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Dec. 12, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

IG faults FBI headquarters-led probe
A significant fault of the FBI’s ill-fated Russia collusion investigation was the fact that the investigation into the Trump presidential campaign was conducted and led by the FBI headquarters.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz in his report on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation made public this week said the probe was set up as a “headquarters-based” team of more than a dozen investigators and analysts. Several senior FBI headquarters officials, including Director James B. Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and senior counterintelligence official Peter Strzok, were fired for improprieties related to the Russia probe.

Others were allowed to retire, including Lisa Page, Mr. Strzok’s mistress and a senior FBI legal adviser, and FBI Counterintelligence Chief Bill Priestap. Both were also key players in the Russia probe.

The IG report said the sensitivity conducting an investigation into the Trump presidential campaign during an election year prompted the decision to keep it from an FBI field office, such as the large Washington office.

“Agents and analysts on the Crossfire Hurricane team told the OIG that the decision to conduct the investigation out of FBI Headquarters instead of a field office presented multiple challenges, such as difficulties in obtaining needed investigative resources, including surveillance teams, electronic evidence storage, technically trained agents and other investigative assets standard in field offices to support investigations,” the report said.

Another problem was the loss of field office agents assigned to headquarters for the probe who typically left after 90 days, creating gaps in investigative knowledge. The probe was kept to headquarters to prevent leaks and assist in coordinating between the FBI and other government agencies, the report said.

Mr. Priestap was “ultimately responsible” for the probe, but told the IG’s office that Mr. Strzok really “managed Crossfire Hurricane.”

The report also reveals that Mr. Priestap tried to remove Mr. Strzok from the investigation because of his affair with Ms. Page. However, the decision to take Mr. Strzok off the investigation was overruled by Mr. McCabe, the deputy director.

Additionally, both Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page had violated the chain of command by going directly to Mr. McCabe without informing Mr. Priestap and another supervisor.

According to the report, Mr. McCabe denied overruling the decision to take Mr. Stzrok off the investigation.

The inspector general also blamed the excessive secrecy surrounding the headquarters-led operation for the failure to properly vet the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application that is at the heart of the IG’s criticism of the Russia probe. A footnote in the report said the because the probe was closely-held, it was not assigned a dedicated manager within the counterintelligence division as occurs in most other cases.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said this week in a response to the IG report that new rules were put in place for headquarters-led investigations.

“The FBI is a field-based law enforcement organization and the vast majority of our investigations should continue to be worked by our field offices,” Mr. Wray stated, adding that any future headquarters probes will require senior-level approval.

The IG report provides fuel for critics who have charged that the FBI investigation was politicized by a small group of anti-Trump officials at FBI headquarters — including Mr. Comey, Mr. McCabe, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page.

Mr. Horowitz concluded that the missteps in the handling of the investigation were the result of incompetence and not political bias against Mr. Trump, despite emails and texts showing several investigators opposed the Republican candidate and supported rival Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Several other senior FBI headquarters officials linked to the mishandled Russia probe also have left the FBI in recent months, including former FBI Chief of Staff James Rybicki, former Executive Assistant Director Carl Ghattas and former FBI General Counsel James A. Baker. At least four other senior FBI officials survived the housecleaning in the wake of the scandal and were reassigned to other positions.

Chinese military loyalty questioned
Among the many problems facing Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to maintain the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army.

Larry Wortzel, a member of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the latest annual report by the commission concludes that Mr. Xi and other Communist Party leaders have limited confidence in the PLA.

Mr. Wortzel notes that, militarily, China’s forces have made advances in integrating new arms technology and equipment. But Mr. Xi and the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, the collective dictatorship that rules China, have limited confidence senior People’s Liberation Army Leaders are competent.

“They still worry about the military’s loyalty,” he told Inside the Ring.

The problems of the party have raised concerns that the system could collapse like the Soviet Union without warning.

“My personal view is that the Communist Party is continually trying to justify its legitimacy to a public that at any time, in a way that we cannot predict, could turn on the CCP,” Mr. Wortzel said.

“Life has to be a daily struggle for the party leadership,” he added. “Still, it would be a mistake to predict the imminent collapse of China. Pundits have been doing that for decades, and end up looking like Chicken Little. The sky could fall at any time, but until we see it falling we have to deal with the realities of an aggressive, coercive, China.

Other problems for Mr. Xi, who has assumed centralized power greater than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, are serious.

“These include non-performing loans, an aging population in need of a social support system [and] industries that are often grinding out products for which there is no market. The subsidies for these things are a burden on the economy,” Mr. Wortzel said.

The commission report also states that Mr. Xi is struggling to renew ideological fervor within the Party and the country’s 1.4 billion population for China’s variant of Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics, according to a congressional commission report.

The Communist Party “perceives Western values and democracy as weakening the commitment of party cadres and the broader populace to China’s socialist governing system and as a fundamental threat to its rule,” the report said.

Corruption and other internal problems are limiting the government from sustaining economic growth and project power and spreading influence globally.

Congress seeks foreign nuke reports
The latest defense authorization bill for fiscal 2020, which passed a House-Senate conference this week, includes a new reporting provision that requires the Pentagon and intelligence community to report on Chinese and Russian nuclear forces.

The report to Congress must include weapons deployed or under development by Russia and China, as well as the impact on the New START arms treaty that expires in the coming months.

Nuclear forces of both nations are growing rapidly as Moscow built several so-called superweapons introduced in March 2018 by Russian President Vladimir Putin. They include hypersonic missiles, a new multi-warhead heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, a nuclear armed underwater drone and a nuclear-powered cruise missile.

China’s nuclear forces also are said to be expanding rapidly, but in much greater secrecy than the new Russian arms. Beijing is fielding new long-range missiles, including a hypersonic nuclear missiles and the new multi-warhead DF-41 ICBM. China also is developing new ballistic missile submarines.

The Trump administration has said that any future arms agreement must include both Russia and China, a challenge considering that Beijing has announced it has no intention of joining three-way nuclear arms talks.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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