The Awful Truth

Number 5 in a Series

The title of this series derived from that of an old movie, but I use it to highlight that for some people the truth is often sorry news. The topic today is not a movie but a recent book by James R. Clapper, retired Air Force lieutenant general and most recently Director of National Intelligence. The book is Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence. I obtained the Kindle edition from Amazon after catching an interview with General Clapper on CNN. It’s 431 pages, but it’s an interesting read, provided stuff like intelligence and truth are of interest.

It’s a story of a life, quite literally, in the national intelligence business. Clapper is about five months younger than I am, and his father was in the Army signal intelligence field. So Clapper grew up in that world, traveling with his parents as his father was posted to exotic places following the fall of fascism. An early memory was arriving with his mother in Cairo, a visit that terminated abruptly somewhat later when King Farouk made a pass at his mother, and his father took a swing at the king. Someday let me tell you about my exciting childhood growing up in Hood County, Texas.

Anyhow, young James showed great promise and naturally drifted into military intelligence and eventually into  Wasington  bureaucracy. The key to the book is Clapper’s perspective on the current tussle over fact and truth in the Donald Trump administration, viewed with the vision of a person who spent a long career learning how to sift fact from fiction. He leaves a grim reminder that fiction is on the ascendancy. I’m going to present this perspective by way of showing pertinent clips from the book and adding elaboration when available. Start here with Clapper’s reaction to the outcome of the 2016 election:

I was shocked. Everyone was shocked, including Mr. Trump, who’d continued on Election Day to cast doubt on whether he would accept the election results as legitimate. Having a few minutes alone, I kept thinking of just how out of touch I was with the people who lived in Middle America. I’d been stationed in heartland states repeatedly during my military career, particularly Texas, and I had traveled extensively as an agency director in the early 2000s and again during the past six and a half years as DNI, meeting with Intelligence Community employees outside of St. Louis, speaking at the University of Texas at Austin and with the Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, and visiting many other places. I’d joked to audiences about just how out of touch people in Washington were, and I’d never failed to draw a laugh, sometimes applause. Working down in the “engine room” of our national security enterprise—“shoveling intelligence coal,” as I liked to say—I never recognized just how much frustration with and resentment toward Washington those communities had, and just how deep the roots of their anger went. But Donald Trump had, and he’d appealed to them more than I’d realized or liked.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It came as a surprise to most right-thinking people that fact no longer mattered, being cast aside over a call to our basest impulses. This is from the Introduction, and there’s more from this section summarizing Clapper’s take on the situation.

I also thought about the warning on Russian interference in the election that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and I had issued to the American public a month earlier. We’d agonized over the precise wording of the press release and whether naming Russian president Vladimir Putin as the mastermind and puppeteer of the Russian influence operation would cause an international incident, drawing Jeh’s department and the Intelligence Community into the political fray. Reading responses to exit polls, I realized that our release and public statements simply hadn’t mattered. I wasn’t sure if people were oblivious to the seriousness of the threat we’d described or if they just didn’t care what the Russians were doing.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I wondered what President Obama was thinking and if he regretted his reticence to “put his thumb on the scale” of the election—as he put it—by not publicly calling out the Russian interference while Putin was effectively standing on the other end of that scale. At the same time, I was no longer sure it would have mattered to the people in Middle America if the president had presented everything we knew about Russia’s massive cyber and propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy, disparage former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and promote Donald Trump.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I didn’t realize it then, but the Russians were just as shocked as we were. They’d succeeded beyond their wildest imagination and were completely unprepared for their own success. The Russian propaganda network in the United States, formerly known as Russia Today and since rebranded as just “RT,” was jubilant in calling the election for Mr. Trump: “That’s what this is, a defining moment in global history, that America is willing to turn the page and possibly isolate itself from the rest of the world.” They declared, “The next speech that Donald Trump gives to the world will be one of the most important speeches in the history of the world.” As the anchors reveled in Trump’s victory, the crawl at the bottom of the screen continued running lines intended to delegitimize Clinton’s win, such as SEVERAL STATES REPORT BROKEN VOTING MACHINES. The Russian internet troll factory scrambled to stop its #DemocracyRIP social media campaign, set to run from its fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

