The memorandum put together by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), alleging partisan behavior by the FBI and the Department of Justice in a “Deep State” conspiracy against Donald Trump is, what we would call in the CIA, “disinformation.”
Tougher words could be used. But let’s put it simply at this: It is a deliberate diversion from the hard facts that the FBI and CIA have been amassing of Russian espionage activity with members of Donald Trump’s entourage.
And it presents FBI and CIA officers with a progressively grave constitutional crisis. The Nunes memo makes it difficult for those officers to serve an executive who—evidence increasingly indicates—has betrayed his oath to the Constitution. It also makes it hard for them to serve a legislative oversight committee that is distorting its functions so as to protect that executive.
Inside the CIA, where I served for decades, and the FBI, the strongest reaction to the Nunes memo will be anger and alarm. Top officials in both those institutions operate in a manner fundamentally at odds with what is now being depicted.
In the CIA, I encountered colleagues with views that ranged from the far right to far left—every view except, perhaps, that of the communists. This broad diversity is also true for my colleagues in the FBI. Indeed, the “cultures” of both institutions are utterly apolitical. Officers take their oaths with sometimes life-sacrificing devotion: To “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
I have been moved literally to tears on numerous occasions by my colleagues’ devotion to our laws and the institutions charged with protecting them; and not to any man, be he president, general, or party leader; nor to any party. CIA and FBI officers seek to give life to James Madison’s hope, expressed in “Federalist #10,” that our system be impartial and unaffected by non-democratic influences, and that it be “more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried.” They seek to make sure that no foreign power can affect our elections, plant spies among us, or even choose our leaders and shape our policies.
I never saw an officer’s personal views interfere with how the agency performed its duties. Personal political opinions, like cellphones and football pools, are left out of the office. This commitment and motivation is why we spend our careers working for a fraction of what our peers in the private sector earn.
Nor do the CIA or the FBI as institutions have political agendas. The idea of the “Deep State” opposing elected leaders and the rule of law is—I will be blunt here—a fascist concept, which is intended to discredit the institutions of democracy. It is done, precisely, so that a “Leader” can represent the “people” without the encumbrance of law or representative institutions.
Most CIA and FBI officers share my alarm that such a distorting and harmful term has even entered American political discussions. Those who use the term “Deep State” frankly disqualify themselves from public life in a democracy.
If anything, the Nunes memorandum shows how carefully the FBI, CIA, and Department of Justice protect an individual from any official abuse. The memorandum notes that at least five senior officials, from three separate departments, on seven different occasions, every 90 days, had to review the FBI’s request to investigate Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That was before they passed the request to the separate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that grants or denies the requests. And all of this occurred each time after officers in the rank and file of the FBI had themselves judged that there was sufficient probable cause of espionage activity to merit the request.
I have lived this process. Its multiple levels of review make it just about certain that FISA requests are based on solid concern about foreign intelligence activity.
So, I can state with confidence that the reaction in the FBI and the CIA to the Nunes memorandum will be disdain for what Madison calls, the “vicious arts” in it. It will be seen for what it truly is: an attempt to protect what appears to be the Trump entourages’ ties to Russian intelligence. And there will be irritation at the groundless slurs it casts on FBI officers, and anger at the harm it could cause the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice.