This BBC interview with the outgoing head of the CIA is illuminating:
In the first interview by a CIA director with the British media, John Brennan outlined a number of areas where he said the new administration needed to act with “prudence and discipline” – these included the language used regarding terrorism, relations with Russia, the Iran nuclear deal and the way in which the CIA’s own covert capabilities were employed.
This is a bit like Enron’s Kenneth Lay telling the receivers how they ought to proceed from here as he’s being led from the building in handcuffs.
Mr Brennan offered a bleak assessment of the situation in Syria arguing that both the Syrian regime and the Russians were responsible for a slaughter of civilians which he described as “outrageous”.
Thank God we have the CIA and their network of spooks to tell us that.
The administration of President Barack Obama has pursued a policy of supporting moderate rebels fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
Which has been a disaster because the support has been lukewarm and given without a clear objective, and those “moderate rebels” are mostly jihadists.
The CIA director said that he believed the US needed to continue that support to help rebels withstand what he called an “onslaught” carried out by Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.
Which is exactly wrong, and why their policy has been a disaster. The US may have had a window of opportunity to end the civil war by backing the opposition forces in a serious manner with the objective of overthrowing Assad, but that opportunity is long gone. I’m not saying this was sensible or doable, but that was one of the options. Once Russia entered the picture, Assad’s survival was assured and the only thing the US is achieving by half-heartedly supporting the rebels is dragging this damned war out even longer and giving jihadists some handy weapons and training.
Russian continued to hold the key to Syria’s future, he said, but he expressed scepticism about its willingness to come to any kind of deal.
Why should it? Russia has nailed its colours to the mast, and it has what it wants: Assad in power, friendly relations with Turkey, and the US spinning in circles.
He said Moscow had been “disingenuous” in their negotiating tactics, seeking to draw the process out in order to “choke” Aleppo.
Now there’s a surprise, eh? Is this the sort of valuable information the outgoing head of the CIA is going to be passing on to his successor, then?
“I do not have confidence that the Russians are going to relent until they are able to achieve as much tactical battlefield successes as possible,” he said.
Thus confirming the CIA is as adept at Kremlinology as anyone with an internet connection and a functioning brain.
The incoming Trump administration has suggested it may try to work more closely with Russia on a number of issues.
“I think President Trump and the new administration need to be wary of Russian promises,” Mr Brennan told the BBC, arguing Moscow had failed to deliver in the past.
Translation: the Russians have run rings around us for the past 8 years, mainly because we have been idiots. Trump ought not to try to emulate us too much.
On the role of Russia in trying to influence the US election by hacking and releasing information, the CIA director confirmed Russia had sought to carry out such activity but said he would defer to domestic counterparts as to the impact.
Russia had sought to influence the election, or it had influenced the election? These are weasel-words.
He did confirm that he had conversations with his Russian opposite numbers to challenge them over these actions and warn them that such activity would backfire.
A warning the US media could have done with.
The US should not “stoop to their level” or risk escalation by responding in kind to Russian hacking, but he said there were other ways of ensuring Russia understood such activity was unacceptable.
We’re all ears, sir.
Another area where he warned Donald Trump’s incoming team was over their position taken during the campaign to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran.
“I think it would be disastrous. It really would,” Mr Brennan told the BBC.
Disastrous how? For the US? For Iran? For Barack Obama’s “legacy”?
“First of all for one administration to tear up an agreement that a previous administration made would be unprecedented.”
Unless that agreement was widely viewed as the unilateral actions of a President who decided he could do whatever he wanted and didn’t see the need to consult Congress on the matter, and many people warned that this agreement was therefore illegitimate.
He said such a move would risk strengthening hardliners in Iran and risk other states pursuing nuclear programmes in response to a renewed Iranian effort.
Ah yes, because the Iranian hardliners have been completely sidelined by this agreement and moderates have swept to the fore, haven’t they?
Terrorism remains an over-riding concern. The team planning external attacks within the so-called Islamic State remained “very active” and, he said, was seeking to demonstrate that – despite setbacks on the battlefield – it still had the ability to carry out attacks against the West.
Not a “junior varsity”, in other words.
President-elect Trump has said he would consider resuming waterboarding if he thought it would be effective. John Brennan made clear he thought that would be a mistake.
Yes, and Trump has spoken to General James Mattis about this, who told him torture doesn’t work, and Trump appears to have listened. Not that the BBC mentions this at all.
The CIA director said he had not yet sat down with the new team to discuss the capabilities and programmes the CIA has but he was ready to do so.
“There are a lot of people out there who read the papers and listened to a news broadcasts where the facts may be a bit – you know – off. And so I want to make sure the new team understands what the reality is. It ultimately will be up to them to decide how to carry out their responsibilities.”
The CIA director is assuming the incoming Trump administration gets its facts from the news, and needs to put them straight? I’ll just leave that one there.
Some members of the new administration, such as Gen Michael Flynn, have talked of the US needing to recognise it was in a “world war” with Islamist militants.
When asked if language about “world wars” was helpful, the CIA director said…
…”ah, this must be one of the infamous leading questions the BBC excels in, designed to put words in my mouth!”
Actually no, he didn’t. Instead he said:
the new team needed to be “disciplined in the language that they use (and) the messages that they send. Because if they are not disciplined, their language will be exploited by the terrorist and extremist organizations as a way to portray the United States and the government as being anti-Islamic and we are not.”
I think what he’s saying is Trump’s team should continue Obama’s policy of refusing to call Islamic terrorism Islamic terrorism in case Islamic terrorists get upset. He’s not quite gotten the measure of Trump yet, has he?
Mr Brennan said President Obama had asked US intelligence to “dig down” on whether the transition period might be exploited by adversaries.
My guess is America’s adversaries will try to capture as much ground as possible while lame-duck Obama is still in office, knowing full well life is going to get a lot tougher next January. For example.
I think we can write off the CIA, or at least its upper management, as being yet another institution that has been politicised to the point of uselessness. I wonder if Brennan’s counterpart in the FSB would have fretted about what language gets used to describe terrorists?