What does the Resignation of National Security Advisor Flynn Mean?
On Monday evening, National Security Advisor Flynn resigned, making him the shortest serving NSA in history. Retired general Keith Kellogg will take over as acting National Security Advisor. Kellogg was a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and served as chief operating officer of the Western coalition in Baghdad, Iraq, after the United States led the invasion in 2003.
Flynn ostensibly resigned because he provided Vice President Mike Pence with “incomplete information” about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador, which turned out to include a discussion of recent sanctions, contrary to his earlier denials. Since trust is crucial; the resignation was necessary.
Although that is the official reason for Trump asking for his resignation, rumors continue to swirl and it has become evident that this could result in the biggest shakeup of the American intelligence community since the Church Hearings in the 1970s – hearings that uncovered the type of operations that the CIA had engaged in over the decades.
In reality, this has little to do with Flynn and his communications with the Russian Ambassador or its violation of the Logan Act – a 1799 law that prohibits American citizens from negotiating with foreign powers without authorization. No one has ever been convicted under the Act and Flynn did not violate it. In fact, Reagan representatives talked to Iran in 1980 before he became president and similarly Obama’s in 2008.
But that wasn’t the point of the allegation and it’s not the point of the attack on Flynn.
The intention was to attack and damage Trump. Flynn, as a Trump advisor and frequent Obama critic, was merely a target of opportunity. And, now that Flynn is out of the picture, another Trump advisor will become a target (possibly Steve Bannon).
However, the level of damage done to Trump appears to be mixed but sliding. A Rasmussen poll of likely voters taken after the resignation shows Trump remaining steady with a 53% approval rating, while a new Gallup poll showing 40 % approval.
Serious Questions About Where the Information is Coming From
The charges come from intelligence community wiretapping of the Flynn conversations with the Russian Ambassador. One of the officials responsible for ordering the eavesdropping was none other than Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (who was appointed by Obama), who forced President Trump to fire her when she refused to enforce his executive order on immigration. There is also the question if Flynn and other Trump officials had been secretly tapped by the FBI on orders of the Department of Justice.
William Binney, a former highly placed NSA official turned whistleblower, contends that the National Security Agency (NSA) is “absolutely” monitoring the phone calls of President Donald Trump.
Binney was an architect of the NSA’s surveillance program. He became a famed whistleblower when he resigned on October 31, 2001 after spending more than 30 years with the agency.
Asked whether he believes the NSA is tapping Trump, Binney replied: “Absolutely. How did they get the phone call between the president and the president of Australia? Or the one that he made with Mexico? Those are not targeted foreigners.”
Binney further contended the NSA may have been behind a data leak that might have brought down Flynn.
Binney said, “If they weren’t behind it, they certainly had the data. Now the difference here is that FBI and CIA have direct access inside the NSA databases. So, they may be able to go directly in there and see that material there. And NSA doesn’t monitor that. They don’t even monitor their own people going into databases.”
Transcripts of phone calls are highly classified. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives them the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity.
In the past it was considered scandalous for senior U.S. officials to even request the identities of U.S. officials incidentally monitored by the government (normally they are redacted from intelligence reports). John Bolton’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was derailed in 2006 after the NSA confirmed he had made 10 such requests when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control in George W. Bush’s first term.
The fact that the intercepts of Flynn’s conversations with Ambassador Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government and to reporters is a red flag.
Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that he saw the leaks about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. “There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration,” he said. “From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, it looks like a pattern.”
The fact that the intelligence community is leaking private phone conversations – not just Flynn’s but those between Trump and foreign leaders – is bothering many, including those who aren’t Trump supporters.
Damon Linker of The Week, who commented, “The United States is much better off without Michael Flynn serving as national security adviser,” also warned about a troubling pattern of Intelligence Community behavior.
Linker continued, “The whole episode is evidence of the precipitous and ongoing collapse of America’s democratic institutions — not a sign of their resiliency. Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.”
“Unelected intelligence analysts work for the president, not the other way around. Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press — mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result.
This is clearly a concern of Congress and Trump. Trump tweeted, “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?” Chairman Nunes is also gearing up for an investigation into the leaks.
One assumes that Attorney General Sessions has asked the FBI to investigate.
The result is likely to be a set of hearing of the intelligence community that will rival the Church Committee Hearings in 1975. This was the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities – a committee chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church. The committee investigated abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The hearings revealed many intelligence community abuses and led to greater congressional oversight.
It’s very likely that the hearings coming out of this event could uncover more than what the intelligence community wants to become public. Not only will it probably reveal who leaked the Flynn and Trump transcripts, it could uncover other prominent people that the intelligence community has spied upon over the years.
The result may be more restrictions on how the intelligence community eavesdrops on communications; especially on Americans. There may also be an attempt to restrict the power of the intelligence agencies.
Ironically the concerns now being voiced about the intelligence community mirror the concerns Senator Church voiced on Meet the Press after the Church Committee Hearings.
Senator Church said, “If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
Who will be the Next National Security Advisor?
As of this writing, it looks like retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, had withdrawn. He was a deputy to Defense Secretary James Mattis , and is a retired Navy SEAL served as the Deputy Commander of US Joint Forces Command.
Trump was accompanied by NSA’s Deputy Director, Keith Kellog, on his weekend tour of South Carolina and Florida. Earlier, he sidestepped former CIA director, David Petraeous due to his “political baggage,” as a convicted felon.
It is believed that the “short list” Trump is considering for National Security Advisor lists three possible choices: former US ambassador to the U.N, John Bolton; retired Army General H.R. McMaster; and former National Security Agency Director, Keith Alexander.