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MEMORANDUM FOR: President Barack Obama
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: A Key Issue That Still Needs to be Resolved
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office Friday, a pall hangs over his upcoming presidency amid an unprecedentedly concerted campaign to delegitimize it. Unconfirmed accusations continue to swirl alleging that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized "Russian hacking" that helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.
As President for a few more days, you have the power to demand concrete evidence of a link between the Russians and WikiLeaks, which published the bulk of the information in question. Lacking that evidence, the American people should be told that there is no fire under the smoke and mirrors of recent weeks.
We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstantiated, "we-assess" judgments by the intelligence agencies. Otherwise, we -- as well as other skeptical Americans -- will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those -- like Mr. Trump -- who wish to deal constructively with them.
Remember the Maine?
Alleged Russian interference has been labeled "an act of war" and Mr. Trump a "traitor." But the "intelligence" served up to support those charges does not pass the smell test. Your press conference on Wednesday will give you a chance to respond more persuasively to NBC's Peter Alexander's challenge at the last one (on Dec. 16) "to show the proof [and], as they say, put your money where your mouth is and declassify some of the intelligence..."
You told Alexander you were reluctant to "compromise sources and methods." We can understand that concern better than most Americans. We would remind you, though, that at critical junctures in the past, your predecessors made judicious decisions to give higher priority to buttressing the credibility of U.S. intelligence-based policy than to protecting sources and methods. With the Kremlin widely accused by politicians and pundits of "an act of war," this is the kind of textbook case in which you might seriously consider taking special pains to substantiate serious allegations with hard intelligence -- if there is any.
During the Cuban missile crisis, for instance, President Kennedy ordered us to show highly classified photos of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and on ships en route, even though this blew sensitive detail regarding the imagery intelligence capabilities of the cameras on our U-2 aircraft.
President Ronald Reagan's reaction to the Libyan terrorist bombing of La Belle Disco in Berlin on April 5, 1986, that killed two and injured 79 other U.S. servicemen is another case in point. We had intercepted a Libyan message that morning: "At 1:30 in the morning one of the acts was carried out with success, without leaving a trace behind." (We should add here that NSA's dragnet SIGINT capability 30 years later renders it virtually impossible to avoid "leaving a trace behind" once a message is put on the network.)
President Reagan ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb Col. Muammar Qaddafi's palace compound to smithereens, killing several civilians. Amid widespread international consternation and demands for proof that Libya was responsible for the Berlin attack, President Reagan ordered us to make public the encrypted Libyan message, thereby sacrificing a collection/decryption capability unknown to the Libyans -- until then.
As senior CIA veteran Milton Bearden has put it, there are occasions when more damage is done by "protecting" sources and methods than by revealing them.