James Woolsey: Politicized Leaks ‘Harm the Credibility of Intelligence Agencies’

Former CIA Director James Woolsey speaks on Capitol Hill February 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Monday’s Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow asked former CIA Director James Woolsey about criticism that President-elect Donald Trump is not receiving sufficient intelligence briefings or taking them seriously enough.

“Well, President Clinton read the briefings when I was director of Central Intelligence. He didn’t sit there and have me or anyone else read them to him,” Woolsey recalled. “He’s a speed-reader, so he’d read them, but he’d annotate them. He’d write back, ‘Jim, this is the same idea that’s in the new Kaplan book. Have you read it yet?’ He didn’t ignore them, but he also didn’t sit there and have them read to him. Since most previous presidents, but not all, have sat still for a briefing as distinct from reading, that got to be kind of well-known around Washington, and when that little airplane crashed into the South Lawn of the White House in the fall of ’94, the White House staff joke was, ‘That must have been Woolsey, still trying to get an appointment with Clinton.’”

“But it wasn’t,” he added with a laugh.

“I think there’s a kind of a set idee fixe people have, that the briefing has to be a ‘briefing’ in the sense of whiteboards and talking at a president, who maybe sits there and listens and has a question or two. There are different ways presidents absorb material. They don’t have to do it by hearing a briefing. Most of us can read a lot faster than we can listen,” Woolsey said.

Marlow asked Woolsey about politicized intelligence, particularly in the form of politicized leaks from intelligence sources to the media.

“The purpose for leaks from any institution is usually political in some sense, whether it’s coming from the Pentagon, or the State Department, or the White House, or the Federal Trade Commission, or whatever,” Woolsey observed. “It’s usually to put some kind of an angle and a spin on information, in an effort to get somewhere different than where one is, or maybe sometimes to support where government policy is.”

“I don’t understand at all the idea that leaks can’t be politicized. I think most of them, and not just from the CIA, but from virtually all institutions, have in one sense, a political purpose,” he said.

Woolsey expressed doubt that the “regular, and in my experience, perfectly fine and patriotic and decent CIA officers” were targeting Trump with leaks to the media, but said “somewhere at the upper reaches, there may be somebody who has a bit of an agenda.”

“I don’t know who’s been leaking this material, and I think they’d be wise to stop, because I think it does harm the credibility of not only intelligence agencies, but other agencies that are clearly doing leaking,” he added.

“I think if it becomes clear, or stays clear, that it comes from one or more particular institutions, I think those institutions lose credibility because your job in intelligence is to call it straight. It’s not to support the politics of the leader, even when he wants you to: ‘Sorry, no, this is what we see, Mr. President. Here’s why,’” he contended.

“All of us who have been in those senior jobs have received hints – often not direct orders, but hints – that it would really be better if you could phrase it this way or that way. Occasionally, something like that is legitimate. You’ve overstated it in your estimate, you can soften it a bit, but generally speaking, remonstrances like that from senior political people have a political purpose, and most of the time, what the intelligence people ought to do is smile and say, ‘I’m sorry, sir. We’ve looked at it carefully, and we have a collective judgment on this, and there’s a minority view which is X, but the majority view is Y, and we’re not going to change it.’ And be ready to go get another job if you want to,” Woolsey advised.

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