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Associated Press  /  November 18, 2016

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been offered the role of national security adviser in Trump’s adminstration, began receiving classified national security briefings last summer while he was also running a private consulting firm that offered “all-source intelligence support” to international clients.

Two months ago, during the height of the presidential campaign, Flynn’s consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group, registered to lobby for a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Critics are livid that Flynn began sitting in on U.S. intelligence briefings for Trump in August while working for foreign clients.

“This is profoundly troubling and should be disqualifying,” said Norm Eisen, who served as Obama’s ethics adviser and later as an ambassador to the CzechRepublic. He predicted that if Flynn is named as Trump’s national security adviser, “there will be wholesale resignations of national security professionals, and I believe some have already drafted their resignation letters.”

On Thursday, White House officials refused to say if Flynn was designated to receive national security briefings.

According to a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding signed on Election Day, the Trump transition team, as a condition of receiving government briefing materials, was required to provide a statement to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough last week that all designated members of the transition team had disclosed their financial interests and did not have any conflicts of interest.

A Trump transition spokesman refused to answer questions about whether Flynn had made such disclosures. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the terms of the memorandum raise questions about whether Flynn is even eligible to continue to receive national security briefings at this point.

Flynn Intel Group chief counsel Robert Kelly refused to say why the firm was hired to lobby Congress on behalf of Innova BV, a firm based in Holland and owned by the Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin.

The lobbying disclosure statement filed with the secretary of the Senate on Sept. 30 states only that Flynn’s firm “will advise client on U.S. domestic and foreign policy” and congressional appropriations bills for the State Department.

Without disclosing his lobbying relationship with the Turkish firm, Flynn published an op-ed in the newspaper the Hill on Election Day, in which he advanced the No. 1 cause of Erdogan’s government: advocating the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish exile living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan has blamed for instigating the failed military coup against his government last summer.

In the op-ed, which ran under the headline “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support,” Flynn described Gülen as a “shady Islamic mullah,” who runs a “vast global network [that] has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper network.

This is the not the first time questions have been raised about Flynn’s overseas ties. Last December, Flynn, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 until 2014, flew to Moscow to participate in the 10th anniversary of RT, the Russian government propaganda network. He gave an interview to one of its anchors and attended a gala dinner where he sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a testy exchange with Yahoo News during the Republican Convention in Cleveland in July, Flynn acknowledged that he was paid through his speakers bureau to attend the RT event, but he refused to say how much.

What was striking, according to ethics experts, is that given his overseas consulting business, Flynn began sitting in on classified intelligence briefings with Trump last summer. Flynn was reportedly so assertive during the initial briefing in August, peppering the briefers with rapid-fire questions, that Trump’s adviser Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who also attended the briefing, was prompted to try to calm him down by placing a hand on his arm. 

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, an outside watchdog group, said that she finds it “deeply disturbing” that Flynn attended these briefings at a time that he was representing foreign clients with interests before the U.S. government. “It’s exactly the kind of foreign entanglements our laws are designed to prevent,” she said.

One retired military officer who has advised both Republican and Democratic presidents said of the allegations about Flynn: “If this is true, it’s a disqualifying conflict of interest — if not by ethics laws, certainly in the spirit of conflict of interest, not to mention security regulations. We should be deeply concerned about his ethical judgment, but more specifically how can he possibly provide unbiased advice to the POTUS about Turkey and Russia, when he’s taken money from both.”


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Trump picks hardliners to head DoJ and CIA

The Financial Times  /  November 18, 2016

Jeff Sessions chosen as attorney-general and Mike Pompeo for intelligence chief

Donald Trump has abandoned the conciliatory tenor of his immediate post-election transition by picking conservative hardliners for three of the most sensitive law enforcement and intelligence posts of his incoming administration.

Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator chosen to head the justice department, is an immigration hardliner who strongly backed Trump’s call for a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Mike Flynn, a retired general who will be national security adviser, has been a harsh critic of Islam.

Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman picked to head the CIA, wants enhanced surveillance powers for intelligence agencies.

In announcing the selection, Mr Trump touted the three men’s long experience in law enforcement and military affairs, arguing they all have distinguished careers as military officers — in the case of Mr Flynn and Mr Pompeo — and as a prosecutor in Alabama, where Mr Session worked before joining the Senate.

But that experience also comes with long and controversial records that opponents quickly seized upon.

Sessions, 69, was accused of racism after making comments that ended up derailing a push by Ronald Reagan to make him a federal judge three decades ago.

Trump defended Sessions, who has been one of the most important advisers to Trump over the past year, including sending some of his staff to advise the Republican candidate. In a statement, Trump said Sessions was respected in the Senate and had a “world-class legal mind”.

Although Trump sent a signal that he was willing to reach out to establishment Republicans by picking Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, as his chief of staff, the move to give some of Washington’s most high-profile intelligence and security jobs to outsiders was a sign the president-elect is sticking to his campaign rhetoric in fighting terrorism and combating immigration.

The justice department and CIA have played key roles in setting US policy towards interrogating terrorism suspects, and Trump has repeatedly said he would return to the Bush-era practice of using “enhanced” techniques such as waterboarding to gain intelligence, although he has backtracked when told that they were illegal.

Flynn, an intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, was previously head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The role of national security adviser is seen as even more important than usual, given Trump’s lack of foreign policy experience.

Flynn was previously fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency over his leadership style.

Pompeo, a little-known congressman from Kansas and a former US army officer, was an unexpected choice for CIA director. Pompeo, who first won election in 2010, is a staunch critic of the Iran nuclear deal struck by President Obama last year. He came to prominence as a Republican member of the House committee who sought to pin the blame for the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on then secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Pompeo is close to vice-president-elect Mike Pence, but he initially endorsed Florida senator Marco Rubio during the Republican presidential primaries. Like Sessions, he is regarded as a hardline conservative. 

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Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top U.S. Spy Agency

The Wall Street Journal  /  January 4, 2017

President-elect works with advisers on restructuring Office of the Director of National Intelligence

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, prompted by a belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has become bloated and politicized.

The planning comes as Trump has leveled a series of social media attacks in recent months and the past few days against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and mocking their assessment that the Russian government hacked emails of Democratic groups and individuals and then leaked them last year to WikiLeaks and others in an effort to help Mr. Trump win the White House.

Trump’s advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world.

“The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world [is] becoming completely politicized. They all need to be slimmed down. The focus will be on restructuring the agencies and how they interact.”

On Wednesday, Trump referenced an interview that WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange gave to Fox News in which he denied Russia had been his source for the thousands of emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton advisers, including campaign manager John Podesta, that Mr. Assange published.

Trump tweeted: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’—why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

Trump has drawn criticism from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and from intelligence and law-enforcement officials for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, for attacking American intelligence agencies, and for embracing Assange, long viewed with disdain by government officials and lawmakers.

“We have two choices: some guy living in an embassy on the run from the law…who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). “I’m going with them.”

But for Trump and some of his supporters, the accusations of Russian hacking and the criticism of WikiLeaks are seen as an effort to delegitimize the president-elect’s victory.

Since his November election, Trump has either has flattered Russian President Vladimir Putin—last month calling him “very smart”— or disparaged the investigation into the hacks.

This stands in contrast to his posts on other issues and countries, such as North Korea or China, where his views on national security risks line up more squarely with U.S. spy agencies.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was established in 2004 in large part to boost coordination between intelligence agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Many Republicans have proposed cutting the ODNI before, but this has proven hard to do in part because its mission centers are focused on core national security issues, such as counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, and counterintelligence.

“The management and integration that DNI focuses on allows agencies like the CIA to better hone in on its own important work,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who believes dismantling the ODNI could lead to national security problems.

