Trump and the Militarization of National Security

Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman and whistleblower Coleen Rowley have few kind words for Trump’s picks to head intelligence and national security

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Mike Pompeo was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, on Monday. Pompeo is a member of the Tea Party, and achieved national fame through his involvement in the Benghazi hearing.

Michael Flynn was also sworn in as Trump’s new National Security Advisor. Flynn is a former U.S. Army Lieutenant General, and like Pompeo, is strongly opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal. James Comey stayed as the FBI Director. So, joining us now to discuss these developments are Melvin Goodman and Coleen Rowley.

Melvin Goodman is an adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, and author of, “Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider’s Account of the Politics of Intelligence.” Thanks for joining us, Melvin.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Thank you, Sharmini. Good to be with you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Coleen Rowley is a former FBI Agent, and legal counsel for the FBI. She’s renowned for being a whistleblower for her testimony in two congressional committees, on failures of the FBI regarding 9/11. Coleen, good to have you back.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Yes. Thanks for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Melvin, let’s begin with you, since you’re new to us at The Real News. You’ve worked as an analyst for the CIA. Give us your reaction to the confirmation of Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I think it’s a terrible choice. And you have to look at the fact that in the history of the CIA, there have been two directors from the Congress. One, Representative Porter Goss, from Florida, and the other George Tenet, who was the Staff Director of the Intelligence Committee, for more than 10 years. Both of them tried to politicize intelligence when they were at the CIA as directors.

Of course, the infamous experience of George Tenet, who told President George Bush that it would be a slam dunk to give him the intelligence that the White House needed, to go to the American people to justify the war against Iraq.

Porter Goss tried to do the same thing, in terms of politicizing intelligence, and even made it widely known in terms of memos, to all of the analysts at the building, in his short tenure. He didn’t last more than a year and a half.

Pompeo, I think is a terrible choice and a risk to politicize intelligence, because he’s taken very hard line positions that are opposed to the consensus within the intelligence community. A very good example is his opposition to the Iran Nuclear Accord. The CIA was a very important part of the negotiation of that accord. They’re an important part of negotiating any arms control agreement. The CIA is primarily responsible for the verification and monitoring of any arms control agreement, and that was true in the case of the nuclear agreement with Iran.

And they even drew private praise, too bad it wasn’t public, from Secretary of State, John Kerry, for the important work that they did. The outgoing CIA Director, John Brennan, has publicly supported the Iran Nuclear Accord, taking a very strong position against most of the appointments of the Trump team, that are opposed to the Nuclear Accord.

And when you look at Pompeo, he would like to bring back massive surveillance. He’s talked about bringing back torture and abuse, specifically waterboarding; he’s called for the death penalty for Edward Snowden. He didn’t even accept the Republican Benghazi report, and issued his own… report that one other congressman, another Tea Party member, signed.

He’s a very authoritarian type, in terms of temperament, very pugnacious, and I think there’s going to be tremendous difficulty for the analysts at the CIA with Pompeo.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Coleen, let me get your reaction to Pompeo as well, and then of course, of Comey continuing as the FBI Director.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I would just add to the description of Pompeo that he was at West Point; I think he was maybe even first in his class, as Petraeus was. And we have an issue now, where we have the military taking over civilian control. ‘Cause Trump has named three or four of these people as Generals, and someone like Pompeo, who didn’t rise up to be a General, still has that militaristic background. I suppose it’s just natural since we’re in 14 years of what they call perpetual war, that we would have pretty much all of the government, high-level positions, now being taken over by military.

But I think that’s one of the issues. And you know, the other thing is Panetta was also a Senator, and everyone had high hopes for him taking over the CIA, but he fell into that same thing. He even leaked information to the producer of Zero Dark Thirty, to produce the film that showed that torture worked. So, you know, it’s really a sad, sad situation with Pompeo.

With Comey, you know, this is a guy who was also a consummate political insider in Washington, D.C. establishment. He has skated between the two parties, actually to the point where he had the Democrats liking him for ending the investigation of Hillary Clinton, and then turning around and hating him for reopening it. And the same thing with the Trump administration, they criticized him, called him names for closing the investigation. And then turned around, and now have said he should stay on, after he, 10 days before the election, reopened the investigation.

So, I mean, this is highly unusual for a political… for a FBI director to have… I think in some ways maybe, that’s the D.C. situation right now. Maybe you have to be George Tenet, or a Comey, to even be able to exist, because of the rancor and the partisanship it has gotten to this level. It’s like, I don’t know — Comey also now finds himself in a weakened position, you might even say he’s damaged goods. A little bit like Robert Mueller and George Tenet were after 9/11. Because both of them knew some really sad truth about the lack of sharing of information, that 9/11 could have been prevented.

