- - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I grew up in the CIA. My father joined the clandestine side of the agency at its foundation, and I was born shortly after that. He spent his entire career at the agency, retiring as a station chief in Europe. He was a cold warrior, and the Russians were his adversaries. But he made a point of knowing something about his KGB counterparts, even to the point of playing tennis with one. He said he liked to get to know them.

A few years ago, I wrote on these pages an opinion piece titled “Team Obama: President Putin’s Pawns.” It described how easily the former KGB agent had been playing the Obama team, including Hillary Clinton. It was embarrassing to watch them. Having started with the now-risible “reset” of the relationship, they tried groveling before President Obama’s last election (he said he will have more “flexibility” afterward), and then they turned to petulance when Mr. Putin insisted on being, well, Mr. Putin.

Now they are blaming their ultimate political humiliation, the loss of the election to Donald Trump, on Vladimir Putin. There seems to be no recognition in Washington that the entire exercise looks to the rest of the world to be a callow, if not cowardly, effort to find a scapegoat for yet another domestic political failure. And that is exactly what it is.

The recently released intelligence report, putatively assessing Russia’s (Mr. Putin‘s) efforts to influence the last election, is farcical. One half of it is dedicated to RT, and most of that is in an annex published by a CIA entity over four years ago. So is there anyone in Washington who by now does not understand what RT is? Is there anyone in Washington who does not understand what Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is and was? Is there anyone so naive as to expect that RT will not reflect the views of the Kremlin?

The report goes on to tut-tut the fact that the Russian leadership expressed a preference for politicians with whom Russia felt it might be able to maintain good relations. What a shocking observation. Is there anyone in Washington so uninformed as to believe the United States does not do the same thing? Does anyone remember this administration’s not-so-subtle efforts to discredit Benjamin Netanyahu during his last campaign? Given how badly this administration has fumbled relations with Moscow, from belittling it as a regional power, to first acquiescing in and then objecting to Mr. Putin’s plan to retake the presidency, it is a bit hard to believe that Mr. Putin would not have a preference for anyone but Hillary. After all, over half of this country did. She may have beaten Mr. Trump in the popular vote, but she did not get a majority of that vote. Note to the mainstream media: Mr. Putin had a lot of company.

The report even includes the alarming assessment that the Russians are spying on our politicians. Imagine that. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when everyone knew that. News flash: The Russians spy on us, always have and always will. Act accordingly, and protect your information. And it is not as if the United States does not do the same. Ask Angela Merkel.

The only thing that is potentially new in the report is the fact that the Russians disseminated the results of their spying back to news outlets, using intermediaries like WikiLeaks as cover. Welcome to the internet age. But using the press to disseminate that kind of information is not new. According to the Los Angeles Times, that is precisely what the United States did to Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times article pointed out that the United States has a long history of spying on, and influencing the politics of, not only our adversaries, but at times our allies. That may be part of “the U.S.-led liberal democratic order,” whatever that is supposed to mean, that the report so pompously champions. Perhaps it means that we can do it, but no one else should.

The thing that is most shocking in this sad affair is the fact that the CIA has gotten involved in domestic politics. Director John Brennan’s appearance on public television, before the release of the report, was as extraordinary as it was inappropriate. And the report itself has done as much to discredit our government as anything Mr. Putin has done. Its assessment that Mr. Putin was trying to help Mr. Trump, all the while recognizing that Hillary was likely to win, borders on the absurd. The U.S. intelligence community has consistently misread Mr. Putin’s intentions for years. They seem to have forgotten what KGB agents are like.

My father passed away a decade ago. It is fortunate that he is not alive to see the agency, and the cause to which he dedicated his professional career, descend to this. Casting doubt on the legitimacy of a U.S. election is not within the lawful, moral or political mandate of the CIA. The reason Vladimir Putin did not match Mr. Obama’s sanctions is obvious. The report and its assessments do not deserve to be taken seriously. They are naive, exaggerated and an embarrassment to anyone who cherishes our constitutional system of government and its institutions. In other words, the report is a disgrace.

• Warren L. Dean Jr. is a lawyer and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center.


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