U.S. aware of CIA security breach in 2016; contractors suspected in leak

Reuters reports: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Wednesday they have been aware since the end of last year of a security breach at the CIA and were focusing on contractors as the likeliest source of documents being passed on to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks detailing the agency’s hacking tools.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that they believed documents published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday about CIA techniques used between 2013 and 2016 were authentic.

The documents showed that CIA hackers could get into Apple iPhones, Google Android devices and other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before they were encrypted with sophisticated software.

The White House said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump was “extremely concerned” about a CIA security breach that led to the Wikileaks release, and the administration would be tough on leakers. [Continue reading…]

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CIA providing raw intelligence as Trump-Russia probes heat up

Politico reports: Lawmakers are trekking to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to review classified evidence on Russia’s involvement in the presidential election. The House has scheduled its first public hearing on the issue. And the Senate is preparing to interview witnesses.

The congressional investigations into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials are in full swing.

For months, the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said their investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election were in their “initial” stages. On Tuesday, it became clear that the probes had moved into a new phase.

The CIA is now providing raw intelligence documents to committee members, according to multiple senators. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) visited CIA headquarters on Monday to view the documents underlying the intelligence community’s unclassified assessment that Russia sought to sway the election in favor of Trump.

At Langley, Cornyn said Tuesday, he viewed “four large binders full of classified information that’s been made available to the committee to conduct” its wide-ranging investigation. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: The FBI has begun preparing for a major mole hunt to determine how anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks got an alleged arsenal of hacking tools the CIA has used to spy on espionage targets, according to people familiar with the matter.

The leak rattled government and technology industry officials, who spent Tuesday scrambling to determine the accuracy and scope of the thousands of documents released by the group. They were also trying to assess the damage the revelations may cause, and what damage may come from future releases promised by WikiLeaks, these people said. [Continue reading…]

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Why Wikileaks? Why now?

Fred Kaplan writes: Tuesday’s WikiLeaks release exposing thousands of detailed documents on CIA hacking tools is an unbridled attack on U.S. intelligence operations with little or no public benefit. It makes no claim or pretense that the CIA has used these tools to engage in domestic surveillance or any other illegal activity. Most whistleblowers who leak national security secrets take care to avoid revealing where the secrets come from — the “sources and methods” of the intelligence. These documents are about nothing but sources and methods. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: A longtime intelligence contractor with expertise in U.S. hacking tools told Reuters the documents included correct “cover” terms describing active cyber programs.

“People on both sides of the river are furious,” he said, referring to the CIA and the eavesdropping National Security Agency based in Fort Meade, Maryland. “This is not a Snowden-type situation. This was taken over a long term and handed over to WikiLeaks.” [Continue reading…]

In a press release, Wikileaks said: Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Names, email addresses and external IP addresses have been redacted in the released pages (70,875 redactions in total) until further analysis is complete. [Continue reading…]

The Atlantic reports: WikiLeaks appears to be shifting its strategy with its latest document dump. In the past, it has let the public loose on its leaked documents with little more than a few paragraphs of introduction, occasionally building search functions to let users sift through the largest dumps. The CIA leak, on the other hand, came with a detailed press release and analysis of the some key findings from the documents, written in a journalistic style.

Uncharacteristically, WikiLeaks appears to have gone out of its way to redact sensitive information and withhold malicious code from the CIA documents it made public. That’s a slight departure from previous leaks, which were wholly unfiltered. [Continue reading…]

Given that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between Wikileaks the organization and Julian Assange the individual, I have my doubts that the massive number of redactions and carefully crafted press release should necessarily be attributed to a shift in strategy on the part of Wikileaks/Assange. This may in fact be the way the leaks were delivered: pre-packaged.

In other words, the leaker(s) were just as concerned about how this information got out as they were with its contents — and that begs the question (as posed by @pwnallthethings): why use Wikileaks?

If, as the source is alleged to claim, the goal here is to generate public debate, why use such a flawed messenger — a messenger widely viewed as operating in the service of the Russian intelligence.

The source’s choice of going through Wikileaks suggests they were opting for a suitably malleable conduit and wanted to reach a target audience that thinks little or cares less about Julian Assange’s agenda.

Journalists are hamstrung (or to put it less kindly, incredibly easy to manipulate) in this situation. The key questions are about the source of leaks and the agenda being pursued, yet these are at this time matters of pure conjecture. The alternative to speculation is to focus on the content and get distracted by smart TV vulnerabilities etc.

Yet the source/Wikileaks is in large part teeing this up for political debate and casting the CIA as a rogue intelligence agency — a narrative that surely plays well inside the White House.

