Michael Morell "Calls it like he sees it." Or does he? The background on a career spook gunning for a top job in a Clinton administration
Former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell has written a New York Times op-edentitled “I Ran the CIA. Now I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton.” Morell’s story begins with the flat assertion that “Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president – keeping our nation safe…Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.”
Morell arrived at his judgement regarding the upcoming election based on his four years of interaction with Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. He admired her preparation, diligence and her willingness to “change her mind if presented with a compelling argument.” Morell “also saw the secretary’s commitment to our nation’s security: her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous; her understanding that diplomacy can be effective only if the country is perceived as willing and able to use force if necessary; and – her capacity to make the most difficult decision of all – whether to put young American women and men in harm’s way.”
“I Ran the CIA” Morell goes on to cite how Hillary was a “proponent of a more aggressive approach [in Syria], one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold…” and he credits her with not politicizing national security when she rejected moving the raid to kill bin Laden back one day so it would not conflict with the White House Correspondents Dinner. Throughout his piece Morell implies that Hillary’s “keeping us safe” policies will somehow actually benefit the country, but he does not explain why and never once mentions what actual American national interests might be served through global “leadership” backed up by force majeure.
And then there is Trump. Morell runs through the litany of the GOP candidate’s observed personality and character failings while also citing his lack of experience but he delivers what he thinks to be his most crushing blow when he introduces Vladimir Putin into the discussion. Putin, it seems, a wily ex-career intelligence officer, is “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… In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
How can one be both unwitting and a recruited agent? Some might roll their eyes at that bit of hyperbole, but Morell goes on to explain why a claim that would be rather difficult to validate matters. He is unflinching and just a tad sanctimonious in affirming that his own intelligence training means that “[I] call it as I see it.” He derides Trump’s naivete in affirming that “Mr. Putin is a great leader…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.”
Comments in The Times suggest that many readers are actually buying Morell’s argument, such as it is. They are perhaps ignorant of a number of facts about the author and where he stands ideologically and politically speaking, but first of all Morell’s bluster deserves a bit of a fact check. That the U.S. is “an exceptional nation” obliging it to lead the world, using force without hesitation whenever necessary, might well be questioned by many, particularly in light of the ineffective – or one might say disastrous? – policies instituted over the past fifteen years, policies which, I might add, both Morell and Clinton were parties to.
Contrary to Morell’s assertion, a hawkish Hillary Clinton has never hesitated to put young Americans or anyone else in “harm’s way.” His advocacy of Hillary’s promotion of using military force to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria can be easily challenged by even cursory reflection on the dreadful results produced by similar efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. A Syria with no government or a regime made up of a mixture of enemies of al-Assad would have become an open door for the development and expansion of ISIS, which is currently being most effectively opposed by the Syrian Army. And the Russians.
And yes, the Russians. For Morell and apparently Clinton they are the eternal enemy, but Trump’s often stated willingness to work with Putin and the nuclear armed state he heads is somehow seen as a Russian interest, not an American one. That Russia allegedly “invaded” two neighbors and forcibly annexed Crimea is a comic book version of what actually took place and which continues to roil the region. And there is no evidence whatsoever that Moscow either broke into the Democratic Party files or that it intends to invade the Baltic states. So much for the presumed insider knowledge coming from the man who “ran the CIA.”
As for the clincher about Trump being a Moscow run Manchurian candidate, I would suggest that Morell might have been a top analyst at the Agency but he never acquired or ran an actual spy in his life so his comments about The Donald having been recruited by Putin should be taken for what they are worth, which is precisely nothing. Indeed, as I have noted, calling someone an “unwitting agent” is itself meaningless as it implies being somehow recruited to engage in espionage but without realizing it and without being actually called upon to do anything. I would doubt that many real CIA Operations Officers would agree with Morell’s glib assessment or use such an expression. Trump for all his failings is presumably patriotic and no fool. He just might understand that dealing with a powerful foreign leader who is not completely to one’s liking just might be better than nuclear war. Perhaps Morell and Clinton should consider that option.
Michael Morell is, in fact, a product of Washington groupthink and a major beneficiary of Establishment politics, the very tradition that Hillary Clinton represents. Many readers have no doubt seen his serious, somewhat intense gaze as a television expert on terrorism. His career trajectory depends on there being major threats to the United States and this requires him to be constantly searching for enemies. Morell has covered for Hillary in the past, most notably over Benghazi where he altered the talking points of his Congressional testimony to make CIA’s assessment closer to Clinton’s version of events. That he has attached himself to the Hillary Clinton campaign should surprise no one.
When not fronting as a handsomely paid national security consultant for the CBS television network, Morell is employed by Beacon Global Strategies as a Senior Counselor, a company co-founded by Andrew Shapiro and Philippe Reines, members of the Clinton inner circle. As he has no experience in financial markets, he presumably spends his time warning well-heeled clients to watch out for random terrorists and Russians seeking to acquire “unwitting agents.” The clients might also want to consider that unless Morell is being illegally fed classified information by former colleagues his access to valuable insider information ended three years ago when he retired from CIA.
The national security industry that Morell is part of runs on fear. His current lifestyle and substantial emoluments depend on people being afraid of terrorism and foreigners in general, compelling them to turn to a designated expert like him to ask serious questions that he will answer in a serious way, sometimes suggesting that Islamic militants could potentially bring about some kind of global apocalypse if one does not seek knowledgeable counsel from firms like Beacon Global Strategies. And the Russians and Iranians are inevitably behind it all.
Morell, also a CIA torture apologist and a George Tenet protégé, was deeply involved in many of the intelligence failures that preceded and followed 9/11. He also has a book out that he wants to sell, positing somewhat ridiculously that he and his former employer had been fighting The Great War of Our Time against Islamic terrorists, something comparable to the World Wars of the past century, hence the title. Morell tends to see the world in Manichean terms. If he were at all introspective he might question the bad guys versus good guys narrative that he possibly peddles for commercial reasons but that is a road he does not choose to go down. His credentials as a warrior are somewhat suspect in any event as he never did any military service and his combat in the world of intelligence consisted largely of sitting behind a desk in Washington and providing briefings to George W. Bush and Barack Obama in which he presumably told them what they wanted to hear, though I am sure he would deny that.
It is certainly unseemly that the self-serving Morell has felt it appropriate to invoke his former government position to provide authenticity for a series of comments that in reality are little more than his own opinion. And, unfortunately, self-advancement by virtue of a government-private sector revolving door is not unique. He is but one of a host of pundits who are successful in selling the military-industrial-lobbyist-congressional-intelligence community’s largely fabricated narrative regarding the war on terror and diversified foreign threats. Throw in the neoconservatives as the in-your-face agents provocateurs who provide instant intellectual and media credibility for developments and you have large groups of engaged individuals with good access who are on the receiving end of the seemingly unending cash pipeline that began with 9/11. And the good thing about a well maintained pipeline is that it keeps on flowing. Is Michael J. Morell anticipating a high position in the Hillary Clinton Administration? You betcha.