How Far Will They Go? U.S. Intelligence Authorities Partake in Anti-Trump Actions
An Interview With Dr. John Gentry

Conventionally, the intelligence community is politically neutral. However, this is now changing. Intelligence authorities are taking advantage of their positions to criticize Mr. Trump — they have gone so far as to involve themselves in elections. A former CIA analyst discusses the unprecedented nature of these events.

Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata


Georgetown University Adjunct Professor

John Gentry

John Gentry

Dr. John Gentry has lectured on the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) at Georgetown University. He served as an intelligence analyst for 12 years at the CIA, specializing in the economic issues surrounding the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. He recently published Neutering the CIA: Why US Intelligence Versus Trump Has Long-Term Consequences (Armin Lear Press, 2023).

Q: Even before former President Trump took office, Trump and elements of the intelligence community were at odds. Can you explain the reason for this?

Dr. Gentry: President Obama enacted what we would later call the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) agenda. Importantly, in 2011 he issued an executive order that specified preferences for favored demographic groups. The order created offices within all of the agencies of government that were to enforce the order.

To implement his policies in the IC, President Obama had very good allies in James Clapper (former Director of National Intelligence) and John Brennan (former Director of the CIA). Consistent with Obama’s wishes, Clapper and Brennan established overt preferences for the hiring and promotion of black people, women and LGBTQ people.

Senior leaders who pushed DEI over time altered the ethnic, race and gender composition of the IC. On purpose, they also changed the organizational culture of some agencies. Some intelligence officers liked DEI policies for ideological reasons, others because they benefited them materially.

Candidate and then President Trump looked like he might be a threat to the so-called progress that the intelligence community had made over the years on diversity issues. Many intelligence people saw Trump as a potential threat to their personal politics and interests.

In the summer of 2016, several of what we call “formers,” or former intelligence officers, began to criticize candidate Trump in very partisan ways. Some currently serving officers followed suit by leaking anti-Trump material. When Trump did win, the threat to their beliefs and their interests became more tangible, and more people opposed Trump through political activism. Although Trump did not reverse Obama’s DEI policies, the criticisms continued. As Director, Brennan urged CIA personnel to be politically active.

Throughout the four years of Trump’s presidency, anti-Trump formers commonly used “open letters,” documents meant to be widely publicized by media outlets, to influence perceptions of Trump and domestic political decisions.

In addition, no fewer than 17 former intelligence officers had contracts with electronic media, particularly CNN and MSNBC. Virtually all of them used their ostensibly intelligence-related expertise to justify their criticism of Mr. Trump.

An important point is that it’s not the intelligence community as a whole or individual intelligence agencies that attacked Trump. By law and by policy, most of the agencies do not act within the U.S. except in limited, apolitical ways. What happened was that individual people, some current employees and some formers, acted on their own.

The key problem is that these individuals used their intelligence backgrounds to justify their political activism. They used their purported intelligence credentials to say, “This gives me authority to make a public statement about American domestic politics.” Many intelligence officers have strong political views, but they never before used their intelligence credentials to publicly attack or endorse specific politicians.


Former High-Ranking Official Uses Misinformation to Protect Biden

The scandal involving the laptop of Mr. Biden’s second son, Mr. Hunter Biden, was a particularly egregious case of politicization (*1).

In mid-October 2020, the New York Post newspaper published a story about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop computer, which suggested that he and his father may have engaged in corrupt activities.

The Joe Biden campaign, and in particular Antony Blinken, who is now the U.S. Secretary of State, saw this story as a threat to Biden’s election prospects. Blinken evidently thought it had potential to be an “October surprise” that could cost Biden his election, which was scheduled soon thereafter, in early November.

Therefore, Blinken and at least one other person from the Biden campaign approached Michael Morell, a former senior CIA officer who initiated the overt politicization in 2016, and asked for help.

Morell and another former CIA officer, Marc Polymeropoulos, wrote another “open letter,” which said the laptop story had earmarks of Russian disinformation.

They then approached former intelligence officers, asking them to sign it. The purpose again was for former intelligence officers to lend their intelligence credentials, their reputations for knowledge about intelligence matters, to denigrate the significance of the story by saying roughly, “We think, on the basis of our expertise as intelligence officers, that this laptop story looks like it might be Russian disinformation.”

