(updated as time permits)
Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told The Cipher Brief that NATO allies do not feel good about Trump’s lack of confidence in America’s intelligence services. But he also said the problem goes beyond that. “It is more than distrust in intelligence. It is Trump’s erratic behavior and egomania.”
President-elect Trump repeatedly stressed during the campaign that he would not elaborate on his plans to counter adversaries, arguing the need for the element of surprise – don’t tell your adversaries what you’re going to do. So is there a rationale for Trump’s often inflammatory claims, and if so, to what end?
Historically, strategists from Sun Tzu to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to Richard Nixon have preached that bewildering an adversary allows one to maintain initiative. But the same cannot be said for bewildering an ally.
There are several possible explanations for Trump’s position. They are not mutually exclusive. First, he may be trying to shore up his political standing before the Electoral College vote on Monday. Second, he may be attempting to undermine the credibility of US intelligence agencies in advance of his taking office so that he can intimidate them and have a freer hand in reshaping the intelligence product to suit his objectives. Third, he may be testing his ability to go over the heads of intelligence professionals and congressional critics and persuade the American public to follow his version of the truth about national security threats. And finally, he may be seeking to cover up evidence of involvement or prior knowledge by members of his campaign team or himself in the Russian cyberattack.
In each case the president-elect is inviting an interpretation that his behavior is treasonous. The federal crime of treason is committed by a person “owing allegiance to the United States who . . . adheres to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort,” and misprision of treason is committed by a person “having knowledge of the commission of any treason [who] conceals and does not disclose” the crime. By denigrating or seeking to prevent an investigation of the Russian cyberattack Trump is giving aid or comfort to an enemy of the United States, a crime that is enhanced if the fourth explanation applies — that he is in fact seeking to cover up his staff’s or his own involvement in or prior knowledge of the attack.
Arizona Senator John McCain said Sunday that Russian hacking during the 2016 election threatens to “destroy democracy.”
The Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee pushed for a special select committee to investigate the CIA’s finding that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and a top Hillary Clinton aide in an effort to help elect Donald Trump as President.
“We need a select committee,” McCain said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election.”
Putin confidently executed a strategic spy operation against our election, specifically to harm the Democrats and their presidential nominee. Russia’s president didn’t fear retribution, as he correctly assessed that Obama was too timid and eager to win Russian favor to respond in any meaningful way. After all, the White House in 2015 quashed a tiny State Department effort to counter Kremlin disinformation, which was taken in Moscow as a green light to put their spies-telling-lies machine into overdrive.
Moreover, Putin knew what the Obama administration would (and would not) do about this massive and aggressive jump in the SpyWar thanks to his moles in Washington. It seems highly likely, based on available evidence, that Russian intelligence has been reading secret U.S. communications for years—that’s what moles inside NSA are for—which would give Putin the ability to beat American spies every step of the way, not to mention deep insights into top-level decision-making in Washington.
I have a sense that Americans are only now beginning to realize what has happened. Even leading Republicans are demanding to know what is going on. But unless something even more extraordinary occurs in the next few weeks, Russia’s American coup has already succeeded. No matter what happens next, the United States, its institutions, its place in the world, all have been left dangerously weakened, fractured, diminished.
European leaders are openly questioning America’s role in NATO. Beijing is flying nuclear bombers over the South China Sea. Russian and Syrian troops are retaking Aleppo from the rebels. That’s the sound of thunder in the distance; the world has changed.