As is often the case, Donald Trump’s current silence is much more telling than his tweets.

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I didn’t think I’d ever leave the CIA. But because of Trump, I quit

Edward Price worked at the CIA from 2006 until this month, most recently as the spokesman for the National Security Council. He writes: Nearly 15 years ago, I informed my skeptical father that I was pursuing a job with the Central Intelligence Agency. Among his many concerns was that others would never believe I had resigned from the agency when I sought my next job. “Once CIA, always CIA,” he said. But that didn’t give me pause. This wouldn’t be just my first real job, I thought then; it would be my career.

That changed when I formally resigned last week. Despite working proudly for Republican and Democratic presidents, I reluctantly concluded that I cannot in good faith serve this administration as an intelligence professional.

This was not a decision I made lightly. I sought out the CIA as a college student, convinced that it was the ideal place to serve my country and put an otherwise abstract international-relations degree to use. I wasn’t disappointed. [Continue reading…]

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The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary, and the public are fighting back against Trump with some success

Peter Beinart writes: Nothing Donald Trump has done since becoming President is particularly surprising. The attacks on judges and the press, the clash of civilizations worldview, the ignorance of public policy, the blurring of government service and private gain, the endless lying, the incompetence, the chaos — all were vividly foreshadowed during the campaign. The Republican-led Congress’ refusal to challenge Trump was foreseeable too. The number of Republicans willing to oppose Trump’s agenda pretty much equals the number who refused to endorse him once he became the GOP nominee.

Less predictable has been the response of other elements of the American political system: The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary and the public. Here, the news is good. So far, they’re not only pushing back, they’re having some success.

The latest example is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn’s resignation is a welcome development both because he held crudely bigoted views of Muslims and because he was unable to competently manage the foreign policy process. But that’s not why he lost his job. He lost his job because of an independent bureaucracy and a vigorous press.

CNN’s Brian Stelter has reconstructed the chain of events. On January 12, a “senior U.S. government official” told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that, “Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the [Russian] hacking” of the presidential election. Three days later, CBS’ John Dickerson asked Vice President Mike Pence about the call, and Pence insisted that Flynn had not discussed “anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”

But the Washington Post followed up, citing “nine current and former officials” who claimed that Flynn had discussed exactly that. The New York Times reported that there was a transcript of the call. Eventually, it became impossible to deny that Flynn had lied, and caused Pence to lie. If the Trump administration had been able to deny reality, as it so often does, Flynn would likely still have his job. But good reporters, aided by government sources, made that impossible. As the Columbia Journalism Review notes, “it wasn’t the lying that got him [Flynn] fired; it’s that his lying leaked to the press.” [Continue reading…]

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CIA freezes out top aide as Flynn seen waging ‘a jihad against the intelligence community’

Politico reports: A top deputy to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was rejected for a critical security clearance, effectively ending his tenure on the National Security Council and escalating tensions between Flynn and the intelligence community.

The move came as Flynn’s already tense relationships with others in the Trump administration and the intelligence community were growing more fraught after reports that Flynn had breached diplomatic protocols in his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

On Friday, one of Flynn’s closest deputies on the National Security Council, senior director for Africa Robin Townley, was informed that the Central Intelligence Agency had rejected his request for an elite security clearance required for service on the NSC, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

That forced Townley, a former Marine intelligence officer who had long maintained a top secret-level security clearance, out of his NSC post, explained the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

One of the sources said that the rejection was approved by Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo and that it infuriated Flynn and his allies. [Continue reading…]

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New CIA deputy director, Gina Haspel, had leading role in torture

The New York Times reports: As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.

On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.

The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.

Over the past eight years, C.I.A. leaders defended dozens of agency personnel who had taken part in the now-banned torture program, even as they vowed never to resume the same harsh interrogation methods. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.

Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.

The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. [Continue reading…]

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Moscow spy scandal snowballs: What we know

RFE/RL reports: The murky investigation of Russian intelligence officers reportedly facing treason charges has taken a fresh turn, with the Interfax news agency quoting unnamed sources as saying that two suspects are accused of collaborating with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The news, unverified and uncorroborated, is the latest in a growing number of remarkable leaks that hint at possible struggles and hidden agendas inside Russia’s formidable security apparatus.

To date, not a single Russian official or law enforcement agency has commented on the record about the reported case against the Federal Security Service (FSB) officers, identified as Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitry Dokuchayev, and other alleged accomplices.

Instead, numerous Russian media citing anonymous sources have reported the suspects may be tied to hackers targeting the Russian elite and may have disclosed information related to cyberattacks targeting the U.S. election system.

