August 15, 2019

Democracy and Intelligence in the United States

How to Prevent Usurpation of Special Services


Victor Hvozd

In the article “Another High-Ranking Resignation in the United States” I have already touched upon the problems in the intelligence community of the United States of America that arose during D. Trump's presidency. This issue is well known, covered in media, however, further development of the events gives reason to analyze it more closely. Moreover, similar problems are typical not only for the USA. They can be observed in other countries, Ukraine included. Today, they become especially relevant to our country in the context of the reorganization of its state authorities, law enforcement agencies and special services, which began after the presidential and parliamentary elections. And, crucially, all of this is taking place against the background of Russia's continued armed aggression against Ukraine, in various forms of a “hybrid” war, including the widespread involvement of intelligence and other Russian special services. This is the reason for the increased requirements for the Ukrainian intelligence. And it must respond to these challenges, based on its combat experience and the best practices of intelligence services of the world obtained both, now and in the historical retrospective. This, in turn, involves a thorough critical analysis of their activities, the ability not to repeat the mistakes that were made in the past or today, including by leading nations such as the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and others.

…The Ukrainian intelligence must respond to the challenges, based on its combat experience and the best practices of intelligence services of the world…

The key mistakes among them has been the efforts of some leaders to subordinate national intelligences and other special services to their political interests, which can have a variety of forms: from the usual refusal to trust intelligence and to imposing on the intelligences their own interpretation of the situation. Moreover, they are used for purposes other than intended — from struggle against their political opponents to realization of their private business interests. At this, the intelligence agencies’ chiefs who disagree with such a “dictation” are at best dismissed from their posts, and at worst they are subjected to repression up to cruel torture or execution. Which, in turn, leads to catastrophic consequences for both, the states themselves and their leaders.

The classic example of this is the position of Soviet leader J. Stalin on the eve of the war with Hitler's Germany. According to his vision, Germany could not attack the Soviet Union before withdrawing Great Britain from the game by capturing the British Isles and eliminating the United Kingdom. It was on this concept that the entire USSR's pre-war strategy was built, and which was imposed on the intelligence agencies. That is, subjective vision and subjective assessments prevailed over the intelligence agencies' objective information and its conclusions. And those who tried to speak the truth disappeared in the NKVD torture chambers. Thus, for the four pre-war years, five chiefs of the Red Army Intelligence Directorate were repressed, including S. Uritsky, Ya. Berzin, S. Gendin, A. Orlov, and I Proskurov. At the same time, all military intelligence residenturas were destroyed, providing perhaps not always complete but objective enough information about Berlin's intentions at that time. Starting with those who worked in Germany itself, and ending with anyone who had anything to do with it. Including those working in France, the USA and even Japan. In what it all ended is well known — the USSR's being unable to respond promptly and effectively to the aggressor's attack, the defeat of the Red Army in the summer and autumn of 1941, as a result of which Germany invaded the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine, and western Russia. The forces of the German Wehrmacht came up to Moscow, and then to Stalingrad. And all this cost millions of human lives, total destruction of thousands of cities and towns.

Germany, itself, suffered even more severely. After all, it was devastated in the Second World War and, in fact, found itself on the verge of complete destruction. And again, the reason for this was its leaders' ignoration of the information provided by its intelligence agencies. Including about the economic potential of the USSR, as well as the quantity and quality of its tanks, aircraft and artillery.

As the Fuhrer of the Third Reich A. Hitler said in September 1941, “had I known about the number of tanks in the USSR, I would never have started the war”. Well, what can one add here? Although the responsibility for this lies largely with the German intelligence itself, which had never been able to find out real power of the Soviet Union.

…Chiefs of the special services of Russia are appointed on the principle of personal faithfulness to V. Putin, according to whose views and attitudes they “shape” intelligence data and recommendations…

All this is also characteristic of today's Russia, chiefs of the special services of which are appointed on the principle of personal faithfulness to V. Putin, according to whose views and attitudes they “shape” intelligence data and recommendations. This, in particular, is evidenced by the unexpected consequences for Moscow because of its aggression against Ukraine, which have given rise to the RF's current problems. This concerns, first and foremost, the harsh reaction of the US and the EU, which have imposed sanctions on Russia and keep building them up.

