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Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?

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On Sunday, Former CIA Director John Brennan and Former National Intelligence Director (NID) James Clapper appeared on CNN's morning talk show, State of the Union, to discuss Donald Trump's brief meeting with Vladimir Putin in Vietnam. The two ex-Intel chiefs were sharply critical of Trump and wondered why the president did "not acknowledge and embrace" the idea that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections. According to Brennan, Russia not only "poses a national security problem" for the US, but also "Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy, and our whole process."

Naturally, CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, never challenged Brennan or Clapper on any of the many claims they made regarding Russia nor did he interrupt either man while they made, what appeared to be, carefully scripted remarks about Trump, Putin and the ongoing investigation.

There were no surprise announcements during the interview and neither Brennan or Clapper added anything new to the list of allegations that have been repeated ad nauseam in the media for the last year. The only time Tapper veered off course at all was when he asked Brennan whether he thought "any laws were broken by the Trump campaign?" Here's what Brennan said:

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"I'm just a former intelligence officer. I never had the responsibility for determining whether or not criminal actions were taken. But, since leaving office on the 20th of January, I think more and more of this iceberg is emerging above the surface of the water, some of the things that I knew about, but some of the things I didn't know about, in terms of some of the social media efforts that Russia employed. So, I think what Bob Mueller, who, again, is another quintessential public servant, is doing is trying to get to the bottom of this. And I think we're going to find out how large this iceberg really is."

In other words, after an arduous 12 month-long investigation involving both Houses of Congress, a Special Counsel, and a small army of high-paid Washington attorneys, the only straw Brennan has found to hold on to, is a few innocuous advertisements posted on Facebook and Twitter that had no noticeable impact on the election at all. That's a very weak foundation upon which to build a case for foreign espionage or presidential collusion. It's hard not to conclude that the public has been seriously misled by the leaders of this campaign.

The Intel bosses continue to believe that they can overcome the lack of evidence by repeating the same claims over and over again. The problem with this theory is that Brennan's claims don't match the findings of his own "Gold Standard" report, the so called Intelligence Community Assessment or ICA which was published on January 6, 2017 and which supposedly provides rock solid evidence of Russian meddling. The greatly over-hyped ICA proves nothing of the kind, in fact, the report features a sweeping disclaimer that cautions readers against drawing any rash conclusions from the analyst's observations. Here's the money-quote from the report:

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"Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents."

So, while Brennan continues to insist that the Kremlin was involved in the elections, his own analysts suggest that any such judgements should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Nothing is certain, information is "incomplete or fragmentary," and the entire report is based on what-amounts-to "educated guesswork." Is Brennan confused about the report's findings or is he deliberately trying to mislead the American people about its conclusions?

Here's Brennan again on Sunday:

"I think Mr. Trump knows that the intelligence agencies, specifically CIA, NSA and FBI, the ones that really have responsibility for counterintelligence and looking at what Russia does, it's very clear that the Russians interfered in the election. And it's still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin. The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real."

There appears to be a significant discrepancy between Brennan's unshakable belief in Russian intervention and the findings of his own "hand picked" analysts who said with emphatic clarity:

"Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact."

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Why is it so hard for Brennan to wrap his mind around that simple, unambiguous statement?

The reason Brennan's intelligence analysts admit that they have no proof, is because they have no proof. That might sound obvious, but we have to assume that it isn't given that both Houses of Congress and a Special Counsel are still bogged down in an investigation that has yet to provide even a solid lead, let alone any compelling evidence.

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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