CIA report:

Pres­i­dent-elect’s re­ac­tion deepens the rift

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By David Naka­mura and Greg Miller

The dis­trust be­tween Don­ald Trump and U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies es­ca­lates into open an­tag­o­nism.»

The sim­mer­ing dis­trust be­tween Don­ald Trump and U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies es­ca­lated into open an­tag­o­nism Satur­day af­ter the pres­i­dent-elect mocked a CIA report that Rus­sian op­er­a­tives had in­ter­vened in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to help him win.

The grow­ing ten­sions set up a po­ten­tial show­down be­tween Trump and the na­tion’s top in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials dur­ing what some of those of­fi­cials de­scribe as the most com­plex threat en­vi­ron­ment in decades.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Fri­day that the CIA had de­ter­mined that Rus­sia had in­ter­vened in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion not just to make mis­chief but to boost Trump’s chances.

Trump’s re­ac­tion will prob­a­bly deepen an ex­ist­ing rift be­tween him and the agen­cies and raised ques­tions about how the govern­ment’s 16 spy­ing agen­cies will func­tion in his ad­min­is­tra­tion on mat­ters such as coun­tert­er­ror­ism and cy­ber­war­fare. On Fri­day, mem­bers of Trump’s tran­si­tion team dis­missed the CIA’s faulty as­sess­ments about Iraq’s stock­pile of weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

“Given his pro­cliv­ity for re­venge com­bined with his no­to­ri­ous thin skin, this threat­ens to re­sult in a last­ing re­la­tion­ship of dis­trust and ill-will be­tween the pres­i­dent and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity,” said Paul Pil­lar, former deputy direc­tor of the CIA’s Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials de­scribed mount­ing con­cern and con­fu­sion about how to pro­ceed in an ad­min­is­tra­tion so openly hos­tile to their func­tion and role.

“I don’t know what the end game is here,” a se­nior U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial said. “Af­ter Jan. 20,” the of­fi­cial said, re­fer­ring to In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, “we’re in un­charted ter­ri­tory.”

Pil­lar added: “Ev­ery­thing Trump has in­di­cated with re­gard to his char­ac­ter and ten­den­cies for vin­dic­tive­ness might be worse” than former pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, who also had a dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship with the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

Ten­sions may es­ca­late

The ten­sions be­tween Trump and spy agen­cies could es­ca­late even fur­ther as dozens of an­a­lysts be­gin work on a project, or­dered by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, to de­liver a com­pre­hen­sive report on Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion in the elec­tion be­fore Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.

Led by Direc­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per Jr., the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is aimed at reach­ing a de­fin­i­tive judg­ment about the Rus­sian role in the elec­tion. Obama aides have pledged to make as much of the report pub­lic as pos­si­ble once it is com­pleted.

“We want to make sure we brief Congress and rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers, like pos­si­bly state ad­min­is­tra­tors who ac­tu­ally op­er­a­tional­ize the elec­tions,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told re­porters Fri­day.

But such a report could also pose a more com­pli­cated chal­lenge for Trump, po­ten­tially pit­ting the en­tire U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity against a newly sworn-in pres­i­dent who has re­peat­edly den­i­grated their work.

The Post re­ported late Fri­day that the CIA had con­cluded that in­di­vid­u­als with close ties to the Rus­sian govern­ment de­liv­ered thou­sands of hacked emails from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing from Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man, to Wik­iLeaks a few weeks be­fore the elec­tion. In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have de­ter­mined that Rus­sia’s goal was to help Trump win, rather than sim­ply un­der­mine con­fi­dence in the elec­tion.

In a state­ment, Trump sug­gested that the CIA had dis­cred­ited it­self over faulty in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments about Iraq’s weapons stock­pile more than a dozen years ago.

“Th­ese are the same peo­ple that said Sad­dam Hus­sein had weapons of mass de­struc­tion,” he said.