Morell and Polymeropoulos evidently knew that was not the case, that the laptop’s contents were genuine. They surely knew they were working for the Biden campaign.

One of my contacts, who was approached to sign this letter, told me that the approach was not couched in terms of a request for intelligence expertise. It was roughly, “Please sign this letter to help the Biden campaign.”

The open letter was published by the politically focused journal Politico. Mainstream media that supported Biden’s candidacy then publicized the letter widely and downplayed the New York Post story. The danger to Biden was averted. He won the election (*2).

These actions fall within the American tradition of freedom of speech. There was no criminal violation, so no one was punished. But there was a gross violation of traditional intelligence norms of apolitical public service.

Q: Of the 51 signatories of the open letter, Mr. Clapper is now a commentator for CNN and Mr. Brennan is now a commentator for NBC.

Dr. Gentry: Yes. This is a significant issue because these people write opinion pieces in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other newspapers. They’re regularly on National Public Radio and the cable news networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC. These organizations were and remain anti-Trump.

These media provided and presumably will again provide anti-Trump intelligence officers with venues from which to speak about a variety of things, including saying, in essence, “On the basis of my intelligence credentials, Mr. Trump is a bad choice to become president again.” These media emphasize the credibility of anti-Trump formers to discuss domestic political matters far beyond their competence.


Intervention Expected to Intensify in Summer

In June of 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that was stronger in emphasizing “diversity” throughout the federal workforce than Obama’s 2011 order. As a result, there is an even greater push in this direction through the federal government, including in the IC.

The two organizations that were originally most prominent in DEI efforts were CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but now we’re seeing this in other agencies as well.

I expect that a variant of what we saw in 2016-2021 will recur. In fact, I believe it’s already started. At least two former intelligence officers have begun again to talk about the problems of Trump and the Republicans in general. I expect more of that will emerge as we get closer to, and then after, the Republican National Convention this summer. Leaks probably will resume later.

Q: Wouldn’t the politicization of the intelligence community lead not only to a loss of credibility in their analysis and reporting but also to a crisis in democracy?

Dr. Gentry: Yes. The tradition in the United States is that voters choose their leaders at the ballot box. What we had, particularly in the case of the Hunter Biden laptop case, was, in essence, current and former government officials using their intelligence credentials to try to influence domestic political decisions. In other words, they interfered with the normal processes of American democracy. That is, by virtually all standards, a serious problem.

The fact that leakers from within the intelligence community used disinformation to try to manipulate public perceptions and provide aid to their allies in the anti-Trump press, is inappropriate government employee interference with election processes.

We have in the United States a law, known as the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from participating in partisan political processes. The activism of 2016 to 2021 by serving intelligence officers amounted, I believe, to possible violations of the Hatch Act.

Furthermore, the offices that enforce DEI policies also foster the organizational cultural changes that triggered political activism in the past. The DEI offices have become stronger in recent years and also are places for employees to complain if they think that they aren’t being treated fairly or that they didn’t get the promotion they wanted, regardless of whether they deserved it or not. The DEI offices now have become, in essence, ideology-driven checks on managers.

In China, party representatives monitor line management in Chinese businesses. Professional managers can continue to do what they do so long as they’re acting in ways consistent with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policies.

The DEI offices have become roughly similar to the party apparatus within Chinese universities and Chinese businesses, among others. I see the elimination of the positions of people who perform a function that could be compared to the political commissars (*3) in the Soviet Union and China as a much needed intelligence reform.

(*1) A laptop seemingly possessed by Hunter Biden was confiscated by the FBI. This laptop contained emails that showed that Hunter Biden was receiving large sums of money from Chinese and Ukrainian companies, and of then-candidate Biden’s potential involvement in this.
(*2) The Media Research Center led a study in seven swing states that voted for Biden. Out of the voters that they interviewed, 45.1% said that they did not know about the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, and 9.4% said that they would have not voted for Biden if they knew. If this number was reflected in the election, then Trump would have won in all of these swing states.
(*3) Officials of the Communist Party, especially in the former Soviet Union or present-day China, responsible for political education and organization.
How Far Will They Go? U.S. Intelligence Authorities Partake in Anti-Trump Actions
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