Of course, the Bush administration knew that as well. They were threatening to split the FBI. So it put Robert Mueller, the then FBI director, in this weakened position. Right now, Comey, James Comey, is under investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, for having made this unusual announcement 10 days before the election.

So, you have this leverage situation going on, and I think that that also creates a lot of other issues and problems. A student of Machiavelli would have a tough time figuring out what’s going on right now.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Coleen, also Comey has been, I guess, in terms of his re-appointment, many people are questioning it, because of the fact that he’s actually investigating a number of Trump associates and friends, and whether this re-appointment could actually effect those investigations. What do you make of that?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, you know, it’s not so much a re-appointment; he’s allowed to stay on. His appointment was for 10 years, and Robert Mueller, his predecessor, and by the way, very much like James Comey. These two guys are cut from the same cloth. They let Robert Mueller stay for 12 years.

And so, I think that from Trump’s standpoint, it’s better not to have another acrimonious hearing where the same issues that you just brought up, would be brought up. Congress would be asking James Comey how is he investigating Trump campaigns, connections, to Russia. So, I wasn’t surprised, put it that way, I was not surprised that Trump kept James Comey on. And, of course, we’ll have to see what happens with these investigations.

It’s unfortunate that we have the hierarchies that do exist in the agencies, I think. I think that people should be much more professional, and do the job, and not be overseen to the extent that they are, from the political end, politicizing the investigation, or politicizing intelligence. And, of course, that’s a completely separate problem that we just saw play out in the lead-up to the election.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And, Melvin let me get your take on the fact that Obama prosecuted a lot more whistleblowers than any other previous administration. What do you think will happen under Pompeo, who’s already called for the execution of Edward Snowden?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I think there was a dark side to the Obama legacy. He used the Espionage Act more than all of the presidents since it was signed during World War I in 1917. He was very aggressive on leaks, even more aggressive than the George W. Bush administration. And I think his very late commutation of Chelsea Manning sentence, which I fully supported of course, was in part to try to correct that record, or balance that record. Because he came in to office, campaigned in 2007 and 2008, as someone who thought you can’t sacrifice liberty in the name of security. And he recognized the uppermost importance of liberty.

He said he would have a transparent administration, and we didn’t see any of that. And the fact that he didn’t look for accountability for the terrible crimes that were committed by the CIA, during the war on terror, particularly the torture, abuse, the extraordinary renditions, secret prisons. He said, “I don’t want to look back, I want to look forward.” And by not having accountability in this dark side of the legacy, means that it’s a lot easier for a Donald Trump to resume things that we know are criminal.

And Pompeo, no matter what he said in the confirmation hearings, and I don’t put a lot into what people say during confirmation hearings, because they say what they need to. The fact of the matter is, Pompeo fully supports the return to torture and abuse. Fully supports the return to waterboarding. We know President Trump is a big fan of waterboarding. It’s not that waterboarding doesn’t work, I mean, it doesn’t work, but the fact is, it’s immoral. We shouldn’t even be thinking about doing it.

And the way the CIA conducted the whole, interrogation techniques; I think that resembled Nazi Germany, to a certain extent. So, I’m quite concerned about that side of the legacy, and I’m quite concerned that Pompeo will not really use a firm hand at the CIA. And I think, once again, and I agree with Coleen here, with Leon Panetta, he was captured by the operational mentality of the CIA soon after he took over as Director of the CIA, and I think Pompeo is cut from the same cloth as Panetta.

You need strong people at the CIA, and frankly, we haven’t had that for at least 30 years. So, this is going to be a continuing problem. And when you add to the fact that the one, who is closest to Donald Trump, is General Michael Flynn, this is really worrisome. Flynn was essentially pushed into retirement in 2014, because he could not manage the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was conspiratorial-minded; he was dominating in terms of his views. He didn’t look carefully at intelligence. He didn’t accept the output from his intelligence analysts. We see he’s a very authoritarian and pugnacious personality, like so many of the appointments.

And even the one who seems to be the exception to this rule, James Mattis, I’m not in favor of this confirmation that Mattis received. He’s only the second General who’s received a waiver to take over the Defense Department. But the other one was an incredible example, it happened to be George C. Marshall, in 1947-1948. No one’s gonna compare Flynn to George Marshall.