After the election, the CIA and the FBI continued to uncover evidence of preelection Russian propaganda, all intended to undermine Clinton and promote Trump, and the Intelligence Community continued to find indications of Russian cyber operations to interfere with the election. At a National Security Council meeting on Monday, December 5, President Obama gave us more explicit instructions. He wanted the CIA, NSA, and FBI—each agency with the mission-specific tradecraft and capabilities to determine what the Russians had done—to assemble all their findings, encompassing the most sensitive sourcing, into a single report that he could pass on to the next administration and to Congress. He also asked us to produce a paper for public consumption with as much information from the classified version as possible. And critically, he wanted all of this done before he left office. The highly classified IC assessment that resulted was, I believe, a landmark product—among the most important ever produced by US intelligence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 3-4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

For me, there was no specific moment in that time, no flash of insight when I understood that our primary adversary for nearly all of my half century as a US intelligence professional was—without exaggeration—hacking away at the very roots of our democracy. That realization slowly washed over me in 2016 in a tide that continued to rise after the election, and even after I’d left government and the new administration had transitioned into power. My concern about what I saw taking place in America—and my apprehension that we were losing focus on what the Russians had done to us—is ultimately what persuaded me to write this book, to use what we had learned in our IC assessment to frame my experience and our collective experience as Americans.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

My hope is to capture and share the experience of more than fifty years in the intelligence profession, to impart the pride that intelligence officers take in their work, the care with which they consider the ethical implications of surveillance and espionage, and the patriotism and willingness to sacrifice that they bring to the job. And finally, I intend to show that what Russia did to the United States during the 2016 election was far worse than just another post–Cold War jab at an old adversary. What to us was a sustained assault on our traditional values and institutions of governance, from external as well as internal pressures. In the wake of that experience, my fear is that many Americans are questioning if facts are even knowable, as foreign adversaries and our national leaders continue to deny objective reality while advancing their own “alternative facts.” America possesses great strength and resilience, but how we rise to this challenge—with clear-eyed recognition of the unbiased facts and by setting aside our doubts—is entirely up to us. I believe the destiny of the American ideal is at stake.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And that pretty much sums up the book’s introduction. Any more, and I would have pasted here the entire text. I will skip over much that details Clapper’s career in military intelligence, highlighting only a few excerpts. Then I will close out with events most of us recall from watching TV. First some career highlights. Here’s something that came up in another book I reviewed recently:

Many of the prominent code crackers of World War II had been women who’d stayed with the agency after the war, and NSA in the 1960s was appreciative of their contributions and more open to having them in leadership positions than the rest of government or corporate America. My dad had worked for several of these women in the 1950s, including Juanita Moody and Ann Caracristi, who in 1980 would shatter the glass ceiling as deputy director of NSA. Hearing him talk about these individuals as smart, capable leaders, without his making a big deal about their gender, made a bigger impression on my views of women than any feminist views my mother ever expressed.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 19). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His years in military service encompassed historical transformations:

