This may not be a real thing. CNN contacted everyone who is supposed to be involved, and they all denied it. While it’s the kind of thing that’s likely to appeal to President Trump, I can’t imagine it passing muster with John Kelly, or any of the other White House minders and nursemaids and gatekeepers trying to keep some semblance of American democracy alive. And the story is, on the face of it, preposterous. An unholy alliance between Erik Prince, Mike Pompeo and Oliver North? Ridiculous. And, therefore, entirely plausible.
The Intercept is kind of a new thing. It’s an on-line news organization; been around since 2013. Started by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitrus, and Jeremy Scahill, excellent reporters, all. Funded by the guy who founded Ebay, they’ve had some journalistic successes, and their reporting is generally solid, though as lefty as Sandy Koufax. And they’re very strong when it comes to reporting on American surveillance agencies and policies.
Anyway, on Dec. 4, Scahill and Matthew Cole reported that Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and brother to Betsy DeVos, and Oliver North had pitched an idea to CIA director Mike Pompeo and to someone unspecified in the White House (Trump?), to create an off-the-books, unaccountable, reporting-to-Trump-only network of spies. Here’s a link. Let me quote the Intercept article.
The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.
“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. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”
Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.
The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world.
After the Intercept article appeared, denials were swift. A CIA spokesperson told The Intercept, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.” Spokespeople for Trump, Prince and Pompeo all denied it. The Intercept’s sources were anonymous, so no one could confirm the story. So we don’t know if this was a real proposal made by people who thought this would be a good idea, or a badly sourced story rife with errors. But I also don’t take those denials very seriously, of course. If this proposal was really floated, everyone involved would, of course, deny it.
In fact, though, I do believe it. I think The Intercept story needs to be taken very seriously indeed. It needs to be investigated. While being investigated, it needs to be ridiculed. By everyone, everywhere. Mr. Colbert? Seth Meyers? Sam Bee? Anyone else?
I believe it because, frankly, Erik Prince is a tool. (See, for example, this Esquire article from yesterday). Erik Prince is the guy who, a few months ago, thought we should reinstitute colonialism in Afghanistan, with himself as Viceroy. He’d fund it via Afghan minerals, which Afghans would mine, enriching Prince, while also privatizing the military end of things, through Blackwater. This isn’t as crazy a scheme as that one. And it makes sense because it so perfectly expresses the paranoid, macho, divorced-from-reality nature of the Trump White House and Trumpism. My favorite part? That these guys think Oliver North–that’s Iran/Contra’s Oliver North–will lend the proposal credibility.
Look at the phrase ‘the deep state.’ The deep state is real, and its important. It’s shorthand for all those career government employees in State and the FBI and the CIA and every other government agency who are experts on stuff that it’s really important that someone be an expert on. Remember The West Wing? When CJ Kregg took over as Chief of Staff, the invaluable Margaret (Leo’s incomparable secretary), shows her the various meetings she needs to have that day. And CJ, overwhelmed, said (I’m paraphrasing) ‘I can’t possible know enough on all these subjects to advise the President.’ ‘You don’t have to,’ says Margaret. ‘Just call me. I’ll put you in touch with the leading experts in the world on any subject. They work for us.’ Do we have a problem with, I don’t know, Azerbaijan? Well, the leading expert on Azerbaijan works over at State. Career diplomats. Career analysts. Career spies.
Donald Trump doesn’t care about any of that, of course. He’s willfully, intentionally ignorant, and has no interest in learning. Deep state advisors are exactly the people that Rex Tillerson is trying to get rid of. They’re exactly the kind of people a major world superpower needs. They’re exactly the kinds of people who were horrified by Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. They’re non-partisan, patriotic, and really really good at their jobs.
Not according to Sean Hannity and Alex Jones and other wackadoodle cable TV guys watched by The Donald. To them, the deep state is something sinister and dangerous. President Trump apparently believes that they’re all allies of Hillary Clinton and The Democrats, and that they’re out to get him. I mean, the CIA believes that Russia helped him win the election! Outrageous! And the FBI are investigating him! Him! They’re on the wrong side. They’re dangerous. They need to be gotten rid of. Or, as with this proposal, circumvented. Sidestepped. And Erik Prince is there to help.
A private spy network. Presumably, some of the spies with 00 numbers, indicating a license to kill. That’s all Donald Trump needs. His own private secret police.
So let’s take it seriously. Call for Congress to investigate. (That’ll be easier after 2018). And meanwhile make as much noise as we can. And I know, there are so many outrages to protest, and only so many hours in the day. I do think The Intercept did America a great service with their article. At least, now, everyone in the Trump orbit has publicly issued official denials. Sometimes just shining the light on a particularly insane proposal is all that’s needed to kill it. Let’s hope this is one of those times.