EXCLUSIVE: Former CIA Director John Brennan says the biggest threat to the 2020 election is Trump himself
John Brennan. Thomson Reuters
Former CIA director John Brennan told Insider that the biggest threat to the November election was President Donald Trump himself.
He said the "dishonesty" and disinformation emerging from the White House and Trump campaigns were as dangerous as foreign interference in the election.
Brennan has built a reputation for being one of Trump's most vocal critics since leaving the CIA in 2017. In his new treatise, "Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies at Home and Abroad," he ran out of words.
The former CIA chief wrote that he was "disgusted" and "nauseated" by Trump's behavior towards the US intelligence community and his refusal to recognize Moscow's campaign to meddle in the 2016 election.
Overall, Brennan told Insider, Russia got everything it had hoped for from Trump's presidency.
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Former CIA director John Brennan believes the biggest threat to the 2020 election is the sitting US president.
"Dishonesty, particularly the one that emerged from the Donald Trump campaign and the fact that you have certain networks that continue to misrepresent the facts in a very willful and dishonest way, is the main risk," he told Insider in an interview. "Trump has a very well-established and recognized track record of misrepresenting the truth, and he will continue to do so. And unfortunately, there are too many people who just drink the demagogic rhetoric he spits out."
Brennan spent more than two decades with the CIA and was director of the agency from 2013 to 2017. Prior to that, he worked as an analyst in the Middle East and South Asia division and later as station chief in Saudi Arabia and head of the National Counter Terrorism Center.
Brennan left the civil service in 2005 to work in private security consulting. However, in 2009 he returned to the government. In 2013, then-President Barack Obama named Brennan head of the CIA, which he did until 2017.
Since leaving the US administration, Brennan has built a reputation as one of Trump's harshest and most consistent critics. However, Brennan's concerns about the president sat well before he left the office of CIA director, according to his new book, Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies At Home and Abroad, published Tuesday.
The book opens with a tense scene that happened on January 6, 2017, days before Brennan left the agency. He and other US intelligence chiefs informed the "Gang of Eight" of Congress and later the then-elected President Donald Trump about Russia's unprecedented and costly interference in the 2016 elections. The attack and Trump's refusal to recognize it would become one of the decisive failures his presidency will be.
During the briefing, Brennan wrote, Trump repeatedly doubted the intelligence of the intelligence, although the heads of the CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the director of the National Intelligence Service all agreed on its contents.
Towards the end of the briefing, Trump suggested that information provided from human sources could be crafted for personal gain.
"Everyone will say something if you pay them enough. I know that and you know that," Trump told Brennan, the book said.
The former CIA director wrote that he was "disgusted" by the president-elect's comments given the life-threatening circumstances human intelligence sources venture into to serve their country.
“I stared at Trump,” and “bit my tongue almost hard enough to draw blood,” Brennan wrote. "I knew that at the time he saw me not as John Brennan but as director of the CIA, and I did not want to irrevocably destroy the CIA's relationship with the new president before it even began."
As the briefing ended, Brennan wrote that he was "even more convinced that my longstanding assessment of Trump's narcissism, lack of principle, and ineptitude for the highest office in the country was true. He showed no intellectual curiosity about what Russia was had done and how it had campaigned to meddle in the election, which suggested to me that he was not interested in learning the truth or taking any action to prevent it from happening again. "
Almost four years later, the former CIA chief's assessment has not changed. And less than 30 days after November 3, Brennan said the disinformation flowing from the White House and its allies in the conservative media was as dangerous as foreign disinformation.
"There's an overlap between the two because a lot of what's going on here, whether it's from local sources, is fueled and promoted by foreign actors," Brennan told Insider. "When I look at the polarization of our society and the rise of the far right and the far left, a lot of it has native foundations, but our foreign opponents want to stir up these fires in order to further upset social discourse and turn people into both ends Spectrum more radical and extremist. "
Brennan is sworn in. Reuters / Jason Reed
CIA employees feel "demoralized" under Trump and are "deeply concerned" about the politicization of the secret services, Brennan says
Another obstacle facing the US is the politicization, manipulation and suppression of intelligence services that took place under the Trump administration.
Last month Brian Murphy, a former senior Homeland Security official, filed a whistleblower complaint asking him not to focus on Russian election nuisance and to withhold intelligence reviews on the matter as it made the president "look bad" .
In August, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe announced that he would no longer notify Congress of interference in foreign elections, although he partially reversed course in mid-September, saying his office would do the briefings for the House and House intelligence committees resume the Senate.
And last week Ratcliffe hit the headlines again when he sent a letter to Senate Judicial Committee chairman Lindsey Graham revealing dubious information from a "Russian intelligence analysis" alleging Hillary Clinton "approved a campaign plan." to create a scandal "against Trump in 2016" by tying him to Putin and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee by the Russians. "
Ratcliffe disclosed the information even though US intelligence "is ignorant of the veracity of this claim or the extent to which Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or falsification".
Ratcliffe and his predecessor, former acting director of the National Intelligence Service Richard Grenell, "severely abused their oath of office and responsibility to this country," Brennan said. Ratcliffe's decision to send the letter was "a very selective release of information intended to advance Donald Trump's interests, goals and objectives. So it was very disappointing."
He also pointed to Ratcliffe's reputation as one of Trump's biggest attack dogs on Capitol Hill before taking over the helm of the intelligence community. Indeed, Trump nominated the former Texas Congressman to the DNI post after Ratcliffe berated and attacked Special Adviser Robert Mueller last year for his findings in the FBI's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.
"He was a very partisan supporter of Donald Trump when he was in Congress," Brennan said of Ratcliffe. "And he continues to play that role as director of the national secret service."
The ex-CIA director said many of his former colleagues at the agency have found Trump's stronger influence over the intelligence community "demoralizing" and "expressed deep concern about what they see in the national security apparatus."
"You see that their intelligence is not being used to advance US interests, but is being ignored and rejected by the chief executive. And that leads many of my former colleagues to wonder why they keep working so hard when their efforts don't are useful and worth it, "he said. "So this has a very damaging effect on the workforce."
A "weaker" US under Trump is Putin's gain
For his part, Brennan wrote that he became aware of Trump's transactional and political approach to running the intelligence community from his first day at work.
On January 21, 2017, the day after his inauguration as Commander in Chief, Trump visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. While standing in front of the memorial wall that pays tribute to every CIA officer who died on duty, Trump bragged the crowd on his inauguration while Brennan watched the event on television.
"I couldn't take it anymore. I was physically sick when I saw and heard him," Brennan wrote in his book. He went to the gym to relieve his anger. It was the first time he publicly spoke out against the president, writing the following statement to his former chief of staff Nick Shapiro: "Former Director Brennan is deeply saddened and upset by Donald Trump's despicable self-glorification in front of the CIA memorial wall of agency heroes. He should be ashamed. "
As has fared Trump since then, Brennan has not shredded words and said the president is the greatest threat to US national security and future. Russia, on the other hand, got everything it had hoped for from the Trump presidency, he said.
"The weaker the United States is and the worse our reputation is in the eyes of the world, the less we can play the leadership role we have played for the past 75 years," he said. "So what happened to the US is now directly affecting Putin's goals."
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