Trump’s advisers say he has long been skeptical of the CIA’s accuracy, and the president-elect often mentions faulty intelligence in 2002 and 2003 concerning Iraq’s weapons programs. But he has focused his skepticism of the agencies squarely on their Russia assessments, which has jarred analysts who are accustomed to more cohesion with the White House.

Top officials at U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, have alleged Russia orchestrated the computer attacks that hacked and leaked Democratic Party emails last year. President Barack Obama ordered the intelligence agencies to produce a report on the hacking operation, and he is expected to presented with the findings on Thursday.

Russia has long denied any involvement in the hacking operation, though Putin has said releasing the stolen emails served a public service.

The heads of the CIA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are scheduled to brief Trump on the findings on Friday. Trump tweeted late Tuesday that this meeting had been delayed and suggested that the agencies still needed time to “build a case” against Russia.

White House officials said Trump will be briefed on the hacking report as soon as it is ready. White House officials have been increasingly frustrated by Trump’s confrontations with intelligence officials.

“It’s appalling,” the official said. “No president has ever taken on the CIA and come out looking good.”

Among those helping lead Trump’s plan to restructure the intelligence agencies is his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who had served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until he was pushed out by DNI James Clapper and others in 2013. Also involved in the planning is Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), who Mr. Trump selected to be his CIA director.

Trump shares the view of Lt. Gen. Flynn and Mr. Pompeo that the intelligence community’s position that Russians tried to help his campaign is an attempt to undermine his victory or say he didn’t win.

Flynn will lead the White House’s National Security Council, giving him broad influence in military and intelligence decisions throughout the government. He is also a believer in rotating senior intelligence agencies into the field and reducing headquarters staff.

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The Washington Post  /  January 5, 2017

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey Jr., a veteran of four presidential administrations and one of the nation’s leading intelligence experts, resigned Thursday from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies.

“Effective immediately, Ambassador Woolsey is no longer a Senior Advisor to President-Elect Trump or the Transition. He wishes the President-Elect and his Administration great success in their time in office,” said Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Woolsey.

Woolsey said on Thursday night that he did not want to “fly under false colors” any longer. “I’ve been an adviser and felt that I was making a contribution….. But I’m not really functioning as an adviser anymore. When I’m on the [television] screen, everybody announces that I’m a former CIA director and that I’m a Trump adviser and I’m really not anymore.”

Woolsey has been excluded in recent weeks from discussions on intelligence matters with Trump and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming White House national security adviser.

Woolsey had grown increasingly uncomfortable lending his name and credibility to the transition team without being consulted.

Woolsey was taken aback by this week’s reports that Trump is considering revamping the country’s intelligence framework.

“Jim is very uncomfortable being considered an adviser in an area where one might consider him an expert when he is not involved in the discussions,” one person close to Woolsey said. “To be called ‘senior adviser’ and your opinion is not sought is something he cannot handle.”

Woolsey has been a key player in the national security firmament since the late 1970s, when he served as undersecretary of the Navy in the Jimmy Carter administration. He has held other roles under former presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, culminating with the post as director of the CIA between 1993 and 1995.

Woolsey has been chafed at Trump’s loose style on Twitter. Woolsey is described  as a “very principled” diplomat who takes care to communicate the right message with just the right words. “This is a guy [for whom] commas, periods, etc., all have special meaning,” a person said.

Woolsey joined the Trump campaign last September, issuing a statement commending Trump’s plans to grow and modernize the military.

“Mr. Trump understands the magnitude of the threats we face,” he said in the statement.


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Making Our Military Strong Again

The White House  /  January 20, 2017

Our men and women in uniform are the greatest fighting force in the world and the guardians of American freedom. That’s why the Trump Administration will rebuild our military and do everything it can to make sure our veterans get the care they deserve.

Our military needs every asset at its disposal to defend America. We cannot allow other nations to surpass our military capability. The Trump Administration will pursue the highest level of military readiness.

