office in another mission center. It is not clear why he was thrown out, but Haspel’s personal aversion to him was clear. “Gina was not a fan,” said one of those familiar with the matter.
Another Russian analyst quit earlier this year after Haspel accused him of lying about intelligence – an accusation that happens quite often, say several former officials. “She calls analysts liars all the time,” said a former CIA official. The head of the mission center himself is still in place.
More recently, Haspel “fired” analysts from Russia who brought her intelligence that showed a correlation between Russia and the strange phenomenon that diplomats experience brain trauma, according to a current US official with knowledge of the section. The brain trauma issue first came to light in 2017 when US and Canadian embassy staff in Cuba complained about mysterious health problems that have never been definitively explained.
“She had a very defensive reaction, reacted very badly and made some comments that she had to clean Russia’s house,” the official said.
Intelligence is a two-way process: NSC officials and other “consumers” in government regularly send questions and inquiries to the intelligence service in what is called “tasking,” while “producers” in America’s spy agencies then try to provide answers.
But Russia’s portfolio at the NSC has had a constant churn in recent years: Ryan Tully is the fifth person to hold the role of senior director, previously held by Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison, both of whom testified in the constitutional inquiry. Joe Wang, who was deputy director general for Europe and Russia at NSC under Tully, left for the State Department this summer. All that turnover ”has been hard on [Russia policy], Said another administration official, because you need someone to drive who has a consistent vision – and it does not seem to work with [Russia] has been the highest priority. ”
Critics of National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien say he has been inclined to highlight national security information and intelligence “which he knows the president will respond well to,” as a former White House official put it. “O’Brien does not want anyone to touch on things that Russia has to do because of the reaction,” said another former White House official. “He just does not want to rock Trump.”
A spokesman for the NSC did not respond to a request for comment but an administrative official fired back, saying: “Anyone who has seen the NSC’s political process over the past year knows how seriously the NSC has worked to counter Russian malicious activities.”
Like other specialized units, Russia House – which remained highly divided even after its integration into the CIA Mission Center for Europe and Eurasia as part of a reorganization under former CIA Director John Brennan – is extremely protective of its intelligence. But some in the agency, including Haspel, have described it as too isolated and in need of a review, according to several current and former U.S. officials.
Others describe the characterization as unfair, saying that confidentiality and restrictions on collaboration with other entities are necessary to protect the information from being shared or manipulated too much. “We thought her feeling that Russia’s house was clicky or isolated was grossly unfair,” said a former senior CIA official. “She had preconceived notions about it, from her own time at the agency.” Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and spent almost his entire career as an undercover officer as a secret officer, serving as head of the station in Europe and Central Eurasia and occasionally focusing on Russian operations, according to a CIA-issued timeline.
However, some still fear that Haspel’s negative view of the CIA’s Russia analysts is the result of ongoing political pressure from the Trump administration to frame them as biased and myopic due to a conclusion they drew in 2016 that has upset the president: that Putin ordered a interference campaign specifically to strengthen Trump’s candidacy. That analysis was based at least in part on information from a very sensitive CIA asset in the Kremlin and is now at the heart of Durham’s probe.
“When I was there, Russia House was the most sensitive, secretive organization in the building,” said Larry Pfeiffer, who served as former CIA chief Michael Hayden’s chief of staff. “They are very protective of the information, and rightly so. Given Russia’s counterintelligence efforts and the incredible sensitivity of all the sources they may have, should anything come out, it could lead to the loss of an asset’s life. And given what we know about Russian security efforts, I can only assume that these assets are few and far between. ”
Some people familiar with Haspel’s improved scrutiny of Russia’s material say it is not necessarily foul-smelling or the result of her working to stay in Trump’s good graces. A US official acknowledged that although Haspel “has been very demanding of everything related to Russia”, it is possible that she only feels “protective” of the agency she entered. “She knows that they are under a microscope, “this person said. “So she feels they need to be more accurate and airtight.” At least one CIA assessment that is likely to anger Trump was reportedly included in the CIA’s classified World Intelligence Review, which is widely circulated by decision-makers and other stakeholders, on August 31: that Putin probably personally directed an ongoing operation to undermine Joe Biden’s candidacy.
Trump’s dismissal of former National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire, who made the career-changing decision to allow a deputy to inform lawmakers about Russia’s ongoing election turmoil, is still high for many in the intelligence service who fear they could land in Trump’s crosshairs if they challenges him in any official environment.
This fear played out on Thursday night, when Trump went on a Twitter race against FBI Director Christopher Wray. Wray had testified during a public congressional hearing about Russia’s ongoing attempts to undermine Biden – China is “a FAR-greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia,” Trump responded on Twitter – and the threat of white supremacist violence in the United States. “I look at them as a bunch of well-funded ANARCHISTS & TRAINS who are protected because the Comey / Mueller-inspired FBI simply can’t or don’t want to find their source of funding and let them get away with ‘murder,'” Trump tweeted in response.
Wray and other national security leaders, including Haspel, had specifically tried to avoid Trump’s anger earlier this year by demanding that the annual Worldwide Threats hearing before Congress be held behind closed doors and out of sight.
Haspel’s offenders say that this approach has distorted the agency’s mandate to deliver its unresolved assessments of world issues, without regard to political considerations. “The director has relinquished his responsibility to tell the president what he needs to hear, and it is partially activated by Elwood,” said another former CIA official. This person said that Elwood is “practically every meeting, making decisions and getting involved in things that are not legal” – including her role in reviewing all Russia-related material before it is sent out to the consumer, a job that is usually is done, if necessary by a unit’s own lawyer.
Another former CIA official said Elwood showed “much more interest” in the agency’s counterintelligence unit than previous directors – general, and had the unit’s attorney begin reporting to his deputy. “No one is willing to challenge,” said Elwood or Haspel, a former senior CIA official. He added that Haspel’s changes have been “framed by some as an attempt to” protect the building “- yes, her job is not to protect the building, it is to protect the country.”