These reports come on the heels of an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies in early January concluding that Russia orchestrated a hacking campaign aimed at helping President Donald Trump defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the election.

The anonymous sources have not expressly linked the reported accusations against Mikhailov and Dokuchayev to the breaches of Democratic Party servers, though the Novaya Gazeta newspaper has reported there may be links to attacks on U.S. state-electoral systems. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon is making sure there’s no White House paper trail, says intel source

Kate Brannen writes: If there was any question about who is largely in charge of national security behind the scenes at the White House, the answer is becoming increasingly clear: Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet, and now White House advisor.

Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

The intelligence official, who said he was willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt when it took office, is now deeply troubled by how things are being run.

“They ran all of these executive orders outside of the normal construct,” he said, referring to last week’s flurry of draft executive orders on everything from immigration to the return of CIA “black sites.”

After the controversial draft orders were written, the Trump team was very selective in how they routed them through the internal White House review process, the official said.

Under previous administrations, if someone thought another person or directorate had a stake in the issue at hand or expertise in a subject area, he or she was free to share the papers as long as the recipient had proper clearance.

With that standard in mind, when some officials saw Trump’s draft executive orders, they felt they had broad impact and shared them more widely for staffing and comments.

That did not sit well with Bannon or his staff, according to the official. More stringent guidelines for handling and routing were then instituted, and the National Security Council staff was largely cut out of the process. [Continue reading…]

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Fake popularity: Trump’s cheering entourage deployed for his CIA appearance; majority of workforce declined invitation to attend

CBS News reports: U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday.

An official said the visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse” and described the visit as “uncomfortable.”

Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team originally expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks [Continue reading…]

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The Trump administration seems poised to further unleash the CIA’s paramilitary branch

Joshua Kurlantzick writes: [T]he Trump administration is poised to accelerate a transformation that has been happening, in fits and starts, since the 1960s, with the CIA becoming less of an outfit focused on spying and more of a paramilitary organization with a central role in violent conflicts.

Further increasing the use of CIA paramilitaries and the Pentagon’s Special Forces in places such as Syria and Afghanistan would have potentially grave consequences for U.S. foreign policy — and for the United States’ leadership in the world. These paramilitaries are almost totally unaccountable, and unaccountability encourages rash, even criminal, behavior, including disdain for civilian lives, torture and other abuses. And, as demonstrated by a secret war in the 1960s and early ’70s — the most important precedent for today’s war on terror — it’s hard to win by using the CIA and Special Forces rather than conventional troops.

Fifty-six years ago, another incoming president decided to empower the CIA’s paramilitaries, relying on covert war rather than conventional fighting.

Before taking the oath of office in 1961, John F. Kennedy had (privately) squabbled with some CIA leaders, who saw him as inexperienced and potentially reckless.

The CIA was only 14 years old then and a relatively small player in the American policymaking apparatus, one with far less power and fewer resources than the Departments of Defense and State. The agency mostly concentrated on traditional intelligence and political work, such as spying and trying to overthrow foreign governments believed unfriendly to the United States. It did a small amount of training of foreign forces, but no battlefield commanding.

Once in office, however, Kennedy approved the expansion of what would become the largest covert U.S. operation in history, in the tiny Southeast Asian nation of Laos. In a shift that could prove familiar in 2017, his decision dramatically empowered the same CIA that had worried about the new president.

The political climate at the time Kennedy took office also was in some ways similar to today’s. After a bloody stalemate in Korea, and the defeat of U.S.-backed French troops in Vietnam in 1954, many Americans were tired of conventional war and interventionism in general. Yet foreign policy elites believed that the United States faced an existential threat: Communism was spreading through Asia, first to China and North Vietnam and then to Laos, and possibly beyond. A secret war, one that used relatively few U.S. combatants and relied on foreign proxy forces and bombing from above, came to be seen as the safest choice, politically, for the Kennedy administration.

The CIA’s involvement in Laos, which expanded in 1961 with a small training program for anti-communist fighters, ramped up quickly. It would grow over the course of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, with few Americans, and not even many members of Congress, knowing anything about it. The CIA recruited tens of thousands of U.S. contractors, paramilitary fighters and local Laotian warriors in an ultimately futile attempt to transform Laotian guerillas into a conventional army capable of stopping Hanoi and its local allies. U.S. bombers, working in concert with CIA paramilitaries, destroyed much of Laos while attacking Laotian and North Vietnamese communists. They dropped more bombs on Laos than on Germany and Japan combined in World War II. The country was left with so much unexploded ordnance that, in the four decades since Laos’s civil war ended in 1975, the leftover bombs have killed 20,000 Laotians.