family. The most indelible experience I had was processing the dishonorable discharges of two airmen who were roommates in the barracks, and who had been “outed” (which was not a term used back then) as homosexual. In the day, there was—by regulation—no other recourse. They automatically lost their security clearances and were expelled from the service. At best, homosexuals were given general discharges; some received dishonorable. These two individuals were model airmen: superb Russian linguists, meticulous about their military responsibilities, and devoted to serving their country. I remember thinking what a waste of talent it was, in addition to being a profound injustice, and it viscerally bothered me that I was forced to play a part in their unceremonious dismissals.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 21). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In those days intelligence was largely historical, telling people what had happened, not what was happening and certainly not forecasting what was going to happen.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 22). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Because of the size of the Soviet Union and China, high-frequency Morse code was the primary way to effectively communicate across such vast distances, so the entire Eurasian landmass was ringed with SIGINT sites, stretching from Japan to Turkey to Britain. Each signals intelligence station employed hundreds of GIs—soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines—copying “dits and dahs” around the clock, day in and day out.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 25). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In February 1959, the Air Force attempted the launch of its first “overhead” collection capability—Corona. The first launch vehicle never left the pad. In assessing America’s early successes in space photoreconnaissance and just how much they changed the game against the Soviets, people tend to forget that in 1959 and 1960 our first thirteen attempts at Corona failed.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 26). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Tensions between North and South escalated, and US Air Force B-52s continued to fly patrols parallel to the DMZ. The North Koreans, in turn, put their air-defense systems on high alert, flew MiG fighters on frequent patrols, and dispatched their submarines out to sea. We intercepted communications indicating that Kim Il-sung might order an invasion into South Korea. I stayed in the office for about three days without going home, communicating via Teletype with an Army major who was my counterpart in South Korea. The sense of an imminent war was palpable through the crisis, and it took several weeks for the situation to stabilize enough for us to fall back into a regular rhythm.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 34). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I had not fully appreciated the consuming siege mentality that pervades North Korea until I visited and engaged directly with senior officials there. The leadership elites in the North work hard to maximize paranoia among the population. Portraying the United States as an enemy that’s constantly on the brink of invading it is one of the chief propaganda themes that’s held North Korea together for the past sixty years. They are also deadly serious about any perceived affronts to the Supreme Leader, whom they literally consider a deity. The DPRK is a family-owned country and has been that way ever since it was founded in the 1940s. Because of its history, the DPRK sees developing nuclear weapons as its insurance policy and ticket to survival. North Korea wants to be recognized as a world power, and its entire society, including their conventional military forces, suffers for the relentless, single-minded commitment to develop and field these weapons and delivery systems to threaten the United States. Neither they nor we really know if their weapons work, but in many ways, it doesn’t matter. They achieved nuclear deterrence long ago, because we have to assume that if they do launch an ICBM at the United States, it will reach our shores and detonate. They have effectively played their nuclear hand to the hilt, for without even proving they have the relevant capability, they’ve capitalized on nuclear deterrence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 49-50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Reading the account of  his own career, which nobody will deny is factual, you have to conclude that James Clapper came to be knowledgeable about all facets of intelligence gathering and analysis. He gives the impression of one who values true and useful information, but he reemphasizes that the job of intelligence agencies is to present proper detail and the significance of intelligence but at the same time not to extrapolate and not to suggest consequences. Military, law enforcement, and politicians bear the responsibility for taking action.

His service in Washington provided Clapper with insight into  a number of personalities, insight that eventually became reflected in news headlines. One such person was two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When Clapper applied to head up the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (then NIMA), Secretary Rumsfeld had to sign off on his hiring:

Almost as soon as I sat down, Rumsfeld was off on a rant about Congress, complaining about partisan politics and how too many members catered to their constituents over the best interests of the nation.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 90). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper found the meeting uncomfortable, resulting in this exchange:

As my thirty-minute appointment extended to forty-five minutes, I thought that if I was a wagering man, I’d bet he’d be out of the job before Christmas. The interview came to a merciful end. He stood, shook my hand, and wished me luck. Outside, Staser saw my quizzical look and told me I had the job.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 91). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Staser” is “retired Vice Admiral Staser Holcomb, who had been Secretary Rumsfeld’s military assistant the first time he’d served as secretary of defense and who was now serving informally as Rumsfeld’s “executive headhunter,” recruiting people for senior positions in DOD.” [Page 87]

A subsequent encounter with Secretary Rumsfeld led ultimately to Clapper’s firing from head of NIMA.

At that lunch, Mike and I both advocated establishing a strong DNI, rather than creating a weak figurehead that would diffuse or confuse authority, and we told the secretary that he should back legislation that would align the three “national” agencies under a DNI. The agencies could still fulfill their combat support responsibilities, but they would produce better intelligence under an authority whose full-time focus would be on integrating their work. We appealed to him to support improving how intelligence functioned, rather than protecting the existing bureaucracy. Secretary Rumsfeld cut short the lunch and left, missing a good dessert. Mike would later say that my discourse that day was the reason my NGA directorship was ultimately terminated early.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 105). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“DNI” is Director of National Intelligence, and “NGA” is a subsequent abbreviation for the agency that was NIMA.

