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July 18, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Trump quietly working to replace director of national intelligence
President Trump is continuing to plan to replace his senior intelligence adviser, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and has considered at least one candidate, according to people close to the White House.

Fred Fleitz, an intelligence veteran who until recently was chief of staff to National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, is being considered for the DNI post by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Fleitz is a no-nonsense advocate of intelligence reform with a wealth of experience, having worked as an analyst for the CIA, professional staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and as a senior State Department nonproliferation specialist during the George W. Bush administration.

Recent reports that Mr. Fleitz, a conservative advocate of U.S. intelligence reform, is in the running for DNI sent shock waves through the intelligence bureaucracy.

As outlined in a recent journal essay by former CIA officer John Gentry, U.S. intelligence agencies have been politicized to the liberal left in recent years, especially during the Obama administration. Under President Obama, a group of liberal intelligence leaders left their mark on the agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, including outspoken anti-Trump partisans such as former DNI James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan (who admitted he once voted for the pro-Moscow Communist Party USA presidential candidate), and FBI Director James B. Comey, who was fired by Mr. Trump for mishandling bureau investigations.

Mr. Trump is still upset with Mr. Coats over his Senate testimony in February when, under questioning from Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he appeared to undercut sensitive negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program at the time.

Mr. Coats testified that U.S. intelligence agencies assessed North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons through talks with the United States.

Mr. Trump was said to be furious that Mr. Coats did not withhold judgment during the hearing to avoid undermining the nuclear talks. Several weeks after the testimony, Mr. Trump informed aides of his decision to replace Mr. Coats and acknowledged the process of finding a replacement could take time.

Further evidence of Mr. Trump’s unhappiness with Mr. Coats surfaced in May. The president issued an executive order giving Attorney General William Barr new power to investigate intelligence agencies regarding questionable surveillance practices during the counterspy probe into the 2016 Trump campaign.

The Justice Department probe of potential misuse of intelligence is under the direction of John H. Durham, U.S. attorney for Connecticut.

The newsletter Axios reported last week that Mr. Trump is still eager to remove Mr. Coats and that the president believes the DNI structure, set up in 2004 after the Sept. 11 attacks, has created a bloated bureaucracy.

Axios reported the president is considering Mr. Fleitz for DNI. The president has been told he cannot completely dismantle the DNI but can significantly downsize the office, which contains numerous intelligence centers that duplicate other agencies’ departments.

Downsizing DNI would be well suited for Mr. Fleitz, a longtime critic of the intelligence agencies’ inefficiencies and failures.

Mr. Fleitz wrote in 2016 that the president could “make American intelligence great again” by eliminating the DNI and reforming the CIA. The former CIA analyst recalled a House hearing on intelligence which featured some 10 bureaucrats he described as a ” mob of intelligence officials spouting the same watered-down Pablum.”

The groupthink among the intelligence analysts who did not accurately assess North Korea’s nuclear program “exemplified why the reform of U.S. intelligence mandated by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) has been an utter failure,” Mr. Fleitz wrote in National Review.

Instead of a DNI helping agencies cooperate and share information, the office became a huge additional layer of bureaucracy, with too many officials and a culture that has made intelligence collection and analysis less efficient and more risk-averse.

A senior official said the intelligence bureaucracy is notorious among the various sections of government for opposing presidentially-appointed leaders they do not like.

For example, during the tenure of CIA Director Porter Goss, a conservative Republican congressman who held the post from 2005 to 2006, CIA bureaucrats misused a counterintelligence database by leaking secret personal details of a Goss aide’s misdemeanor shoplifting arrest to The Washington Post.

Appointing Mr. Fleitz as DNI could trigger similar insubordination. Mr. Fleitz is currently president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank that liberals have attacked.

Asked about Mr. Coats’ future, a White House official said: “We have no personnel announcements to make at this time.”

Mr. Coats, through a DNI spokeswoman, said: “I am focused on doing my job, and it is frustrating to repeatedly be asked to respond to anonymous sources and unsubstantiated, often false rumors that undercut the critical work of the intelligence community and its relationship with the president. I am proud to lead an [intelligence community] singularly focused on the vital mission of providing timely and unbiased intelligence to President Trump, Vice President Pence and the national security team in support of our nation’s security.”

Defense nominee on Turkey’s F-35s
Defense Secretary-designate Mark T. Esper disclosed in Senate testimony this week the Pentagon is canceling sales of the frontline F-35 jet to Turkey, a NATO ally, a move the White House confirmed a day later.

Mr. Esper said Ankara’s decision to accept the first shipment of Russian S-400 air defense missiles this week — despite months of U.S. protests — was very disappointing.

“The policy that I’ve communicated to my [Turkish] counterpart is that you can either have the S-400 or you can have the F-35. You cannot have both,” Mr. Esper said during a hearing on his nomination. “Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capabilities of the F-35 and our ability to retain that overmatch in this skies going forward.”

In his prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Esper said the Pentagon has taken steps to suspend Turkey’s role in the F-35 program, including freezing F-35 materiel deliveries into Turkey, ending new operator or maintenance training, and removing all U.S.-based Turkish F-35 personnel by July 31.

The sale of 110 F-35s will be canceled “to protect the long-term security of the F-35 program and the capabilities of the NATO alliance from threats related to Turkey’s planned procurement and operation of an S-400,” he stated.

The Pentagon believes allowing a NATO ally to deploy and operate advanced Russian air defenses like the S-400 will compromise the stealth and other advanced capabilities of the F-35. The S-400 radar in Turkey would be able to zero in on the F-35 characteristics in ways that could benefit Moscow in shooting down the jets in a future conflict.

President Trump said at a Tuesday Cabinet meeting that Turkey sought the Russian S-400s only after the Obama administration refused to sell them the U.S. Patriot anti-missile systems.

“And we are now telling Turkey that, because you have really been forced to buy another missile system, we’re not going to sell you the F-35 fighter jets,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s a very tough situation that they’re in. And it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in, the United States.”

The president added: “With all of that being said, we’re working through it. We’ll see what happens.”

Google on Chinese censorship app
A senior Google executive told a Senate hearing this week that the search engine giant has canceled a controversial project to build a censored search engine for China’s communist government.

Karan Bhatia, vice president for government affairs and public policy at Google, Inc. told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution that the program known as “Dragonfly” has ended.

“It’s not active,” Mr. Bhatia said. “We’ve terminated it.”

Pressed by Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, on whether Google will enter the Chinese search engine market, Mr. Bhatia said, “We don’t offer any of our products in China.”

The company pulled out of China in 2010 amid a series of damaging cyberattacks aimed at stealing Google’s technological know-how.

Mr. Bhatia denied Google moderates content to advance an ideological agenda despite its past work with China.

In October, Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech that Google should immediately cancel the Dragonfly program over concerns it would strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.

Mr. Bhatia was also asked if Google has been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence agents. “We’ve seen no evidence of that,” he said.

Analysts say China likely has already has hired former Google employees who could be helping Beijing strengthen online controls in conducting repression inside China.

The number of Google engineers involved in Dragonfly had not been disclosed and the number who remain in China also is not known.

Billionaire investor and Facebook Inc. board member Peter Thiel said recently he suspects Google is helping the Chinese military and President Trump later tweeted that the Trump administration “will take a look!”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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