Lost in the news on the day of Trump’s Insurrection was a devastating new watchdog report to Congress on the politicizing and distorting of intelligence during Donald Trump’s time in office.
The analytic ombudsman, career intelligence community veteran Barry A. Zulauf, determined that under Trump national intelligence reports had become highly politicized. Important findings were suppressed to appease Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in American elections.
Zulauf’s unclassified report paints a frightening picture of just how much the Trump administration skewed intelligence to suppress knowledge of interference by Russia in our 2020 elections.
Zulauf determined that Trump’s ODNI took “willful actions that… had the effect of politicizing intelligence, hindering objective analysis or injecting bias into the intelligence process.”
- Have ODNI-published products adhered to Analytic Standards? YES, within the scope of the tradecraft review explained below.
- Have ODN officials politicized or attempted to politicize intelligence, exercised or attempted to exercise undue influence on the analysis, production, or dissemination process of ODN-published intelligence products related to election security? YES, in some cases as documented below.
- Have definitions or analytic tradecraft been altered, misapplied, or applied inconsistently on these products? YES, in some cases as documented below.
- Has ODN followed standard procedure for the drafting, editing, approval, and dissemination of analytic products related to election interference? NO, not in all cases, as documented below.
If our political leaders in the White House and Congress believe we are withholding intelligence because of organizational turf wars or political considerations, the legitimacy of the Intelligence Community’ s work is lost. Intelligence officers, even those at the highest levels, cannot allow political considerations to influence analysis, and must stand as a bulwark against all political pressures, even if the cost is that senior customers do not like what the intelligence community assesses. As PE Neil Wiley has stated (and I paraphrase), intelligence is the only great function of state that does not come to top decision makers with an agenda, wanting something. The purpose of intelligence is to provide objective, unbiased, and policy-neutral assessments. We are, perhaps, most important to decision makers when we bring to them the bad news, or what they don ‘t want to hear. This is an ethical challenge to intelligence professionals, and sometimes demands moral courage to carry out. Other institutions are inherently political and are much less likely to bring bad news. If we lose that objectivity, or even are perceived to have lost it, we have endangered the entire reason for us to exist.
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration politicized the intelligence around foreign election interference in 2020, resulting in significant errors in its reports last year to Congress and the public, a report by the intelligence community ombudsman concluded.
The formal validation dovetails with widespread perceptions about the Trump administration’s handling of intelligence and underscores the challenge awaiting the Biden administration as it prepares to take over the nation’s spy agencies. The report will be sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Still, because it was completed under an intelligence director viewed skeptically by Democrats, it is unlikely to be seen as the final word on what happened.
Some of the most damaging material in the report concerns a briefing to Congress in March, soon after Richard Grenell, then the ambassador to Germany, took over as the acting director of national intelligence.
The March talking points, an unclassified version of which was made public, stated that the Kremlin was not aiding “any candidate’s re-election” — a stance at odds with what intelligence officers had told Congress previously: that Russia favored President Trump.
The findings by Barry A. Zulauf, the “analytic ombudsman” for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), describe an intelligence community afflicted by a “widespread perception in the workforce about politicization” of analysis on the topic of foreign election influence — one that he says threatens the legitimacy of the agencies’ work.
The dispute illustrates the task faced by the incoming administration, with senior advisers to President-elect Joe Biden saying they want to end what they describe as a toxic political environment in the intelligence community and produce the best information for policymakers.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the panel takes “very seriously” any allegations of politicization of intelligence. “We look forward to reviewing this report, digging into the allegations ourselves,” spokeswoman Rachel Cohen said.
She added that the panel expects to work with Biden’s ODNI nominee, Avril Haines, “to stop any politicization of intelligence and fix the failures of the Trump administration.”