Another personality eventually to become notable is Lieutenant General Michael Flynn:

When I first went to Russia in 1992, I was taken aback, even disappointed, at seeing the run-down infrastructure and the plight of Russian citizens. It was graphic evidence that behind the formidable Soviet military power was a third- or fourth-rate economy. On a subsequent trip, I visited GRU headquarters—the Russian military intelligence agency that was DIA’s nominal counterpart, much as the KGB was CIA’s. (I don’t know if I was the first DIA director to visit GRU, but I do know that Lieutenant General Mike Flynn was not the first DIA director to visit there in 2013, as he claimed.) There we found Soviet military equipment being sold at bargain-basement prices to raise funds to keep the agency functioning, so DIA bought jets, tanks, guns, antiaircraft systems, and whatever else we thought would be useful to study and exploit, as well as anything we wanted to keep off the black market.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 79). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

General Flynn served briefly in the administrations of President Obama and President Trump. Prior to that he became noted for keeping his own facts, which facts have come to be called “Flynn facts.”

Mike had spent his career, particularly the decade since 9/11, on the tactical edge of battle. He had never directed a large organization before, and he made some of the same mistakes I’d made as a new DIA director in 1991, including not properly engaging the workforce before undertaking a major reorganization. He could have rectified the situation, but he didn’t address the civilian workforce’s concerns when they were brought to him, and he made matters worse by increasingly demanding that civilians behave like uniformed service members. Stories started leaking out of DIA that he was using analysts to chase down crazy conspiracy theories, which the workforce had dubbed “Flynn facts.” He also clashed with his boss in the Pentagon, Mike Vickers, and publicly criticized the president’s policy decisions, asserting that the president should refer to terrorists as “Islamic extremists.”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 331). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As General Flynn exited military life and entered politics, his persona became more flamboyant and his discourse more strident:

With the Trump team setting the agenda, the convention seemed to revel in pessimism about the state of the nation and the direction it was heading. On Monday, Mike Flynn led the crowd in chanting “Lock her up!” in reference to the Clinton email scandal. He seemed so consumed by partisan anger that I barely recognized the man I’d traveled the world with when he’d still been in uniform.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 341). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper notes with alarm Flynn’s actions as he entered the Trump administration:

Three days after candidate Trump released his December 7 anti-Islam statement, former DIA director and retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn appeared in Moscow at a gala for RT. He was seated beside Putin at dinner and was paid forty-five thousand dollars to speak. I knew Mike well, and it boggled my mind that he would so knowingly compromise himself.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 330). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

RT is the new name for Russia TV, a television network funded by the Russian government.

The book addresses the matters of Bradley Manning—an Army private—and Edward Snowden, both of whom filched classified information, eventually shared world-wide by WikiLeaks. For details of these episodes you might want to read the book or wait for separate blog postings that concentrate on these matters.

People who want to discredit our intelligence and law enforcement services have found a target in Clapper’s statements before a Senate “worldwide threat assessment hearing” on 12 March 2013. His response to a question from Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon has become fodder for a host of those seeking to avoid the embarrassment of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and more. Senator Wyden posed a question during an open session:

And this is for you, Director Clapper—again, on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Of course, Director Clapper knew of the NSA program to track phone traffic related to conversations that included suspicious foreigners, and he knew that these conversations sometimes involved American citizens, people who might not be involved in illegal activity. The program was a closely kept secret, because it would not be a good idea for spies to know the NSA was doing this. Senator Wyden demanded a yes or no answer, which the question did not deserve. There was hardly any response Clapper could have made, even beyond a yes or a no. If he told the senator that he was unable to answer that question in an open meeting, that would have given a strong signal that the NSA was monitoring telephone traffic, and he would have been guilty of divulging classified information. But the senator referred to “dossiers” on Americans, something which the NSA was not compiling in the manner indicated. Clapper answered no to that question, which was technically correct, but which later turned out to be something used to torch him.

The theme of this book is the fading esteem for fact and truth in the new government, and I will finish with some pertinent quotes.