President Trump will end the defense sequester and submit a new budget to Congress outlining a plan to rebuild our military. We will provide our military leaders with the means to plan for our future defense needs.

We will also develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.

Cyberwarfare is an emerging battlefield, and we must take every measure to safeguard our national security secrets and systems. We will make it a priority to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities at our U.S. Cyber Command, and recruit the best and brightest Americans to serve in this crucial area.

Let us never forget that our military is comprised of heroic people. We must also ensure that we have the best medical care, education and support for our military service members and their families – both when they serve, and when they return to civilian life.

We will get our veterans the care they need wherever and whenever they need it. There should be no more long drives. No more wait lists or scheduling backlogs. No more excessive red tape. Just the care and support our veterans have earned through sacrifice and service to our country. The Trump Administration will transform the Department of Veterans Affairs to meet the needs of 21st century service members and of our female veterans. Our reforms will begin with firing the corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down, modernizing the bureaucracy, and empowering the doctors and nurses to ensure our veterans receive the best care available in a timely manner.

Under the Trump Administration, America will meet its commitments to our veterans.

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Trump promises 12-carrier Navy

Associated Press  /  March 2, 2017

President Donald Trump promised Thursday to grow the Navy's aircraft carrier force to 12 in a short speech aboard the Gerald R. Ford which is expected to join the fleet this spring.

The Navy, which has been required by law to have 11 carriers, has been operating with ten for several years – with Congress' approval – but will be back to 11 when the Ford is delivered.

Enlarging the fleet to 12 can take years and would depend on funding and the ability of Newport News Shipbuilding to ramp up to take on another carrier. The shipyard is the sole builder of all U.S. carriers.

In a 15-minute speech that mostly lauded the Navy and the shipyard's workforce, Trump reiterated his plans to increase the Navy's fleet and was urging Congress to end cap on defense spending, known as sequestration, but he did not specify how he would finance the larger force without increasing the national debt.

"By eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future and thus to control cost and get the best deals for the taxpayers, which of course are important" Trump said. "Right? If we don’t make a good deal I’m not doing my job... The same ship for less money. The same airplane for less money. That’s what we’re doing."

The $12.9 billion Ford, which is the first of a new class of larger carriers, is billions over budget and years behind schedule. The shipyard and Navy have said they anticipate future Ford-class carriers will be less expensive. The next is the John F. Kennedy which is 25 percent complete and scheduled to be delivered in 2022.

When asked about the prospect of ramping up carrier production, shipyard spokeswoman Christie Millers said in an email, "We look forward to working with the new administration, the Navy and our supplier base of 5,000 companies in 50 states across the nation to continue building the most effective and affordable warships. We are focused on reducing costs in all of our shipbuilding programs."

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Newport News Democrat whose district includes the shipyard, did not attend Trump's speech. Scott said in a statement that he welcomed the president's push for increased shipbuilding but was critical of the lack of details.

"So far, all I’ve heard is that he intends to cut taxes, raise defense spending, and propose draconian cuts to non-defense discretionary spending. That means deep cuts to programs that support education, rebuild our infrastructure, ensure clean air and water, and protect workplace safety and public health," Scott wrote. "I hope that in the next days and weeks the President and his administration will provide more concrete details on his proposals.”

Trump, who favors a 350-ship Navy noted in his speech that today's 270-plus ship fleet is the smallest since the end of World War I. At that time the fleet was about 245 ships. But Trump over promised on how large the fleet might become.

"Don’t worry, it’ll soon be the largest it’s been," he told the cheering crowd. "Think about it."

The Navy's largest fleet was in World War II when the U.S. had several thousand of ships. 

"We will give you the tools you need to prevent wars and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing. Do you know what that is?" Trump asked the assembled sailors. "Win. Win"

The Navy's fleet, including the Ford, can "project American powers in distant lands," Trump said. "Hopefully it’s power we don’t have to use. But if we do they’re in big big trouble."



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