In 2017 I wrote a blog titled “Intelligence Officers Should Stay Out of Politics.” You can search for it by clicking on the magnifying glass at the top right. In the blog I pointed out that former intelligence officials make life difficult for current intelligence officers when they opine on political matters. This is because intelligence officers are supposed to be non-partisan in their actions. If you’re a professional, you serve the president and not their party or the opposition party. When you start taking sides then you have violated the tenets of your profession.
In 2020, fifty-one former intelligence officers signed a letter claiming the Hunter Biden laptop issue was a Russian disinformation program. They provided absolutely no provable evidence on which to base their claim, but the issue was downplayed by the media in no small part because of these officials’ assertion. It turns out the laptop is real and the issues it presents may have convinced, according to a national poll, 16% of voters who voted for the current president not to vote for him. At the time the letter was presented I looked at the names of those who signed it and found a paucity of actual officers experienced either classic Russian disinformation operations. Many of the officials were political appointees to the intelligence community who had little to no actual field intelligence experience. Some others were underperforming officers and one or two have been known to stretch the truth a little. However, I know many of the signers personally, and I know their politics. Many of them very much disliked the then current president and were more than a little vocal in their opposition. In actual intelligence operations this letter would have been discounted under the “consider the source” aspect of intelligence collection.
Sourcing is very important to intelligence collection. You might say that other than the information collected, it is the single most important aspect of a collection effort. Did the source have direct access to the information? Did the source understand the technical aspects of that upon which they are reporting. Was the source’s source a creditable one that would know the information being reported? Is there corroboration for the source’s reporting in part or in whole? What is the source’s track record, and so on.
In the case of the letter no reporting on the laptop from foreign sources indicating it was or could be a Russian disinformation operation has ever been asserted. The letter was purely a political ploy by a group of former intelligence officials to misdirect the attention of the public away from the issues raised by the laptop and to provide cover for the media to promulgate a Russian involvement. It was the Steele dossier part two trying to perpetuate the myth that the Russians somehow favored one candidate over another. In truth, they probably did, but anyone with any experience in foreign affairs and intelligence work would have known it wasn’t Trump over Biden. Remember, the Russians knew the truth about the Steele dossier and the mythical Russian bank server long before the American public would be informed. They knew because they hadn’t done what they were being accused of doing. So, then they knew the laptop was real long before the public would.
What was claimed to be a Russian disinformation program was, in fact, a disinformation program of witting and unwitting former intelligence officials interfering in an election. I’m sure each has a good rationalization for their participation but as a retired member of the Senior Intelligence Service I must add my voice to those calling for a reckoning of why many of these officials have been allowed to keep their clearances and are not being held to the same rules current intelligence officers are under the Hatch Act. Also, I would like to know if this letter was approved by the Publications and Review Board of the CIA, since I am told it was drafted by a former CIA officer and a former Director of the CIA, both of whom have ties to a particular political party. Several of the letter’s signers now have responsible positions in the current legislative or executive branches and one signer has claimed he is proud to have influenced the election.
Such statements and placement of personnel in the current government indicate the letter was, in my opinion, an intelligence operation to discredit otherwise noteworthy information useful to the electorate. Those who designed and carried out this operation against the public should be held to account.