So, having Flynn in that position, which of course, didn’t require confirmation, is incredibly worrisome. Having Mattis, who was pushed out of command because he wanted to extend the war in Iraq to Iran, which is something that the Obama administration was trying to get out of. The spiral of military activity in southwest Asia and the Middle East, that has really done great harm to the American economy, and American political standing overseas. All of these things are incredibly worrisome. And, again to support what Coleen said, it’s this militarization … (sound difficulties) … The … wanted civilian control of foreign policy. They wanted civilian control in the Congress, and civilian control, in terms of appointments to positions of national security importance. We don’t have that anymore.

The civilians have really been routed by military people, who are now at the Department of Homeland Security, at the National Security Council, at the Department of Defense. And, frankly, I call Pompeo a military man because of his West Point background, and his authoritarian bent, we have him at CIA. And I’m not impressed with the appointment of former Senator Dan Coats, from Indiana, as the so-called Intelligence Czar. This is another very weak appointment.

So, when you look at national security, foreign policy, international relations — you look at the comments that Trump made during the campaign. When you look at the steps that he’s taken already, the ambassador he appointed to Israel. The talk of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the fact that Netanyahu has already announced more settlements on the West Bank because he knows he now has a friend in the White House.

I think we’re headed for a very rocky patch, and I’m not convinced that Democratic opposition is going to be strong enough, or tenacious enough, or cohesive enough, to really deal with this Republican mindset. And particularly after Trump’s inaugural speech, which was a dangerous kind of speech, in terms of his references to American carnage, and the idea of America First, which of course was the theme of Charles Lindbergh, who was the anti-Semite from the 1930s, who was considered to be a presidential candidate at that time.

So, there are a lot of things to worry about at this particular juncture. And when you throw in what happened at the CIA on Saturday — that outrageous visit of Donald Trump standing in front of the memorial wall — and no one has pointed this out, but he was also 20 feet from the biblical inscription in the lobby of the CIA building, that I used to pass every time I entered the CIA, “The truth will set you free”. Well, I think the truth and Donald Trump are not on very good terms.

And we saw that played out Saturday in his comments at the CIA, and, of course, his press spokesman who had to echo all of his statements in his first press conference on Saturday at the White House. So, there’s a lot to be concerned about.

SHARMINI PERIES: Indeed. The other sort of matter that’s floating out there, and many people have asked us to ask through social media from people that have expertise in these areas of national security and intelligence, is how much influence does the deep state have? In terms of the new administration, and how do you think it’ll be interacting with these new appointees? And I’ll go to Coleen first and then to you Melvin.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I think this might be where my comment about Machiavelli comes in. Because, you know, just at the end of the last administration, we did have Brennan and Clapper, and mostly it was Brennan and Clapper, but they got Comey and the NSH to go along with it. And it looked like it was really a deep state effort to, maybe even change the results of the Electoral College. It was pretty incredible.

Those leaks, by the way, that would always say anonymous, high-level officials, saying that there’s a FISA that has information on Trump, etcetera, or Trump’s campaign. Those things are not whistleblowers, those are green-lighted, authorized leaks, coming from the top, and, frankly, on highly classified information. So, Trump had a right to be a little bit alarmed about those deep state efforts at the tail end. That this leaking of the steel memo, which seems to me to be a real hoax of a thing, where the guy didn’t even have any connection — he hadn’t been Russia for 20 years — and it looks like double, triple, hearsay rumors that he put together for opposition research.

And then you had your CIA briefing that, to report, I don’t know if the CIA briefed it to them, but somehow it leaked. So, in any case, I think this was concerning, and it might explain why Trump now has picked some people that he thinks that he would have control over. And again, you can see always this tension, even going back to the books about the Dulles brothers and JFK, and JFK running, and Truman even did this, I think, at a later stage, saying the CIA had too much power.

So, you’re always seeing this tension, and I wouldn’t really begrudge Trump, in a way, of wanting to get this a little bit back under control, so that he doesn’t have the deep state attacking him. And I think that there were some real issues with misinformation put out, for different reasons, for partisan stuff. George Washington, by the way, warned that any time you get a foreign country that somehow is interjected into partisan politics inside the United States, and that is precisely what occurred here, it’s very dangerous.

It’s really a way of disrupting, in the United States; it’s the over-reaction. For instance, if there is hacking going on — which there’s hacking going on by all countries, at least who have the capability to do that — and this reaction, this hysterical reaction, is really what I think weakened the United States. And certainly the prestige and the moral superiority that we always claim we have, I think that was weakened. I think even Clapper admitted that at one point.