For the past several years, I’d watched as “unpredictable instability” instability” around the world had prompted angry populations to rise up against their governments and societies. It led to al-Qaida, ISIS, and their ilk proliferating from Afghanistan to Southwest Asia and into North Africa and Europe. It led to civil wars in Libya and Syria and a global refugee crisis unlike anything the world had seen since the end of the Second World War, which my dad had helped end. Unpredictable instability brought pain, war, and suffering to the world. In the United States, it gave us Donald Trump.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 357). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I was far from being the only person who was shocked by the outcome, and as the Russians scrambled to stop their #DemocracyRIP social media campaign, President-elect Trump’s circle seemed to have no strategy for shifting from campaign mode to administration-transition mode. Rather than working with the State Department, or even contacting it, Trump was taking calls from world leaders, apparently from whoever could get his personal cell phone number. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull famously obtained it from professional golfer Greg Norman and was one of eight world leaders to call Trump with congratulations on the day his victory was announced. With no State Department involvement, no one briefed the president-elect on bilateral issues or existing agreements, and the United States has no official record of what was said during those conversations.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 357-358). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There was and remains no doubt the government of Vladimir Putin dreaded the possibility Hillary Clinton would be elected, and they worked against her candidacy from the get-go. When Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee they shifted their focus and worked toward his election. As seen from the foregoing, toward the end they feared Trump would lose and focused on discrediting the American election process.

During his final weeks employed by the government, Director Clapper had the opportunity to read the world’s response to Donal Trump’s election:

I traveled from Oman to Kuwait and then to Jordan, where I had lunch with King Abdullah on Friday. The king tried to hide his pique that there had been no communication between Trump’s team and his government. He ended the lunch early, and I watched wistfully as someone carried off my plate after I’d had only a couple of bites of a superb steak. The next day, I flew from Jordan to Israel, ending another trip to the Middle East with a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He seemed a different person, jubilant with the results of the election. He couldn’t stop smiling and noted that he’d had a terrific conversation with the president-elect within hours of Trump’s delivering his victory speech. I congratulated him, and he gave me another of his cigars.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 359). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The election of Donald Trump is one of the few joys shared by Putin and Netanyahu. There was valid concern the new administration would seek to minimize the actions of the Putin government.  Members of the intelligence community sought to forestall these efforts while they still had the directive to do so.

Regardless of our cooperation with the Trump transition team, we hadn’t forgotten what Russia had done. The FBI and CIA were coming across new evidence of Russian activities relating to the election every day, and I was starting to see that the scope and scale of their effort was much bigger than Jeh or I had understood when we’d released our statement in October.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 361). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The concerns of the intelligence agencies turned out to have merit. The words and actions of Donald Trump following the election make it clear he sees this Russian business as a threat to his legitimacy:

As we discussed those possibilities in the White House Situation Room, the public dialogue about Russian interference was heating up. Seeming to fear it called the legitimacy of his election into question, the president-elect responded defensively whenever the subject was raised. In an interview with Time magazine on November 28, he countered a question on Russian activities with, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.” Asked who he thought had hacked the Democrats’ email accounts and IT systems, he responded, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

We knew it was not someone in New Jersey, and I was fairly certain that President-elect Trump knew that as well. At an NSC meeting on Monday, December 5, President Obama told us he wanted CIA, FBI, and NSA to integrate all their relevant intelligence into a single report to pass on to the next administration and Congress. He also asked us to derive from it an unclassified document for public consumption with as much information from the classified version as possible. And critically, he wanted all of this done before January 20—the end of his administration.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 361-362). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

On Friday, December 9, unnamed “officials briefed on the matter” leaked the effort to the press, saying the CIA and FBI had reached the conclusion that Russia had helped Trump win. The leak wasn’t quite accurate, and certainly wasn’t helpful, but the immediate response from President-elect Trump’s transition team was even worse. Under the seal of “President Elect Donald J. Trump,” the team published a press release that—with no preamble—began, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’” It was stunning. Based on rumors from anonymous sources, the president-elect had lashed out reflexively to delegitimize the Intelligence Community—the same IC that would be serving him in forty-two days, that was already giving him President Obama’s PDBs. The attack was disturbing, as was its demonstrably false assertion that his victory was one of the “biggest” ever.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 362-363). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Fact was dying a quick death.