Besides, contrary to the hopes of the Russian special services, Ukraine has not fallen apart, but on the contrary — it got consolidated around the idea of counteracting Moscow's aggression. Russian special services' attempts to interfere in the elections in other countries ended with similar failures. There is no doubt, that those attempts were ordered by the Kremlin, which, in turn, inadvertently considered Russian intelligence to be all-powerful and even capable of acting with impunity throughout the world. In reality this is not so, and this again came as a surprise to Moscow and caused a number of high-profile international scandals, which also led to introduction of a number of new international sanctions against Russia.

…At one time, the chiefs of the Ukrainian special services were appointed on the principle of personal devotion, not for their professional or personal qualities…

Unfortunately, Ukraine did not escape the aforementioned problems. At one time, the chiefs of its special services, especially during P. Poroshenko's presidency, also were appointed on the principle of personal devotion, not for their professional or personal qualities. Information which circulated in the media, especially high-profile journalistic investigations of top officials of the state's covering corruption in the defense-industrial complex of Ukraine, show that they were mainly engaged in the struggle against the opposition and serving political and business interests of oligarchical clans. As a result, intelligence services of Ukraine could not warn in time about the Russian aggression, especially the preparation for it, and also lost relevant operational capabilities, especially under V. Yanukovych, which, in turn, had led to our state's losing Crimea and the armed conflict in the Donbas.

US Congressman John Ratcliffe
US Congressman John Ratcliffe

Some democratic countries have real safeguards to prevent “privatization of intelligence agencies”. For example, the USA. To date, it has effective mechanisms to prevent such unlawful attempts. One of such mechanisms is the real parliamentary control of both the activities of the special services and the appointment of their chiefs. For example, the US Congress, as a supreme, full-fledged and fully independent state body, has every opportunity to block any intention to usurp control of intelligence services for the benefit of individuals or political forces. This is evidenced by the situation around US President D. Trump's attempts to subordinate the US National Intelligence's work to his political goals through appointing a chief personally devoted to him. It is known that such a person was to become a congressman from the Republican Party of the United States, J. Ratcliffe, who fully supports D. Trump on all controversial issues to American society, including his attitude to Russia and a number of other issues.

Of course, implementation of such plans would allow D. Trump to strengthen his political positions, which is of particular value to him in view of the approaching presidential elections in the country. However, in this case, the US intelligence services would completely lose the opportunity for impartial and objective work, which, in turn, would have unintended consequences for the USA. However, the system of American democracy, the real system of checks and balances, even in such a specific and sensitive issue did not allow it.

D. Trump's decision to nominate J. Ratcliffe as Director of the US National Intelligence caused a negative reaction of the US Congress, and was criticized by the media. At this, they emphasized the incompetence of J. Ratcliffe, who did not have the necessary experience to lead the US National Intelligence.

They also disclosed facts of J. Ratcliffe 's making public untrue information on certain aspects of his activities that was supposed to create the impression of his successes in the intelligence and counterterrorism. In particular, he claimed, he had succeeded in arresting a number of terrorists, which was not true.

Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center Joseph Maguire
Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center Joseph Maguire

Besides, US congressmen and the media expressed grave concern that J. Ratcliffe may “adjust” US intelligence activities to D. Trump's personal interests, which would harm America's national security. In the words of Democratic Party representatives in the US Congress, he would have become a “political director of intelligence” rather than an effective chief of special services.

In the end, the US President gave up appointing J. Ratcliffe and proposed another nominee, the current Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, J. Maguire. The latter is a retired Vice Admiral, with experience in both, military and special services. Therefore, he has more qualification than J. Ratcliffe, and can be supported by the US Congress.

…The USA's experience could be useful for Ukraine in the context of the reorganization of its special services after the presidential and parliamentary elections…

Despite the final decision of the US President and US Congress on the nomination for the post of Director of National Intelligence, the above-mentioned situation shows the high level of effectiveness of the democratic institutions of the United States. This guarantees the effective functioning of all government bodies, including the US intelligence agencies. At the same time, they cannot be used for any private purpose by any official, including the President of the United States.

In this regard, the USA's experience could be useful for Ukraine. Of particular importance is to create (on the basis of the adopted guidelines on national security and defense) a new Parliamentary Intelligence Committee, and not to leave it as it is, just by adding a phrase to the name of the committee, as they propose today.