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Feb. 16, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Michael Flynn and the revenge of the bureaucrats
The resignation of White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Monday was the result of a coordinated effort by current and former U.S. intelligence officials to undermine the Trump administration using the disclosure of highly classified communications intercepts.

President Trump voiced his displeasure in a tweet Wednesday stating that misuse of the intercepts was un-American.

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” the president stated.

Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former Defense Intelligence Agency director, was let go after admitting he did not fully explain to Vice President Mike Pence and other officials the content of telephone conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak late last year when Mr. Trump was president-elect.

According to a White House national security official, the intelligence bureaucrats went after Mr. Flynn not because of his contacts with the Russian ambassador. The real concern was his plan to reform U.S. intelligence agencies that during the Obama administration became mired in political correctness and lost much of their effectiveness, the official said.

The anti-Flynn campaign was launched prior to Inauguration Day and targeted not just the national security adviser but also at least one of his aides.

The National Security Council’s staff specialist for Africa, retired Marine intelligence officer Robin Townely, had his request for “top secret, sensitive compartmented information” clearance rejected by the CIA. Under current rules, the NSC can issue top-secret clearances. But the higher SCI-level clearance must be approved by the CIA. The White House official said the denial was unjust and an indirect political attack on Mr. Flynn.

Yet it was just such SCI-level information that was shared with reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and other news outlets in disclosing details of Mr. Flynn’s pre-inauguration phone calls to Mr. Kislyak.

Chris Farrell, a former counterintelligence official and director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch, called the disclosures “reckless endangerment of national intelligence sources and methods to advance a political smear job.”

Mr. Flynn is a critic of U.S. intelligence agencies and was planning to oversee a major overhaul of the spy agencies — something that upset entrenched intelligence officials concerned about protecting bureaucratic rice bowls.

In 2010, then-Gen. Flynn co-authored a landmark report, “Fixing Intel,” calling for sweeping reforms after criticizing intelligence as misaligned with the objectives in the Afghanistan War.

“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy, Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade,” the report said.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is criticizing the Obama administration for failing to confront Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.

U.S. intelligence agencies recently discovered that a Russian cruise missile being developed in contravention of the treaty has now been deployed. The missile was identified as the SSC-8 cruise missile. The New York Times first reported the land-based cruise missile deployment on Tuesday.

“These reports, if true, are disturbing but not surprising,” said committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican. “Congress repeatedly urged, and even required in law, the Obama administration to confront Russia on violations of the INF Treaty. The Obama administration did very little.”

As a result, the only arms control treaty to eliminate an entire class of missiles — those with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles — lies “in tatters,” he said.

“Our military has warned publicly that such a violation poses a military risk to the United States, our allies and our deployed forces,” Mr. Thornberry said. “There are clearly lessons here for the Trump administration about the price of not confronting aggression, which puts international security at risk.”

Russia’s INF violation was known since 2012 but kept secret by the Obama administration to avoid upsetting arms control talks with Moscow.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the FBI this week released a report warning that unscrupulous con artists are engaged in internet romance scams.

In one case, a Texas woman in her 50s fell in love with a man she was chatting with online, only to end up being fleeced for $2 million.

The FBI says this type of online romance crime is on the rise and its victims are typically older, widowed or divorced women who are targeted by criminal groups, usually from Nigeria.

Targeting online victims “is like throwing a fishing line,” said FBI Special Agent Christine Beining, a financial fraud investigator in Houston.

“The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target,” she said. “Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop.”

The woman in Texas who lost $2 million was targeted by her posts on Facebook that indicated she had a strong Christian faith. The con artist, identified only as “Charlie,” used the information to court her. The scammer masqueraded as an average person, proposed marriage and eventually asked for money.

The FBI says romance scams accounted for the highest amount of financial losses to victims of all online crimes. Last year, nearly 15,000 complaints were logged as romance scams or confidence fraud, with losses exceeding $230 million.

Much of the fraud occurred in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

Advice from the FBI: Never send money to anyone you haven’t met. “If you don’t know them, don’t send money,” Ms. Beining said. “You will see what their true intentions are after that.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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