The war cemented the CIA’s place as an organization with power on par with the Departments of Defense and State — and one increasingly dedicated to activities such as arming and advising foreign forces, managing conflicts and even overseeing targeted killings. CIA operatives went on to play roles in covert wars in Central America and Afghanistan in the 1980s, as well as in conflict zones in the war on terror. As Foreign Policy magazine has characterized it, the CIA is now “pulling the strings of U.S. foreign policy” — overseeing drone strikes and managing many aspects of the fight against the Islamic State. And according to documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the CIA’s budget appears to be greater than the State Department’s, a dramatic reversal from the early Cold War. While Brennan is recognized for leading an effort to reduce walls between operatives and analysts and fortify some of the agency’s traditional functions, he also oversaw an increase in the strength of paramilitary operations. In 2015, he promoted a paramilitary operative to head the clandestine branch — reportedly the first time a paramilitary officer took on the top undercover position.

Although Trump’s rhetoric suggests that he could rein in the CIA, the reality, as during Kennedy’s time, will probably be the reverse. The agency’s paramilitary branch, along with the military’s Special Forces — the two have become intertwined in policy and practice — will be further unleashed in a twilight war. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia under investigation

The Wall Street Journal reports: U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated communications that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser had with Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Flynn is the first person inside the White House under Mr. Trump whose communications are known to have faced scrutiny as part of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Mr. Trump.

It isn’t clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. Mr. Flynn, a retired general who became national security adviser with Mr. Trump’s inauguration, plays a key role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia.

The counterintelligence inquiry aimed to determine the nature of Mr. Flynn’s contact with Russian officials and whether such contacts may have violated laws, people familiar with the matter said.

A key issue in the investigation is a series of telephone calls Mr. Flynn made to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., on Dec. 29. That day, the Obama administration announced sanctions and other measures against Russia in retaliation for its alleged use of cyberattacks to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacks on Democratic Party officials to try to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Officials also have examined earlier conversations between Mr. Flynn and Russian figures, the people familiar with the matter said. Russia has previously denied involvement in election-related hacking.

In a statement Sunday night, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “We have absolutely no knowledge of any investigation or even a basis for such an investigation.” [Continue reading…]

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Kellyanne Conway calls former CIA director (who served presidents of both parties) ‘a partisan political hack’

Politico reports: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, on Sunday morning called former CIA Director John Brennan a “partisan political attack” for criticizing the president’s speech before the agency on Saturday.

Brennan “sounded like a partisan political hack about the president of the United States,” Conway said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I think everybody needs to take a step back and a very deep breath…and think about what their words are,” Conway said.

Brennan, through a spokesman, on Saturday lashed out at Trump, saying he was “deeply saddened” by Trump’s speech in front of the Langley memorial wall where his focus seemed to stray from the CIA agents in attendance to his own accomplishments.

“Former CIA Director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Brennan’s former of deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro said in a statement on Saturday. “Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself.” [Continue reading…]

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How far will the CIA pursue the facts on Russia?

Jeff Stein writes: [Mike] Pompeo, a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School [and Donald Trump’s choice to head the CIA], said all the right things at his confirmation hearing to quell resistance to his nomination. He rejected using torture on terrorist suspects, in contrast to Trump’s full-throated endorsement of it during the campaign. (It was his written responses to questions about “enhanced interrogation techniques” that gave Democrats pause and prompted them to hold up his conformation vote.) As for Russian intrigues, he pronounced the intelligence community’s report on Kremlin interference in the election as “sound.” He also promised to “pursue the facts wherever they take us” on Russia, including the new president’s doorstep. “I’m not saying he can’t do it,” Shapiro says, “but…you have to worry who he’s going to listen to, and right now it’s Flynn.”

As has been widely reported, Flynn has his own troubling history with Moscow, having been a high profile, paid guest of its propaganda TV outfit Russia Today. Only a week before Trump’s inauguration, he came under suspicion of helping orchestrate Vladimir Putin’s mocking response to President Barack Obama’s expulsion of Russian spies in December. Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer said Flynn had only talked with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about “the logistics of setting up a call” between Trump and Putin after he was sworn in. “That was it, plain and simple,” Spicer said.

Flynn “hates the CIA,” says a high-profile Republican who knows him well. He has suspected the CIA of covering up a (nonexistent) Iranian hand in the Benghazi attack and of minimizing Osama Bin Laden’s role as leader of al-Qaeda, said this person, who spoke only on condition of anonymity so as not to roil his relations with the incoming administration.

