TEL AVIV – Mike Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, is generating headlines for claiming that alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election amounts to “the political equivalent of 9/11.”
Morell further suggested that the U.S. should respond in a significant way to the alleged Russian actions and he has given interviews supporting reports that the CIA believes Russia tried to influence the election in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.
Absent from the news media coverage of Morell’s statements is that he is known for his leading role in helping to craft the infamously misleading talking points used by Obama administration officials to blame the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks on a YouTube video.
The news media also failed to mention that Morell, who abruptly resigned from the CIA in June 2013, took a job that year at the Beacon Global Strategies firm, where he still works as senior counselor.
Beacon was founded by Phillippe Reines, who served as Communications Adviser to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. From 2009-2013, Reines also served in Clinton’s State Department as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategic Communications. Reines is the managing director of Beacon.
In an interview on Sunday with the Cipher Brief, Morell commented on reports in the Washington Post and New York Times claiming Moscow interfered in the presidential election to help Trump win – a contention the President-elect called “ridiculous” in an interview on Sunday.
“It is an attack on our very democracy,” Morell said. “It’s an attack on who we are as a people. A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11. It is huge and the fact that it hasn’t gotten more attention from the Obama administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me.”
Morell further asserted that the U.S. must respond overtly to the attack:
The third implication is we need to respond to the Russian attack. We need to deter the Russians and anyone else who is watching this—and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians are all watching. We need to deter all of those folks from even thinking about doing something like this in the future.
I think that our response needs to have two key pieces to it. One is it’s got to be overt. It needs to be seen. A covert response would significantly limit the deterrence effect. If you can’t see it, it’s not going to deter the Chinese and North Koreans and Iranians and others, so it’s got to be seen.
The second is that it’s got to be significant from Putin’s perspective. He has to feel some pain, he has to pay a price here or, again, there will be no deterrence, and it has to be seen by the rest of the world as being significant to Mr. Putin so that it can be a deterrent.
The interview with Morell was widely cited by the news media.
“Former Acting CIA Director Calls Russian Interference In Election ‘The Political Equivalent Of 9/11,’” reads a Huffington Post headline.
Business Insider ran a piece similarly titled, “Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell: Russian meddling in US election ‘is the political equivalent of 9/11.’”
“Ex-CIA Director: Obama Should Retaliate To Russian Election Hacks Now,” blasted a Forbes.com headline.
Morell also appeared Monday on “CBS This Morning,” where he supported a CBS News report citing intelligence sources saying the CIA has high confidence that the Russians attempted to influence the presidential election in favor of Trump.
“The C.I.A. doesn’t come to a high-confidence judgment just based on circumstantial evidence. So I think they’ve got more here,” Morell told the news network. “I think they’ve got sources who are actually telling them what the intent was.”
The breathless news media coverage of Morell’s recent remarks, reviewed by this reporter, fails to mention Morell’s employment at the firm tied to Hillary Clinton.
The coverage of Morell’s remarks also fails to take note of his central role in crafting misleading talking points on the Benghazi attacks.
The talking points were used by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, when she appeared on five morning television programs to discuss the White House response to the Benghazi attacks. In nearly identical statements, she asserted that the attacks were a spontaneous protest in response to a “hateful video.”
Morell addressed his role in editing the talking points during Benghazi testimony on April 4, 2014.
The Guardian reported:
In his testimony, Morell said he was deeply troubled by allegations made by lawmakers and some in the media “that I inappropriately altered and influenced CIA’s classified analysis and its unclassified talking points about what happened in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 and that I covered up those actions.”
“These allegations accuse me of taking these actions for the political benefit of President Obama and then secretary of state Clinton. These allegations are false,” Morell said.
He said he and the agency could have done a better job, but he dismissed suggestions that the CIA “cooked the books” in the assessment of the attack.
In a briefing to senators following the attacks, Morell claimed that references to terrorism and al-Qaeda were removed from the Benghazi talking points to “prevent compromising an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Morell’s assertions were contradicted by a 46-page House Republican report from April 2013 finding the talking points were edited to protect the State Department’s reputation.
“Contrary to administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information,” states the “Interim Progress Report for the Members of the House Republican Conference on the Events Surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012 Terrorist Attacks in Benghazi.”
“Evidence rebuts administration claims that the talking points were modified to protect classified information or to protect an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” the report states, charging the talking points were “deliberately” edited to “protect the State Department.”
States the report: “To protect the State Department, the administration deliberately removed references to al-Qaeda-linked groups and previous attacks in Benghazi in the talking points used by [United Nations] Ambassador [Susan] Rice, thereby perpetuating the deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the attacks evolved from a demonstration caused by a YouTube video.”
Morell resigned from the CIA amid the controversy surrounding the Benghazi attacks, saying he was stepping down to spend more time with his family.
Morell, who was considered a favorite to lead the CIA and spent 33 years with the agency, acknowledged in his resignation statement that the reason for his leaving the agency may seem somewhat difficult to believe, but “when I say that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that.”
“I am passionate about two things in this world – the agency and my family,” Morell said in the statement. “And while I have given everything I have to the Central Intelligence Agency and its vital mission for a third of a century, it is now time for me to give everything I have to my family.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.