President Trump earlier this year refused to believe American government intelligence agencies who said that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and has since been critical of the gathering of other information.
Now there are reports that a highly secretive group of former CIA operatives and others – possibly including former Blackwater head Erik Prince and Iran Contra figure Oliver North – are pitching Trump and his administration on funding a new global spy network, covert action team and international propaganda operation that would report directly to the president and his team – but would not regularly brief other U.S. intelligence operations.
“Sources say the plans have been pitched to the White Hosue,” reports The Intercept, “as a means of countering ‘deep state’ enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.”
While many dictators and authoritarian leaders over the years have had their own secret intelligence and security forces – from Nazi Germany’s SS to Russia’s KGB, among others – it would be a first for the American democracy and would seem to threaten the rule of law that every U.S. intelligence operation must still obey.
“The White House and CIA have been considering a package of secret proposals to allow former U.S. intelligence officers to run privatized covert actions, intelligence gathering, and propaganda missions,” reported BuzzFeed last week, citing “three sources who’ve been briefed or have direct knowledge of the proposals.”
There is no official response from the Trump administration or the CIA and the NSA told The Intercept it has no knowledge of such proposals.
Critics fear such a secret operation would really be used to promote Trump’s political agenda, not necessarily American security needs.
According to BuzzFeed, one proposal comes from the Amyntor Group or people associated with it. Amyntor’s employees, according to BuzzFeed, include “veterans of a variety of U.S. covert operations ranging from the Reagan-era Iran-Contra affair to more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The management of Amyntor includes John Maguire, a former CIA operative, who is said to have been involved in a U.S. effort to provoke Saddam Hussein into a war before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
A lawyer for Amyntor would not discuss the proposals but did say any contract being contemplated would be legal and would include control by government authorities.
Another name being bandied about is Prince, who now runs Frontier Services Group, a security company in Hong Kong. Prince has become notorious for founding private military contractor Blackwater, which has been accused of various unethical and illegal actions including the murdering 17 innocent civilians.
Price, the brother of controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was in the news a few months ago when he was said to have put forward a proposal to privatize the U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan, a proposal that appears to have now died.
Another proposal that BuzzFeed reports had been presented to U.S. officials would employ people to help captured terrorists wanted by the Americans in foreign countries, and then return them to the U.S.
This proposal is said to have germinated because these operatives became aware of at least two individuals in the Middle East who the U.S. considers wanted terrorists, but who the American government cannot legally track down and bring back.
An Amyntor official said they are aware of this other proposal but not involved.
Oliver North, who as a military officer helped direct the Iran-Contra operation that used money from secret arms sales to Iran to finance guerillas in Central America (for which he was convicted, with the charges later being dropped) was recruited to lend credibility to at least one of these proposals, according to The Intercept, citing a former intelligence agent.
There have apparently also been meetings with some major Trump campaign donors to seek money to launch the operation and get it running until official contracts are signed.
An attraction is that these operatives could be gathering intel from countries where the U.S. does not have any official access, including North Korea and Iran.
This secret operation could also snatch wanted terrorists or others the U.S. had deemed a criminal and return them for trial and punishment.
Pompeo said in his first speech as CIA Director to the Center For Strategic and International Studies on April 13 that the Trump administration “is prepared to engage in activities that are different from what America has been doing these past few years.”
“I can assure you our defenses will not be static,” said Pompeo. “Our approach to security must be constantly evolving, and we will. We need to be as clever and innovative as the enemies we face because they will not relent, and we will not either.”
If Trump were to employ a covert network outside the current U.S. intelligence community, it would be because of his fear and paranoia that he can’t trust them now any more than he did when he rejected their views on Russia and climate change early in his administration.
“Those familiar with the proposals,” reports BuzzFeed, “say one of the driving impulses for privatizing some missions is a fear by some supporters of President Donald Trump, outside government, that the CIA bureaucracy has an anti-Trump bias that would thwart efforts to fulfill the president’s objectives.”
There is no question that Trump has shown he is fearful, even paranoid, about forces inside and outside the U.S. government who may interfere with his political agenda to enforce his version of alt-right conservativism on the U.S. and where possible the world.
Having his own secret foreign service might give him some comfort that he has an alternative to the U.S. intelligence gathering services.
However, it would not comfort Americans who value the constitution, the rule of law and democracy, because it would be something an authoritarian would do as they prepare to subvert the basic rules of the American republic.
We can only hope even Trump is not mad enough to think he needs his own secret security army because if he does, that in itself would be a threat to American democracy.