Why the CIA Director Is Declassifying Material on Russia’s Ukraine Plot
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An ignorance of history isn’t an excuse for bad analysis—especially when your own spies have the evidence on their desks. William J. Burns, CIA Director, is the best person in government to understand blindspots and their consequences.
That’s why in recent weeks, U.S. intelligence officials have moved to quickly declassifyWhat they claim is that it was a Russian plot to spread misinformation about the purported Ukrainian attack against Russian soil. Such a move by Kyiv would precipitate Moscow’s retaliation that wouldn’t stop at borders and instead roll into the Ukrainian capital. In other words, it’s a false-flag OperationThat could be. sparkThis was the most extensive land conflict in Europe since 1940. Put simply: don’t believe everything you read.
Declassification has been one the most aggressive actions taken by the Intelligence Community. declassification work has been one of the most aggressive moves by the Intelligence Community (I.C.)
The I.C. wants the world to know that Washington has the receipts in Kyiv and Moscow should go home—just like the Kremlin retreated from Havana back when Ray Charles topped the charts 1962
That is, of course, assuming D.C. isn’t leaning too far over its skis.
The comparison to past transparency-as-strategy operations raises the hackles of folks like Thomas Rid, a Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Google Maps already provides imagery that was only available to U2 spy aircrafts in the past. A smartphone can be used as a mobile phone and an amateur foreign correspondent.
“They are declassifying information, no question about it. But they’re adding details to a bigger picture that is already out there,” says Rid, whose 2020 book Active Measures: Secret History of Political Warfare and DisinformationWashington must now read this. “The fact that we’ve seen such aggressive declassification by this Administration and by the Intelligence Community in the context of the Russia buildup may be a sign that we here in Washington are overestimating the power of disinformation because of 2016 and then 2020. It is possible that we give too much power away to disinformation. It is possible to over-declassify and live-tweet the Russian intelligence feed. Figuratively, this means that the intelligence feed or parts thereof will be made available to the public at great cost. And the cost is that you portray Russia as even more threatening.”
All of this informs Burns’ work. Burns is widely regarded as one of the best diplomats of his time and was a favourite student by some of the top professionals in the field. He helped to bring about the multilateral. We are in agreementHe worked with Iran to reduce its nuclear ambitions, and was, prior to that, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Moscow. No slouch when it comes to the post-Soviet mindset of the Russians, he’s as skeptical as they come about Moscow’s intentions. In one memo to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008, Burns described Russian President Vladimir Putin as “cocky and combative as ever, still without a mellow bone in his body.”
So as Burns, the Oxford-educated retired diplomat who was confirmed as Biden’s CIA chief last year, looked at the potential battlefield of eastern Europe, he made a play heavily informed by three decades in the State Department’s labyrinths. Avril Haynes, Director of National Intelligence, was the first to join him. ShareTheir secrets are shared with the public. The thinking has been that such a public accounting may shame Russia into de-escalating, warn Ukrainians and Russians alike about Moscow’s shady intentions and potentially prime Americans for some level of military engagement. At times, the information has caught Russian officials off guard, unsure of Vladimir Putin’s thinking in a regime where power rests solely in his hands. As a bonus, it’s left Russians worried they have a mole, turning an already insular heir to the KGB paranoid. It’s been an ambitious act of transparency by the U.S., but not one that necessarily has paid tangible dividends so far.
In fact, despite Russia’s ClaimNATO and U.S. officials claimed that Ukraine was not pursuing an invasion. As a last resort, Ukraine may offer to its citizens a promise to leave NATO in order to avoid an invasion. And, in Washington, analysts continue to question whether Putin’s continued talks with the West are a sign of consideration or delay.
This should be familiar to us, as history has shown. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American officials started to declassify material about Iraq’s ambitions for a weapons program. The I.C.’s claims were ultimately proved incorrect. Although ultimately proved wrong, the I.C. As it did in the Cuban Missile Crisis and before, American journalists seemed to be able to provide a wealth of information about clandestine sources that were relaying U.S. intelligence.
“The U.S. intelligence community has improved as a result of a failure. And it’s trying hard not to repeat mistakes,” Rid says. Still, it’s hard not to feel echoes of post-9/11—especially given Burns’ own role as a top State Department bureaucrat overseeing the Middle East at the time.
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