When Spooks Speak, Heed the Warning

All critics of Donald John Trump are not created equal—not in real life, and certainly not on social media.

A TWITTER FEED is a never-ending torrent of little round headshots, one face after another, all avatars the same size, Trump’s the same as Steak-Umms’, Morgan Fairchild’s the same as Morgan Freeman’s, yours the same as mine, with some but not others distinguished by a tiny blue checkmark. Algorithms notwithstanding, all voices are heard in equal measure—at least in theory. The democratization of the feed is part of the platform’s appeal. But how to parse all of the information? How to organize the voices in this cacophony? It’s a jungle out there, a chaos. If I take off my glasses, all the little round face-blobs could be a Monet.

On Twitter, the message is less important than the messenger. Like, we’ve all spoken discouraging words about Devin Nunes, but it’s so much more satisfying when the lead singer of Guns n’ Roses does it:

Rock stars! They’re just like us!

Criticism of Trump tends to have more weight coming from a Republican, a conservative, a libertarian—someone who can’t be written off as partisan. By speaking out against the leader of their longtime party, conservative “anti-Trump” political operatives, folks like Rick Wilson and Cheri Jacobus, are jeopardizing their own prospects for future employment, which gives extra oomph to their already-powerful message. Ulterior motives almost certainly actuate George Conway’s relentless attacks on the president, but he is not only repudiating his longtime party, but indirectly impugning his longtime wife. When Mitt Romney or Liz Cheney or Jeff Flake make a statement opposing something Trump says or wants, it’s more impactful than when Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or Adam Schiff do. (“I can’t believe I agree with Liz Cheney, but…”) Neither Robert Mueller nor James Comey are soy-boy liberal tree-huggers, which is why Trump had to invest so much time and energy attacking them. Richard Painter and Walter Schaub were both White House ethics lawyers, but, as much as I love the latter, who unlike Painter was the head of the Office of Government Ethics, the former’s words have more clout simply because he worked for Bush and not Obama.

The problem is, by now, most of us have become desensitized to anti-Trump screeds. As all sentient Americans are either 1) opposed to Donald John Trump, 2) collaborators of Donald John Trump, or 3) victims of psychological warfare, too brainwashed to behold the naked emperor, any concerned individual shouting from the rooftops is just part of a vast chorus of voices shouting from the rooftops—as in those videos of Italians singing from their balconies during the quarantine. (Talk about preaching to the choir!) Plus, after three years of this shit, we are all exhausted. We are all tentative. And we are all afraid. The stakes in the November election could not be higher, and the pandemic has inserted all kinds of unwelcome uncertainty into the calculus. Result: Those monster Seth Abramson threads don’t land quite as hard as they may have in 2017.

But there are certain individuals who, when they speak out against Trump, have more gravitas than almost anyone else. There are two OG IC hands we should be paying more careful attention to, on Twitter and IRL: John O. Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and General Michael V. Hayden, also a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as a former Director of the National Security Agency—the largest intelligence service on the planet.

Both of these men have long, distinguished careers serving their country. Brennan joined the CIA as an analyst right after college. Hayden is a retired four-star general in the Air Force, who went on to helm the two intelligence agencies. Both have served under presidents of both political parties. And both have had their share of controversies—Brennan with the Obama drone strikes, Hayden with the Edward Snowden brouhaha—that indicate an ironclad commitment to national security above all.

Because of their backgrounds in the intelligence community, neither Brennan nor Hayden are particularly glib with the media. CIA chiefs—real CIA chiefs, not partisan hacks like Mike Pompeo—tend not to speak out unless they absolutely have to, unless their very lives depend on it. This is the agency that came up with the “GLOMAR” response, after all: We can neither confirm nor deny… IC folks don’t interject themselves into politics—that is counter to everything the intelligence services stand for. Partisanship, after all, clouds judgment, and the intelligence community lives on objective analysis. So if Brennan or Hayden—and especially if both Brennan and Hayden—tell us the house is on fire? Guys, the house is on fucking fire.

I have been critical in this space about the reluctance of the IC and the FBI to speak out against Trump—to exercise the nuclear option and release Trump’s CI files. That doesn’t mean that prominent members of the intelligence community haven’t tried to tell us what’s what. Brennan and Hayden have certainly done so. At a certain point, the onus is on us—and our supine and overmatched media—to listen and take heed.

Brennan does not tweet frequently: rarely more than three times a month. Nor does he RT or engage that much. But when he does, look out. Here’s what he said after the disastrous Helsinki summit, when Trump publicly capitulated to Vladimir Putin:

It’s one thing for me to RT Rand Paul or Lindsey Graham and comment, “The traitors are easy to spot,” and quite another for John O. Brennan, a career CIA guy who was the Director of the Agency, to use the word “treasonous.”

That tweet was not a one-off. Here are some more:

And, in case the ownership of our president was somehow unclear:

Hayden has worn more hats than Brennan, having presided over two different agencies, as well as his career in the military. His Twitter feed features a number of retweets from somber, conservative folks like Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, and Tom Nichols; John Sipher, formerly of the CIA Clandestine Services; the retired Four Star US Army General and former Joint Commander of SOUTHCOM, Barry R. McCaffrey; and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia—a nation famous for its superb intelligence services. Hayden’s thoughts on the threat to national security if Trump is re-elected are expressed here:

Read the last tweet again: “not if there’s a second Trump term.” If Trump is re-elected, Hayden is saying, in not so many words, we’re fucked.

This was his reaction when he learned of Vice President Mike Pence’s bonkers decision not to wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic:

About Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Open Skies treaty—yet another unequivocal capitulation to Putin—Hayden says:

And while RTs are not, as we are forever reminded, endorsements, one imagines Hayden would not have posted this sentiment to his feed if his own feelings were wildly different:

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, these are sober men, conservative by nature, reluctant to play politics or speak out of line. As crazy as a Twitter feud between Axl Rose and Steven Mnuchin might seem, two ex-CIA Directors tweeting like this about the President of the United States is even crazier. These men talking like this is the IC equivalent of lighting themselves on fire. (Keep that in mind, the next time you’re being gaslighted.)

I’ll let Brennan have the last word here:

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Photo credit: CIA file photo.