The Central Intelligence Agency on Monday evening slammed what it called CNN’s “misguided” and “simply false” reporting, after the cable channel’s chief national security correspondent authored a hole-filled piece claiming that the CIA had pulled a high-level spy out of Russia because President Trump had “repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.”
The extraordinary CIA rebuke came as The New York Times published a bombshell piece late in the evening, which largely contradicted CNN’s reporting. According to the Times, CIA officials “made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russia” — weeks before Trump even took office.
Concerns about media reporting on Russian election interference drove the decision, according to the Times, which described the source as “the American government’s best insight into the thinking of and orders” from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Former intelligence officials said there was no public evidence that Mr. Trump directly endangered the source, and other current American officials insisted that media scrutiny of the agency’s sources alone was the impetus for the extraction,” the Times wrote.
The purported spy refused the 2016 offer of extraction, the Times reported, citing family concerns. But the CIA “pressed again months later after more media inquiries” threatened the source, and he relented, according to the paper.
The whirlwind developments continued into the night on Monday, when NBC News exclusively reported that a possible Russia spy was now living under apparent U.S. protection, using his true identity, in Washington, D.C. — and that his life could be in danger. Sources told NBC News that the Russian living in Washington was the same individual who was referenced in the reporting by CNN and the Times, and NBC said he “fits the profile of someone who may have had access to information about Putin’s activities.”
An NBC reporter who knocked at the Russian’s door was confronted by unidentified men in an SUV, presumed to be security personnel, within minutes. Speculation about the purported spy’s identity, using publicly available records, quickly circulated on social media after NBC News’ report revealed identifiable details about his living situation. Russian officials reportedly said the man at the center of those reports worked in the presidential administration but was fired and did not have direct access to Putin.
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false,” CIA Director for Public Affairs Brittany Bramell said in the agency’s statement.
Bramwell continued: “Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence — which he has access to each and every day — drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
According to the report by CNN chief national correspondent and former Obama administration official Jim Sciutto, the decision to carry out the extraction “occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.”
The disclosure “prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure,” CNN reported.
Sciutto later posted on Twitter, after the Times report was published, that the double agent in jeopardy had the “remarkable ability to take photos of presidential documents,” as well as “direct access” to Putin.
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false.”
It was not clear from the CNN piece how exactly Trump’s comments in the Oval Office would have further compromised the Russian source.
Numerous other holes quickly surfaced in CNN’s reporting. Commentator Aaron Mate pointed out in a Twitter thread that several major news organizations had previously cited a high-level official in the Russian government as a source — suggesting that the intelligence community itself, not Trump, had compromised the spy.
For example, The Washington Post reported in June 2017 of “‘sourcing deep inside the Russian government’ — so deep that it purportedly ‘captured Putin’s specific instructions’ to launch a pro-Trump influence campaign,” Mate noted.
And the Times reported in August 2018 of “anonymous intel officials complaining that their ‘vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent.'” But “if these Kremlin informants are so vital, why are US intel officials talking about them?” Mate asked.
The source resurfaced in May 2019, when the Times “reported on intel fears of this source being exposed.”
“Again, the irony is lost that it’s the ones who are complaining who are the ones revealing this supposed source,” Mate wrote. “So there’s a pattern here of intel leaks in order to: create a false link between Trump-Russia; to reveal supposed high-level Russian sources that advance the Russiagate narrative & then falsely blame Trump for these sources’ supposed vulnerability.”
Yet one more Russiagate "bombshell" turns out to be a dud. Between today's CNN one and @lawrence's recent claim about Russian oligarchs co-signing Trump's bank loans, there's at least a little progress: they're being exposed as fraudulent at a faster pace than before.
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) September 10, 2019