On Friday, the New York Times ran an op-ed penned by Michael Morell, a 33-year veteran of the Central Intelligence agency who served as its acting director and deputy director from 2010 to 2013. Contravening political conventions of non-partisanship, Morell not only endorses Hillary Clinton for president but even goes so far as to suggest that Donald Trump “may well pose a threat to our national security.”
Morell enumerates Clinton’s strengths—her thoroughness, her thoughtfulness, and her abiding commitment to the myth of American exceptionalism—before lambasting Trump’s narcissism and recklessness. These character flaws, while dangerous in themselves, pose an even greater threat to the degree that they can be exploited by others, Morell argues. Like Putin, for example:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.
In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
This is a pretty damning assessment! And it certainly seems earnest and correct. However, the fact that a career CIA officer would cast his endorsement of Hillary Clinton as a repudiation of Putin’s attempts to recruit Trump is pretty silly, when what we really have here is a former CIA operative inserting himself into a political campaign by praising one candidate in one breath and laying out a former KGB operative’s intervention in a political campaign (by praising the opposition candidate) with the next. Not to get all Greenwaldian about it, but if Putin’s support for Trump constitutes some kind of clandestine meddling, what does that make Morell’s support for Clinton?
What’s more, even as Morell touts his three decades of non-partisan service to his country and his (heretofore private) bi-partisan voting record, he fails to disclose that he left the CIA in 2013 to join Beacon Global Strategies, a consulting firm founded by longtime Clinton aide and ally Philippe Reines.
In a passage criticizing Trump’s rhetoric towards Muslims and Muslim Americans, Morell declines to name the Muslim American man “whom I cannot identify, who ran the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center for nearly a decade and who I believe is most responsible for keeping America safe since the Sept. 11 attacks.” That man is Michael D’Andrea, who the Times has named before and was first outed by Gawker. D’Andrea is credited with leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden and designing the CIA’s signature-strike drone program.
Anyway, that is of course not to say that Morell is being insincere, just that unfortunately you lose some benefit of the doubt when you join the CIA, spend three decades there, and then leave to do public relations. Oh, and also defend torture.