So, I totally agree, we are in for a real bumpy ride here. I even predicted a constitutional crisis before too long. I think there are some parallels that we’re seeing shape up between Watergate, the environment where you had all these different individuals again, D.C. insider politics playing and they’re own power plays going on. And I think that the public is going to have to be real careful that they don’t accept news reports, like the news reports that occurred, frankly, in this last couple of months.

At least be skeptical of those, because it’s dangerous. It’s real dangerous stuff for foreign policy, for the gullible. And frankly, the Democrats were even more gullible, because they wanted to find something to blame the loss of the election on. And actually have turned fairly war hawk-ish, and dangerously so.

So, that’s the thing I’m most concerned about. There’s a lot of things to be concerned about, but I think the one good thing — if I want to just balance out Mel’s talk a little bit — the one good thing is, maybe for business reasons, for all different — could be wrongful reasons — but for whatever reason, Trump does seem to be pushing a detente reducing the tensions with Russian. And that would be the one thing that I think would be important to do.

We should all be in favor of that, because it’s very, very dangerous to have war games going on, on borders, to be aiming missiles at each other, etcetera. So, again, we’re just going to have to watch and see here. It’s just real evolving, and it’s hard to know.

SHARMINI PERIES: And then Melvin, let me give you the last word. What do you think the predictions will be, in terms of relations with the new administration, the new appointees, and the deep state?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I don’t have that concern that Coleen has with regard to the deep state. I think it was a problem during the Bush administration because you had a vice-president, Dick Cheney, who was trying to manipulate the intelligence community. Who manipulated the intelligence to get us into an immoral and illegal war in Iraq. I don’t think President Obama is given enough credit for trying to move away from the direction that Cheney put us on.

So, my concern is not with the so-called dark state, it’s with the Trump administration. It’s the inexperience of the Trump administration. It’s having a president, who has no knowledge of international relations, no knowledge or experience in diplomacy. No curiosity, no willingness to accept intelligence briefings and probably doesn’t even have the context to fully understand, or absorb, intelligence briefings.

It’s appointments in the domestic area and the foreign policy area that are threatening to the institutions that we have. When you look at the domestic appointments, he’s appointing people who are designed to blow up the very departments and agencies of government that they’re being appointed to. Just look at who’s going to the EPA. Look who’s going to Health and Human Services, look who’s going to Labor Department.

And then when you look at the militarization of the National Security Arena, this is another big problem that we’ve talked about. Now, the one thing I do share with Coleen, but I’m not confident about it, is there must be a return to some kind of dialogue. I’m not saying it has to be detente, but there has to be an institutionalization of the dialogue with Russia.

And, here I think, the Obama administration went too far, in terms of cutting off all contacts. Not allowing the Pentagon to meet with their counterparts at the various Russian counterpart organizations, the personalization and the demonization of Putin, with gratuitous personal remarks. And I think Putin has sent a signal that he wants to get some kind of stability restored to the Russian-American relationship.

When you look at the two most important relationships that the United States is going to pursue in the next five to ten years, one is Russia, and the other is China. Well, already the Trump administration has mishandled the relationship with China. Including the phone call with the President of Taiwan, and threatening remarks about islands in the South China sea, which really has no policy background in front of it, or no programmatic thought behind it. And it remains to be seen what can be done with regard to Russia. Because he’s appointed some people who are willing to move in that direction, such as the Secretary of State, Tillerson, when he gets confirmed.

But then look at the very Cold War-like statement you get about Russia that come from Mattis, Secretary of Defense, John Flynn,[sic] the head of the Department of Homeland Security, and Pompeo, who’s very hard line in his views toward Russia. So, it’s going to remain to be seen if this administration — at the very beginning, because it’s made up of players who really are inexperienced, and don’t know each other very well, and at the top of this chain you have a president who has a lot to learn — to put together a sophisticated policy, is going to be a lot to ask for. So, I’m not confident in that regard either.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Melvin Goodman, Coleen Rowley, I thank you both for joining us here at The Real News Network. I’m looking forward to having you back, especially you, Melvin. We’ve been trying to reach you for a long time to get you on. And you’re so close to us over here in Baltimore. I hope to have you in our studio sometime soon.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Thank you very much. It was great to be with you. And I look forward to being with you again.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Bye for now, Coleen.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Bye.

SHARMINI ROWLEY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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