Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a defense intelligence veteran and former Trump National Security Council aide, is headed back to the Pentagon to serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics and global threats.
Cohen-Watnick worked on counternarcotics and counterterrorism policy for years as an intelligence official at Defense Intelligence Agency. He served for four years at U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) as an intelligence operative from 2010 to 2014 and served a tour in southern Afghanistan.
“There has been no greater advocate of President Trump’s agenda than Ezra Cohen. His extensive background in intelligence and continued service to his country are prime examples of the need to have capable individuals who are steadfast in their support of pro-American policies,” a former White House official told Breitbart News on background.
In his new capacity, he will focus on the fight against drug cartels and transnational criminal networks (TCNs) — a big priority of President Donald Trump’s. Trump recently directed the Pentagon to launch a counternarcotics operation to stop the flow of drugs across the U.S.’s southern border.
Cohen-Watnick will not only be focusing on drug cartels in Latin America but also on the larger TCNs that span the globe, including those used by Hezbollah and state-sponsors of terrorism such as Iran.
The position is a return to defense policy for Cohen-Watnick, who was detailed at the Pentagon before being brought into the National Security Council by former National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Flynn in 2017 as senior director for intelligence programs at the NSC, where he oversaw intelligence activities targeting TCNs.
While at the NSC, Cohen-Watnick discovered — as part of an unrelated intelligence community oversight review — evidence that the Trump campaign had been incidentally spied on by American spy agencies surveilling foreign officials in the U.S.
Unnamed officials in the New York Times falsely accused Cohen-Watnick of leaking that evidence to then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), but Nunes and Mark Zaid, Cohen-Watnick’s lawyer at the time, denied he had any part in getting the information to Nunes.
Since then, evidence has emerged to show that Obama administration officials were indeed surveilling the Trump campaign as part of its alleged surveillance of foreign officials.
Cohen-Watnick also worked with current Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger to start the economic warfare review on China and led the administration’s initial efforts to counter Russian active measures to push disinformation in the U.S.
He left the National Security Council in late 2017 over a policy disagreement on the Afghanistan War with former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who opposed winding down the war. McMaster had tried to remove him, but Trump intervened.
“Ezra served our country honorably in Afghanistan and returned home with a realistic and sobering view of the situation there. These views brought him into direct but respectful conflict with H.R. McMaster and other neoconservatives in the administration who wanted to prolong this never ending war for their future employers in the defense industry, said a source close to the White House.
“A lot of people are happy to see Ezra back in the administration as the president continues to fulfill his campaign promise to draw down troop levels in Afghanistan,” the source said.
Another source said Ezra’s advocacy for the president’s America First national security agenda drove McMaster to “fits of rage fueled by insecurity.”
“Ezra’s side of the argument clearly won out — Ezra is back and H.R. is occupying an endowed chair funded by a ‘Palestinian’ activist,” the source close to the president said.
He has also previously worked at Oracle for CEO Safra Catz on expanding Oracle’s international public sector cloud business.