Thursday, June 22, 2017

Those 17 intelligence agencies, again

Okay, I'm officially freaking out a little more than I was before I saw this, The Establishment's Russia Fixation Takes A Dark Turn: An Interview With Stephen F. Cohen TYT Politics 06/21/2017:

Stephen Cohen, interviewed there by Michael Tracey, says, "The Democratic Party is worse than a disappointment. It's become part of the problem in terms of war and peace."

This is really worth listening to, especially what Cohen says about the risk level currently in Syria.

He also makes an important point about demonizing anyone and everyone having contact with Russians. He reminds us that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggesting that any contact with Russians may unwittingly lead Americans to treason. One of the most significant effects of McCarthyist hysteria of the 40s and 50s was to cast suspicion on scholars and diplomats that actually had some expertise on Communist politics in Asia. The idea that China and Russia were part of a monolithic bloc was already dubious by 1950. But US policy in Asia, including the disastrous Vietnam War, was heavily influenced by that very idea well into the 1960s.

Cohen also mentions something that surprised me to hear, which is that current agricultural export trends may soon make such exports a bigger source of revenue to Russia than natural gas. This is an indication that the current economic policies there are having some success in diversifying Russia in the direction of becoming less dependent on extractive industries.

What Cohen says about James Comey's lack of knowledge of Gazprom is kind of stunning, too.

Cohen makes an important point about the famous "17 intelligence agencies" that made the claim about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton and her campaign used that as a talking point during the campaign. And I hear journalists use it regularly, still, sometimes as the 17 separate intelligence agencies that independently verified the claim. Just this week I heard one reporter or pundit, I forget who, use "16 intelligence agencies," I hadn't heard that variant before. Sen. Mark Warner in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today used "our entire intelligence community" to describe the conclusion of the January intelligence report released to the public.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released their public version of the report dated 01/06/2017, Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.

After, 16:30, Cohen says, "Now, I don't know anybody who can name the 17 American intelligence agencies."

Wait, I know! I know! Well, I least I know a convenient link, which is to this Los Angeles Times story, There's more than the CIA and FBI: The 17 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community by Nina Agrawal 01/17/2017. The list given there includes:

  1. Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  2. Central Intelligence Agency
  3. National Security Agency
  4. Defense Intelligence Agency
  5. Federal Bureau of Investigation
  6. Department of State – Bureau of Intelligence and Research
  7. Department of Homeland Security – Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  8. Drug Enforcement Administration – Office of National Security Intelligence
  9. Department of the Treasury – Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  10. Department of Energy – Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence
  11. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  12. National Reconnaissance Office
  13. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
  14. Army Military Intelligence
  15. Office of Naval Intelligence
  16. Marine Corps Intelligence
  17. Coast Guard Intelligence

I don't know if the Office of the DNI (#1) actually does raw intelligence collection itself. But those are the agencies that are the known parts of the "intelligence community" (IC), in whose name the Office of the DNI's public report speaks. But the document is very specific about this: "This report includes an analytic assessment drafted and coordinated among The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), which draws on intelligence information collected and disseminated by those three agencies."

Of course, to nitpick it a bit, this doesn't mean that no other of the 17 Intelligence Agencies looked at the findings or the underlying data on which it was based. It doesn't say that none of the other of the 17 Intelligence Agencies It doesn't exclude some kind of general formal endorsement by the other agencies, or a negative affirmation that they had no objection to the finding. But the report itself doesn't specify that.

James Clapper, who was the DNI under whose direction the study was done and the report issued, did get more explicit in his Congressional testimony in May, saying, that the assessment "was a coordinated product from three agencies; CIA, NSA, and the FBI not all 17 components of the intelligence community. Those three under the aegis of my former office." And, "These conclusions were reached based on the richness of the information gathered and analyzed and were thoroughly vetted and then approved by the directors of the three agencies and me." (See my post 05/11/2017 post, Listening closely to James Clapper on the "17 intelligence agencies")

Now, Lord knows I don't take anything and everything that comes out of James Clapper's mouth as the Gospel truth. But if the Clinton campaign and star journalists have reason to think that the 17 Intelligence Agencies is a more accurate description of who put together the report, it's not based on the public report itself or on what the DNI who issued it said about it in public testimony to Congress in May.

And, yes, I have gone a bit OCD on that particular topic, why do you ask?

Michael's interview with Stephen Cohen made a big impression on me. Michael has been particularly concerned about the foreign policy implications of the Democrats' Russia-Russia-Russia theme over the last year. Cohen isn't entirely clear about what part of the basic findings in the January 6 report from the DNI he thinks have been disproven, he definitely raises some legitimate concerns and brings important knowledge and perspective often missing from mainstream media reports on Russia currently.

There are certainly reasons for Congress and the press to take seriously the claims by the (three) intelligence agencies that there is good reason to think that Russia made cyberattacks during the 2016 elections. And the massive indications that Trump and his family and cronies have possibly compromising business dealings with Russians that may be manipulated by Putin's government. (See, for instance: Timothy O'Brien, Trump, Russia and a Shadowy Business Partnership Bloomberg View 06/21/2017)

Not to speak of the even more blatant evidence of obstruction of justice over the investigations of those issues.

But keeping our eyes of the facts, even when they complicate the convenient ideologies of the moment, is also important. Particularly when it comes to relations between the two biggest nuclear powers.

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