The be­lit­tling re­sponse alarmed peo­ple in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, which al­ready has ques­tioned Trump’s tem­per­a­ment and lack of na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pe­ri­ence. De­spite mount­ing ev­i­dence over Moscow’s in­volve­ment in a hack of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, Trump has con­sis­tently re­fused to en­ter­tain any doubts about the Rus­sians’ role or about Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The pres­i­dent-elect has spo­ken ad­mir­ingly of Putin in the past, call­ing him a stronger leader that Pres­i­dent Obama, and one of Trump’s former cam­paign man­agers had busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions with Rus­sian com­pa­nies.

“I don’t be­lieve it. I don’t be­lieve they in­ter­fered,” Trump told Time magazine of the Rus­sians in a re­cent in­ter­view dur­ing which he sug­gested the ac­cu­sa­tions from the United States were po­lit­i­cally driven.

In­stead, Trump took di­rect aim at the pro­fes­sional spies charged with as­sess­ing what Clap­per in Septem­ber called the “most com­plex and di­verse ar­ray of global threats” in his 53 years of ser­vice.

In­tel­li­gence agen­cies are track­ing Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions in Syria and Ukraine, Iran’s com­pli­ance with the nu­clear deal, North Korea’s nu­clear weapons test­ing and China’s mar­itime chal­lenges in Asia and theft of trade se­crets.

The CIA is op­er­at­ing a covert pro­gram to arm and train mod­er­ate rebels in Syria to over­come the bru­tal rule of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, even as Trump has praised Rus­sia’s ap­proach to back­ing As­sad.

Since his elec­toral tri­umph last month, Trump has at­tended only a lim­ited num­ber of in­tel­li­gence brief­ings, and he ap­pointed as his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was forced out of his job as head of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency by Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Trump also has cre­ated a cli­mate of un­cer­tainty over how his ad­min­is­tra­tion would ap­proach coun­tert­er­ror­ism and in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing af­ter speak­ing ap­prov­ingly of tor­ture meth­ods, in­clud­ing wa­ter­board­ing ter­ror­ist sus­pects, which was banned by Obama.

Trump has since ap­peared to mod­er­ate his po­si­tion af­ter meet­ing with re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James Mat­tis, whom he in­tends to nom­i­nate as de­fense sec­re­tary and who has said such tech­niques don’t work.

Trump’s tran­si­tion aides have ex­plained his un­will­ing­ness to make time for more in­tel­li­gence brief­ings as a con­se­quence of his busy sched­ule build­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tion and se­lect­ing Cab­i­net mem­bers.

Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence has re­port­edly at­tended such brief­ings most days.

But Trump’s ap­proach has con­trasted with his pre­de­ces­sors, in­clud­ing Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush, who at­tended mul­ti­ple brief­ings each week lead­ing up to their in­au­gu­ra­tions.

In his state­ment, Trump em­pha­sized that the elec­tion was over and vowed to “move on,” and he did not, as is his habit, re­act to the CIA story on so­cial me­dia in the hours af­ter it was pub­lished.

Con­gres­sional Democrats have called for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence, but re­ac­tion among Repub­li­can lead­ers was di­vided. Sens. John McCain (Ari­zona) and Lind­sey Gra­ham (South Carolina) vowed to pur­sue the mat­ter, but Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) said Rus­sia has been in­volved in cy­ber­at­tacks for years and said the new al­le­ga­tions were “se­ri­ous, but hardly news.”

In the cross­fire

Trump’s han­dling of ques­tions re­gard­ing Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion will put enor­mous strain on his nom­i­nee to lead the CIA, Rep. Mike Pom­peo, R-Kan., who may find him­self caught in the cross­fire be­tween the agency and his pres­i­dent. Pil­lar said he al­ready has con­cerns about Pom­peo’s abil­ity to de­liver im­par­tial views to the White House.

Pom­peo, along with Flynn and Mat­tis, has been a stri­dent critic of the Iran nu­clear deal, and Pil­lar won­dered whether Pom­peo would be a dis­pas­sion­ate ac­tor if in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­clude that Iran is abid­ing by the deal.

“I see the dan­ger of a last­ing dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship based on the pres­i­dent-elect’s per­cep­tion that he is be­ing wronged by the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity,” Pil­lar said.

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