“All the other [Trump appointees] I can take,” the source said, “because they’re billionaires and at least I know they’re not going to steal. But Flynn scares me. I’m not lying to you. He scares me.”

CIA veterans shudder at the memory of another conservative Republican congressman who took over the spy agency with a vow to change and reform it. Porter Goss, appointed CIA director by President George W. Bush, arrived in Langley in September 2004 with a retinue of pugnacious aides who immediately clashed with the agency’s senior leadership. The foibles of his aides quickly made it into the press. He lasted only 20 months.

CIA veterans surveyed by Newsweek say Pompeo should avoid Goss’s error and leave his congressional staff behind. “If he needs them,” said one 25-year veteran of the agency’s operations directorate, speaking on terms of anonymity because he remains under cover, “he shouldn’t take the job.” But Shapiro and other close observers suspect Pompeo will arrive in Langley with a retinue of congressional aides. “I think the nature of a congressman is very different,” says Shapiro, who was initially the only aide Brennan took with him from the White House. “A politician [presents] a very different scenario.” If Pompeo and those aides bring an ideological agenda to the CIA — or try to block the Russian probes — look for leaks from the agency’s bowels. [Continue reading…]

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Trump gives ‘most disastrous speech ever given at CIA’ says former CIA spokesman

Newsweek reports: Trump told the assembled spies, analysts and managers that “the dishonest media” had “made it sound like I had a feud” with them, implying that he only had a beef with CIA Director John Brennan, who resigned Friday, and other top spy agency officials.

“I am so behind you,” the president told the crowd assembled in the agency foyer, which is dominated by the CIA’s seal on the floor and Memorial Wall of stars denoting the nearly 120, mostly anonymous men and women who have died in the spy agency’s service since its founding in 1947. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted earlier Saturday that the event would draw “over capacity at 300+.”

But Trump’s seemingly warm reception might have been manufactured, according to The Washington Post’s lead fact-checker, Glenn Kessler. “The pool reports indicate the cheering and clapping was not from the CIA staffers but people who accompanied Trump,” Kessler tweeted.

Brennan also deplored the rally-style event, according to his former deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro. Brennan “is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Shapiro said in a statement provided to Newsweek. “Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

George Little, former CIA Director Leon Panetta’s spokesman, also took deep offense at Trump’s staging the event in what amounts to hallowed ground at the agency.

“Today the president of the United States stood in front of the Memorial Wall honoring the CIA’s fallen and mocked key institutions of our democracy, threatened to steal Iraq’s oil, and used what is supposed to be a non-political government agency — one he recently accused of Nazi-style behavior — as a political backdrop,” Little wrote on his Facebook page. “This will go down as the most disastrous speech ever given at CIA Headquarters.” [Continue reading…]

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Democrats block Pompeo CIA confirmation vote amid Trump’s feud with intel

McClatchy reports: An objection from three Democratic senators will delay the U.S. Senate’s vote to confirm Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on Friday that they oppose “a rushed confirmation” of Rep. Mike Pompeo to serve as CIA director unless senators get the opportunity to debate the nomination.

“The importance of the position of CIA Director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated,” the senators said in a statement.

The vote had been expected to happen on Friday, after the swearing-in of Donald Trump as the 45th president.

The move means Trump likely will start his presidency without his own nominee at the head of the CIA.

The senators said the CIA can protect the nation “under the leadership of its senior professional personnel” in the meantime.

“Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees,” the senators said. “Our constituents expect Congress to be a check and balance on the incoming administration, not a rubber stamp.”

The CIA is locked in a battle with Trump over allegations that the Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind an effort to sway the election in Trump’s favor. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump is settling into office this weekend with a mostly-empty Cabinet that will likely take weeks to fill.

He has a nasty nominations war in the Senate to blame.

Even as the chamber cleared two national security nominees on Friday, and vowed to take up a third on Monday, Democrats are threatening a prolonged fight over key administration posts, including for secretary of state, attorney general and Treasury secretary. [Continue reading…]

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FBI, CIA, NSA, Justice, and Treasury departments probe possible covert Kremlin aid to Trump

McClatchy reports: The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry. [Continue reading…]

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CIA believes claims of Russian ‘kompromat’ on Trump are credible

The BBC’s Paul Wood writes: … the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by “the head of an East European intelligence agency”.

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file – they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was “more than one tape”, “audio and video”, on “more than one date”, in “more than one place” – in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg – and that the material was “of a sexual nature”.

The claims of Russian kompromat on Mr Trump were “credible”, the CIA believed. [Continue reading…]

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