The president-elect seemed increasingly desperate to make the story of Russian interference go away, constantly denying there had been any impact on the election or any interference at all. On December 28, he said that it was “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things.” President Obama didn’t want to focus on the Russian issue during his final weeks in office, either, but he wasn’t simply going to “move on.” On December 29, he ordered new sanctions against Russia and declared thirty-five known Russian spies in the United States to be persona non grata and sent them home. He also closed the two Russian-owned facilities in Maryland and New York. I didn’t think that response was commensurate with what they’d done to us, but I also knew we weren’t prepared to take more drastic steps. We waited to see how Putin would respond, fully expecting a reciprocal retaliation.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 365-366). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The same day, as was confirmed when he later pled guilty to lying to the FBI about it, National Security Adviser-designate Mike Flynn called Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, assuring him not to worry about the sanctions and asking that Russia not retaliate. On the following day, Putin announced he would not expel anyone from Russia and would not respond in kind to the new US sanctions, saying he would wait to work with the next US presidential administration. Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)—I always knew he was very smart!”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 366). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper details the Russian propaganda successes:

We showed unambiguously that Putin had ordered the campaign to influence the election, that the campaign was multifaceted, and that Russia had used cyber espionage against US political organizations and publicly disclosed the data they collected through WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and the Guccifer 2.0 persona. We documented Russian cyber intrusions into state and local voter rolls. We described Russia’s pervasive propaganda efforts through RT, Sputnik, and the social media trolls, and how the entire operation had begun with attempts to undermine US democracy and demean Secretary Clinton, then shifted to promoting Mr. Trump when Russia assessed he was a viable candidate who would serve their strategic goals. We added historical context to show just how much of an unprecedented escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort all of this represented, and we assessed that the election operation signaled a “new normal in Russian influence efforts.” The Russian government had done all of this at minimal cost and without significant damage to their own interests, and they had no real incentive to stop.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 366-367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As events moved toward the change in government, the president-elect became strident in his denunciation of truth:

On Tuesday President-elect Trump attempted to undercut our assessment before its release, tweeting, “The ‘intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

At 8:30 on Friday morning we were back on Capitol Hill, presenting our briefing to the “Gang of Eight”: the party leaders in the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Our presentation was fast-paced and terse, as we had to leave by 9:30 to stay on schedule. I departed the Capitol with the impression that the leaders of both parties were taken aback, both by the extent of the Russian operation and by the thoroughness with which we’d documented the facts and evidence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 373). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The matter of the Steele dossier (think “Pee Pee Tape”) was first broached to :the president-elect at a briefing in Trump Tower:

As we closed the briefing, Jim Comey took advantage of a pause in conversation to address the president-elect. We’d agreed that one of the two of us would bring up “one additional matter,” a subject “best discussed on a one-on-one basis” with the president-elect. The additional matter was a dossier—a collection of seventeen “pseudo-intelligence” reports created by a private company—which I first learned about from John Brennan a week or so after we’d been tasked to conduct the IC assessment. I didn’t know until after my tenure as DNI that the dossier had begun as opposition research against Mr. Trump during the Republican primary race and then, sponsored by the Democrats, had continued to expand during the general election campaign. The memos covered a wide range of topics all related to long-standing interactions between Trump, his associates, and the Russians. It further alleged that the Russian government had compromising material on the president-elect and his team, which it had not disclosed during the course of the election or since.

Some details in the report were salacious, but in our professional opinions, the more ominous accounts alleged ties between members of the Trump team and the Russian government. Because we had not corroborated any of the sources used to generate the dossier, we had not included it as part of our IC assessment. We knew that at least two congressional members and some of the media had copies of the dossier, and that it could be published—in whole or in part—at any moment. While we could neither confirm nor refute anything in the document, we felt what I expressed as a “duty to warn” the president-elect that it existed and that it potentially could be made public. I wondered at the time—and have often done so since—what the reaction would have been had we not warned the president-elect about the existence of the dossier, and he later learned we had known about it and chosen not to tell him.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 375-376). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Steele dossier and the matter of the “Pee Pee Tape” continues to roil the debate and to be a subject of attacks on the intelligence agencies. For me, it’s a never ending source of mirth;

During the course of briefing the incoming administration, Clapper received clear signs there was no plan to follow advice regarding the Russian government operations. He took action to ensure some pertinent facts would get out.

