Trump’s pick of Tillerson for Secretary of State while dismissing CIA intelligence on Russia causes consternation

Sharing a laugh: Vladimir Putin with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s pick for US secretary of state, the nation’s highest diplomatic post. (Image: Getty Images/Sasha Mordovets) 

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US President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t assumed office and his Electoral College vote has yet to be officially confirmed by the Congress, though he has already come into conflict with other branches of government regarding two important issues. One concerns his nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, longtime president of Exxon-Mobil.

As noted by Voice of America, Tillerson has never concealed his ties with Russia. Speaking at the University of Texas at the beginning of this year, he admitted that he has known Vladimir Putin for more than 15 years, and that they have “a very close relationship.”

In 2011, Exxon and Russia’s gas giant “Rosneft” signed an agreement to jointly develop deposits on the Arctic shelf and in Siberia. The transaction is worth an estimated $300 billion. According to the Washington Post, the head of “Rosneft” Igor Sechin and Tillerson celebrated the massive deal with a black caviar dinner in the luxurious New York restaurant “Per Se.” Two years later, the Exxon president was awarded the Kremlin “Order of Friendship.” In 2014 the grateful American admitted to reporters in Texas that he is lobbying for the lifting of sanctions on Russia for violating international law in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will consider the nomination of the new Secretary of State before the full Senate takes up the nomination, have already announced that they are prepared to block Rex Tillerson’s appointment. Influential Republicans senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and John McCain have also expressed concern.

The second conflict Trump has with the members of the federal government concerns the CIA’s conclusion that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 US election not merely to undermine the credibility of American democracy, but to deliberately harm Hillary Clinton and assist in electing Donald Trump. Bipartisan US leaders have called for a more detailed investigation of Russian cyber-attacks, while Trump, on the other hand, called the findings of the CIA “ridiculous” and declared them “another excuse” for Democrats’ electoral defeat.

CIA veterans have expressed serious concerns about such a dismissive attitude toward the work of the intelligence community on the part of the country’s future leader.

“Trump’s comments are alarming, and certainly in the short term will have a definite psychological impact,” senior CIA officer John Sipher, who has nearly 30 years of investigative experience, told Euromaidan Press:

However, I doubt that they will impact the effectiveness of the intelligence community. The CIA is used to working in a politicized environment, and the Agency has experienced periods when presidents have not paid attention to intelligence reports. There’s even a saying in the CIA about this: “You can lead a politician to an intelligence report, but you cannot make him think.” If Mr. Trump does not particularly like the information he receives, it will be a shame, but it won’t be able to damage the intelligence community. However, if the new administration puts pressure on the CIA to provide political or partisan support for their preconceived ideas, it can lead to long-term damage.

According to John Sipher, there are two possible explanations for Trump’s unfortunate comments which reveal his ignorance:

The most likely explanation is that he still does not understand that the CIA is not a biased mouthpiece of the administration. Trump instinctively reacts to the unspoken assumption that Mrs. Clinton lost the election because of Russia’s intervention. I think Trump is still in campaign mode and sees the information leak in a partisan manner as a means of delegitimating his victory. Once he realizes the truth about the CIA, and is persuaded that there is no threat to his presidency, he will likely put this unpleasant situation behind him. However, if he tries to cover up his connections with Russia and scare the CIA and the FBI, it will end very badly.

The CIA veteran stresses that the Agency is absolutely free from politics and, quite the contrary, is proud of its non-partisan culture and professionalism:

The CIA are working professionals, and the director, as a rule, is the only political appointee. Intelligence officers avoid anything that smacks of partisanship. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump’s comments, on the other hand, are completely biased in nature. It’s understandable that he would prefer that information about Russia’s intervention did not correspond to reality. However, what is clear is that he has no independent grounds for challenging this information. Wishing something were true or false, and coming up with unfounded claims, this is the exact opposite of what intelligence professionals do every day.  Intelligence officers are especially proud that they follow the intelligence wherever it might lead, even if the facts happen to be uncomfortable for some.

The CIA veteran does not consider it useful to discuss which of the candidates is most advantageous for the Russians:


They would have attacked our country in any case. But this in fact raises another serious issue: how will the US government respond to cyber attacks? What are they: war, terrorism, espionage? There is no doubt that Putin wants to be the leader of the anti-Western movement. He also needs a boogeyman in the form of the United States, which helps him retain power. Thus, relations with the US are unlikely to change fundamentally. Of course, we can expect a public detente, but in the end, basic and very strong differences between us will become clear. ‘Active measures’ are nothing new, though they have been largely focused on Europe. The Russians see them as a form of political warfare: disinformation, propaganda, murder, forgery and sometimes even terrorism. In the words of Russian defector General Kalugin, subversion is the heart and soul of Russian intelligence, not actually gathering intelligence. Many Americans are convinced that Russia should be an ally. They do not realize that Russians actually see it differently.

