U.S. intelligence agencies just issued yet another post-presidential election analysis claiming Russia meddled in the election to help Donald Trump defeat his Democratic opponent. The report also cited limited efforts by Iran and China to defeat Trump. But it appears that just like a similar intelligence report issued after the 2016 presidential election, there are good reasons to believe the new report was rigged to hurt Trump.
In early January 2017, U.S. intelligence agencies, under pressure from the outgoing Obama administration, rushed out an “Intelligence Community Assessment” (ICA), which concluded Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win.
The media and congressional Democrats immediately seized upon the 2017 ICA to discredit the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 election win. Over time, however, it was discovered that this ICA was not a fair and objective analysis because the rules were not followed to draft this assessment and some intelligence agencies were excluded. The ICA also was heavily criticized because it was drafted by a small, “hand-picked” group of intelligence analysts.
Moreover, a House Intelligence Committee investigation learned that intelligence indicating the Russians actually wanted Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 election was suppressed by then-CIA Director John Brennan.
Questions about the credibility of the new ICA revolve around a so-called minority view at the end of the report.
The ICA’s “minority view” is one paragraph at the end of the ICA that says China took limited actions to undermine Trump’s reelection and engaged in some efforts that met the definition of election interference. The strained and heavily caveated language of this so-called minority view did not follow the normal format of a dissenting view to an Intelligence Community assessment.
The reason for this almost certainly was to whitewash a Jan. 6, 2021 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Analytic Ombudsman, which presented disturbing findings on how analysis of election interference was being distorted. This report found that intelligence analysts who follow China were hesitant to produce an evaluation suggesting Chinese interference in the 2020 election because they disagreed with Trump’s policies and did not want their analysis to be used to support them. On the other hand, the Intelligence Community’s Russia analysts assessed there was clear evidence of Russian meddling in the 2020 election and accused senior intelligence officials of slowing down or not bringing this analysis to policymakers.
The ICA’s failure to mention these issues, which affect the truthfulness of its analysis, or the analytic ombudsman’s report are serious omissions. The fact that such a deeply flawed report critical of Trump was issued after Joe Biden took office and by a DNI named by Biden completely undermines the credibility of the ICA.
Controversy over the new ICA could have been easily avoided by allowing intelligence officers who disagreed with its conclusions to add a standard and well-argued dissent as a footnote or annex. Instead, intelligence officials included a few heavily-caveated sentences as a minority view only because they were forced to do so and because our intelligence agencies have been captured by the politically correct left, which does not tolerate dissenting views that help Republican presidents or hurt Democratic ones.
Due to the analytic ombudsman report, the new ICA on foreign interference in the 2020 election has even less credibility than the 2017 version and will further damage the reputation of American intelligence agencies in the eyes of Congress, the American people, and future Republican policymakers. This erosion of credibility is dangerous for our security because it could discourage future presidents from trusting and using U.S. intelligence to make crucial national security decisions.
This problem can be fixed with strong leadership from the White House and top Intelligence Community officials, who must initiate significant reforms to reorganize and depoliticize our intelligence agencies. Although I see no chance of this happening during the Biden presidency, it is my hope that a new Republican president will begin to implement these urgently needed reforms after he or she wins the 2024 presidential election.
Fred Fleitz is president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and chief of staff of the National Security Council. Fleitz held national security jobs for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Twitter: @fredfleitz