Before we cleared the conference room, the Trump team had already begun drafting their press release about our meeting. I overheard their first point, that the US IC had assessed that the Russian interference did not change the outcome of the election—which was very different from our acknowledgment that we hadn’t, and couldn’t, assess its impact. We had to let it pass. In the hallway I took the opportunity to engage Tom Bossert, who in turn introduced me to the vice president-elect. I spoke with them briefly, suggesting that the new administration consider asking Nick Rasmussen to stay on as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, which it did.

In the car on the way back to Newark Airport, I called Brian Hale (who only requested to be described as “tanned and rested” if we mentioned him in this book) and told him to publish the unclassified IC assessment immediately.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 376). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper emphasized the word immediately.

The facts of the Russian operation continued to be a political football, in play by both parties.

For the next two hours, as the American public, the Russian government, and the rest of the world watched, we answered questions about the Russian cyber and influence operation. The senators, and simultaneously the media, sought to parse our every word, Democrats looking for collusion between Trump’s team and the Russians, Republicans for evidence of a conspiracy that the IC was attempting to undermine the president-elect.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 379). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When I finally had the free time to check on world events, I found that all the contentiousness of the hearings and briefings had been completely overshadowed by other breaking news: BuzzFeed had published the now-infamous dossier on Trump, the one that Jim had warned the president-elect about five days earlier. In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” Trump publicly blamed us for the publication of the dossier—yet another indication to me that his administration would not appreciate anyone’s speaking truth to power, particularly if the truth was politically inconvenient.

I woke Wednesday to find that Trump had tweeted another early-morning attack on us: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” I was floored by the analogy, and Jewish communities in the United States and abroad called for him to apologize and retract the statement. That afternoon in my office, I watched the president-elect in a televised news conference, doubling down on his Nazi tweet, again alleging that US intelligence agencies had “allowed” the dossier to leak—as though we had any control over a document we’d discovered already “out in the wild.” He continued, “I think it’s a disgrace. And I say that, and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.” Not helping the situation, the New York Times quickly published a story apparently intended to clarify that he meant to refer to US intelligence as the Stasi, not the Gestapo.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 379-380). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Following his retirement, General Clapper watched unfolding events with a combination of humor and horror (my interpretation):

And I watched from the outside as the new administration struggled to govern while contending with the new president’s aversion to inconvenient facts.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Contrary to all the images and data, Sean Spicer berated the media for their coverage, announcing, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Telling them the White House would hold them responsible for misrepresentations, he took no questions.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

An hour and a half later, President Trump was on camera at CIA headquarters. When I’d heard the first place he would visit as president was the CIA, I naïvely wondered if my appeal to his higher instincts had somehow had impact. No. He took to the microphone and began rambling about the “dishonest media,” the size of his inauguration crowd, and his belief that military and law enforcement people had voted for him en masse, lumping the CIA into those categories and saying, “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did. But I would guarantee a big portion, because we’re all on the same wavelength, folks.” He expressed his support of the IC with “I want to say that there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody.” He briefly interrupted himself to say, “The wall behind me is very, very special,” and then resumed his self-aggrandizing diatribe. The problem was that the sacred wall he was standing before—with its 125 stars representing fallen CIA officers—is the CIA’s equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, not a place for politics or boasting. I considered putting out a statement, but John Brennan expressed that he was “deeply saddened and angered” and that “Trump should be ashamed of himself,” and I felt that covered it.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Neither the book nor outside information identify James Clapper as a Democrat or a Republican. Throughout he comes across as holding decidedly progressive views, on the promotion of  women and on equal treatment of people of all kinds. He leaves no doubt he considers the current president as both corrupt and an enemy of the truth.

2 thoughts on “The Awful Truth

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