Former diplomat and intelligence analyst James Bruno is also concerned about Trump’s reaction. In an interview with Euromaidan Press, he recounts instances when shortsighted politicians neglected intelligence data which led to disastrous consequences for the United States:

For example, in 1929, Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down the Cipher Bureau, which had great successes in cracking the Japanese communication code only a few years earlier. stating naively that ‘Gentlemen do not read each others’ mail.’ It was one of the biggest blunders in American foreign policy. As a result, the United States failed to predict and effectively resist the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Years later, another president’s lack of attention to key intelligence resulted in an enemy attack on a scale larger than Pearl Harbor. President George W. Bush and his National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, ignored a warning from intelligence agencies of an imminent Al-Qaeda attack against the United States. The August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing warned, “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in U.S.” America and the world paid a heavy price for the White House’s failure to heed this key intelligence. President-elect Trump continues to decline daily intelligence briefings, stating, “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years…I don’t need that.” For his part, President Obama commented, “It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible. Without them [briefings], you’re flying blind. When he assumes office in January, President Donald Trump jeopardizes the security of the nation if he continues to insist on “flying blind.”

Translated by: Paula Chertok


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  1. Avatar albertphd says:

    If I’m not mistaken, John Sipher is a long-time personal friend of Hillary Clinton. I seem to recall watching an interview (was it on Charlie Rose?) in which Mr. Sipher half-hoped that should Clinton win, he would likely be granted a favored position in her new cabinet. It is not surprising then that Mr. Sipher would be opposed to presenting his new President as competent in that (as Mr. Sipher supposes?) his President must assume as Gospel whatever the CIA dictate to be truth?! Really, now?!

    Was it not the CIA that told President Bush that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”? But after 100,000s of Iraqis were killed, it was painfully obvious that there were NO WMDs! [Today, it is safe to say that the CIA stacked the evidence to substantiate George Bush’s desire to invade Iraq and to take out Saddam Hussein, as a personal vendetta?! Where is the impartiality in their ‘theory’ of WMDs?!]

    Was it not the CIA that created that disastrous fiasco contra Fidel Castro known as “The Bay of Pigs”? Which invasion of Cuba the CIA reassured JFK was fool-proof! but which in the end made JFK look so ridiculous that he vowed to disband the foreign arm of the CIA (once he would return from Dallas in 22 November 1961)!

    So, to avoid the dissolution of that foreign arm of the CIA, Was it not the CIA itself that was in some devious way involved in the removal of JFK? (according to most probable theories)? [where is the impartiality of judgment in such an action: to turn upon your President to protect your pet theories?! Again, it appears the CIA is already to turn (once again) upon their own President! They conveniently forget (or is it: ignore) their own claim to be impartial?! and not to nurse hidden agendas?!]

    But to all appearances, Trump does not appear to be motivated or pressured by special interests (as the Democrats so clearly have been!)! He does not need to kowtow to the private or hidden agendas of CIA leaders! He dares to think for himself, in a world of yes-men and yes-women! And he does not appear to be the dim-wit the CIA and their established lobbyists paint him to be!

    The CIA let’s not forget could not even present credible evidence prior to 9/11 (in 2001)?! to warn President Bush of the pending danger to follow–even though (as it later became crystal clear!), the CIA had all the tell-tale signs of a 9/11 attack the month earlier (in August 2001!)! Bush it seems had foolishly relied on the CIA to make the decision for him, to take preventative action prior to 9/11!

    After all, in order to be a genuine leader and successful decision-maker does not the President need to think for himself, to dare to act as President!

    To ‘fly blind’ as it were, would be to believe whatever the CIA says is Gospel, when in too many cases it’s mere gossip! It is the prerogative of the US President as Commander-in-Chief to make the final decisions–not the presumption of the CIA!

    1. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

      Trump is not smarter than the CIA, whatever he likes to think.

      1. Avatar albertphd says:

        Sorry to prick your bubble, but I think you misunderstand the issue here. As I see it, the future of US foreign or domestic policy is not up to the CIA. The question of whether or not the CIA is smarter than person X is irrelevant. Smarts is not the same thing as intelligence. All the CIA can do is to advise the US President (whether Obama currently, or Trump after the 20 January 2017) and nothing more! CIA stands for (as I think you know): Central Intelligence Agency. It is not rated an IQ (Intelligence Quotient). It is merely an information gathering process (which by the way gathers ONLY the information that the US President instructs them to do! So, the facts remain:

        (1) Q: Who directed the CIA to look into a possible scandal involving Trump and Russia?
        A: President Obama (the only person authorized to do so! )

        (2) Q: What is the motive behind this investigation?
        A: To implicate Trump with Russia as an anti-American, one who cohorts with the ‘evil empire’ in order to gain brownie points?!

        (3) Q: Who stands to profit from this mud-slinging on Trump’s face?
        A. The Democratic party! (The Party which ironically still uses the most undemocratic means to counter the wishes of the People’s President, Donald J. Trump, who was–dare I say it?–elected through a free and open DEMOCRACY: ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’! )

        1. Avatar laker48 says:

          LOL! Trump is working for the US, not the fascist RuSSian Federation. Why should he save RuSSia from unavoidable bankruptcy? Why should he help RuSSia in Syria against US and Israeli interests that dictate the removal of Syria from the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and Assad from the helm of Syria in order to open the corridor for gas pipelines from Israeli and Lebanese Leviathan and Tamar gas deposits, and oil and gas pipelines from the Arabian Peninsula that may render RuSSian Gazprom, Lukoil and Rosneft bankrupt within less than five years?

