The Intercept has a story that will make you wonder if those overpriced hats in President Donald Trump's online store are lined with tinfoil.
According to the reporters, Jeremy Scahill and Matthew Cole, the Trump administration is considering a proposal to set up a “global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies.” It seems these agencies, as part of the “deep state,” are chock-full of Trump-hating bureaucrats who are undermining his presidency:
[CIA Director Mike] Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. ... "“The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”
The proposal comes from a couple of the worst symbols of American militarism from recent Republican administrations — Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater who spent the George W. Bush years sending private mercenaries to slaughter Iraqi civilians, and Oliver North, the Reagan-era Marine officer convicted of three felonies for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
A private intelligence network, set up outside of official government channels and run by a hard-right evangelical in Prince, geared toward telling a conspiracy theory-loving president exactly what he wants to hear, particularly about radical Islamists in the Middle East, while bypassing the government agencies whose conclusions he has been known to publicly ignore, as he has done with their conclusions that Russia meddled in the 2016 election? Sure, what could possibly go wrong?
The White House and the CIA are both denying the story, but The Intercept is the second outlet in a week to report on some form of it.
To get a sense of the mindset behind this proposal, consider this passage on John Maguire, Prince's partner in the endeavor and a former CIA operative who worked on Trump's transition team:
Maguire told at least two people that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, in coordination with a top official at the National Security Agency, authorized surveillance of Steven Bannon and Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. Adding to these unsubstantiated claims, Maguire told the potential donors he also had evidence H.R. McMaster used a burner phone to send information gathered through the surveillance to a facility in Cyprus owned by George Soros.
McMaster has long been painted by the so-called nationalists who populate the alt-right as an establishment figure working to submarine Trump's presidency. George Soros is, in the feverish precincts of the right, a globalist puppet master who has spent decades trying to subvert American interests by funding left-wing think tanks and anything else that conservatives see working in opposition to them. (Voters in Alabama recently told reporters that Roy Moore's accusers were probably being paid by Soros to smear the Senate candidate, for example.)
In short, this story from Maguire is right out of a subreddit on “deep state” conspiracies. And his partner is trying to sell the head of the CIA and the president of the United States on buying his plan for an extrajudicial spy network that would report directly to them, bypassing all the checks and balances within the bureaucracy set up to give a president good information.
It's not new, of course. George W. Bush appointees infamously set up “stovepipes” in the early 2000s to get to the president only intelligence that would convince him Saddam Hussein was about to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And look how well that turned out.
It is as if these guys took from Watergate and Iran-Contra exactly one lesson: Next time, don't get caught.