          1. Avatar albertphd says:

            Yes, you are so right! Trump is working for US interests ONLY! His focus is on domestic policies, to make America great! Not only materially, but militarily as well! If only the strong shall survive (as in the Law of the Jungle), then Trump will ensure that America comes out on top! [The US military machine can easily crush Russia if they would choose to do so, nukes or no nukes!]

            Do not be fooled by the common tactic to make friends of your enemies! It is not only a Christian principle, but a sound social and economic one!

            Recall that when the hated Nazis were defeated in May 1945, it was the American Marshall Plan that gave aid to the defeated enemy, which to this day Grateful Germans have never forgotten. Germany, once America’s bitter foe, has today become arguably one of their best and strongest friends!

            For it is the nobility of genuine grace to extend friendship to an enemy you can quite certainly defeat! Russia–as you suggest– is on the verge of defeat, or bankruptcy, to say the least, which in today’s world is almost the same thing! And Vladimir Putin knows that Western sanctions are destroying the RF (Russian Federation), although he talks to the contrary!

            One hundred years ago to this New Year (in 1917), there was another Vladimir in Russia who spoke of “Peace, and bread, and land!” which sparked a RED Revolution; Today, Trump may offer this same hope to the hungry Russian masses, in the form of a Marshall Plan (greatly revised and updated of course!), and who knows, there may be another Maidan yet– in Moscow?!

          2. Avatar laker48 says:

            “Today, Trump may offer this same hope to the hungry Russian masses, in the form of a Marshall Plan (greatly revised and updated of course!), and who knows, there may be another Maidan yet– in Moscow?!”
            You’re right, but Trump won’t move even his pinky toe in RuSSia’ s favour before RuSSia looks like this:

          3. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

            Maybe Putin can use some of Gazprom’s $100 billion of annual revenues to feed those hungry RuSSian masses, instead of banking it in Switzerland. Trump owes RuSSians nothing. With 17 million sq kms of land, maybe the ruSSians can grow themselves some food or trap a few hares for stew. Berries are also nutritious.

          4. Avatar slavko says:

            Nah… he won’t do that. Before using Gazprom’s money Putin will be using the money from the Pension Fund. Remember when Medvedev said to the pensioners in Crimea that the state has no money and wished them luck.

            Anyway, Happy New Year!!

        2. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

          The US is not Putin’s RuSSia, Igor. Your points are moot.

          1. Avatar albertphd says:

            Again, I sense that you have completely missed the point of this discussion–whoever you are?!

            Firstly, my name is not Igor. (Is this some sort of a put-down phrase–because you cannot think of a proper retort?!)

            Secondly, No one anywhere (unless they have sawdust for brains) would claim that “the US is Putin’s Russia”?! Please explain yourself, because if you think that you’re some sort of a wit, you’re only half-right?!

            Thirdly, All points (when it comes right down to it) are MOOT points! ! So, what’s your point?! There obviously isn’t any?! Simply, mud-slinging — or, is THAT the point?!

          2. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

            I will answer that with a qualified maybe.

  2. Avatar Yoshua Zafoy says:

    The world needs Russian oil, gas and coal just like Ukraine needs Donbas coal. Europe will turn into Ukraine in the future.

  3. Avatar laker48 says:

    I bet Trump will listen to all arguments of both sides. Trump is also notorious for hiring and firing people on a dime. Rex Tillers is not a friend of Putin or RuSSia; he’s a businessman and he is exclusively loyal to the bottom line of any institution or corporation he’s associated with. He’s also a consummate strategic planner Putin is not worthy to carry his suitcase.

  4. Avatar Dirk Smith says:

    Let’s hope that Trump listens to his generals who understand the evil from Moscow. Also, time will tell if Tillerson looks to protect the interests of our country vs. making an oil/gas deal.

  5. Avatar anonymous says:

    President Trumps position is clear; normalize relations with Putin’s criminal Russian government. President Trump wants to make friendship with Putin. President Trump has chosen a friend of Russia. President Trump will end economic sanctions and billions in business will come to US billionaires. Trump supporters will get some high paying jobs. A few token propaganda Republicans will raise loud, empty, meaningless propaganda voices to confuse the real position of the Trump administration and Republican Party; pro Putin through and through.

    1. Avatar laker48 says:

      LOL! You wish! 🙂

      1. Avatar anonymous says:

        I certainly do not wish for any of this but I have been listening to Trump’s statements and understand his position by what he has said; not his aides or some loud empty Republican voices who know no more than I about what Trump will do. I only repeat what Trump has said his position is.

        1. Avatar laker48 says:

          Watch out in order to not get much more than you’ve ever bargained for!

  6. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

    Trump acting like a chump. No surprise there.