CIA Director Gina Haspel Is Feeling the Heat as John Durham's Investigation Focuses on CIA Misconduct

CIA nominee Gina Haspel is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate after two key Democrats announced their support of her historic nomination. (AP)

CIA nominee Gina Haspel is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate after two key Democrats announced their support of her historic nomination. (AP)

A lot of stuff seems to be happening in the investigation being conducted by US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham, in his alternate role as special counsel for Attorney General Bill Barr to look into the role of the federal government in hatching and spreading the Russia Hoax. With the IG’s report released, is looks as though Durham is focusing on the role of the CIA in this soft coup attempt.


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Why the CIA? Because, though we know some, in the quaint words of FBI attorney Lisa Page in her texts to the adulterous Peter Strzok, “OCONUS lures” were approved, there seems to have been an unseemly amount of collaboration with foreign intelligence services in this whole mess. For instance, Christopher Steele’s professional associations were at least as strong with the CIA as with the FBI. The whole incident involving George Papadopoulos seems almost entirely an intelligence undertaking. Joseph Mifsud was a Western intelligence asset…most likely Italian. He’s the guy who planted the story with Papadopoulos about the “dirt” the Russians had on Hillary Clinton. Alexander Downer, the former Australian diplomat who had an oh-so-casual conversation with Papadopoulos in a London bar and reported on that conversation to his superiors, is thought to be an MI6 asset. And we have to wonder why a senior Australian official felt obliged to report this rumor through intelligence channels. Later on, a mysterious woman, ‘Azra Turk,’ was dangled in front of Papadopoulos in what appeared to have been an abortive ‘honey pot’ operation, something much more in keeping with an intelligence — rather than a law enforcement — operation.


And, of course, former CIA Director John Brennan was a driving force in the mainstreaming of the Steele Dossier, despite his own agency calling it an ‘internet rumor,’ into the Russia Hoax and he has been one of the most vociferous voices pushing that Hoax in the media. And, because Brennan can’t have acted alone, that raises a host of questions about the actions of the CIA…especially considering that it is a CIA officer, Eric Ciaramella, who acted as the “whistleblower” that set off the impeachment of President Trump.

But, as I note above, the walls seem to be closing in on Brennan and that has caused one of the leading purveyors of the Russia Hoax, Natasha Bertrand, to write a story basically framing this as a loyalty test for CIA Director Gina Haspel. The messenger, here, is the message. Bertrand was an uncritical stenographer for Fusion GPS — to the extent that you often see her referred to as “Fusion Natasha.”

But intelligence community veterans say the Durham probe could force Haspel to choose between protecting her agency from Trump’s wrath and bowing to Barr’s wishes; they point to FBI chief Chris Wray, who has found himself at odds with the president in recent weeks over a watchdog report about the bureau’s conduct in the Russia probe.

And they say the Barr-Durham probe represents overreach by an attorney general who seems to have already made up his mind and is bent on imposing his own skeptical view of the Russia investigation on the intelligence community.


This is nuts. Haspel is an appointee of President Trump. She has moral, as well as ethical, obligations to fully cooperate with Barr and Durham. From a strict sense of institutional loyalty, Haspel should be working to determine what happened and, if anything untoward happened, ensuring it does not happen again. Attempting to sandbag a federal prosecutor who is operating with the full backing of the Attorney General and President of the United States is rather stupid. The so-called intelligence community veterans don’t get a vote on what is overreach, as the Attorney General makes that call.

“It is unprecedented and inappropriate to do this via Justice Department prosecutors, who will tend to apply the standards of a courtroom to the more nuanced, and often more challenging world of intelligence analysis,” said John McLaughlin, who served as both deputy director and acting director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004.

Sipher asked why such a review would be “done over the head of” the intelligence community’s inspector general.

“I find this troubling, and I suspect many inside the intelligence community do as well,” Sipher said, specifically pointing to the CIA’s Brennan records review. The inquiry “was initiated and sold in a partisan manner and this news only highlights that concern,” he said.

Another issue former officials have flagged: It isn’t clear whether Durham has consulted with the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, as part of his review, which reportedly evolved into a criminal probe in October.

Normally, potential intelligence community misconduct is reviewed by an agency’s internal watchdog, who would then recommend criminal charges if warranted to a U.S. attorney with jurisdiction, noted Greg Brower, a former FBI assistant director.

“It appears that the cart has been put before the horse,” said Brower. “Here, Durham appears to be acting as a sort of super IG and prosecutor in one. The difference: Durham works for the attorney general, while the IC IG, like any IG, operates independently from executive branch direction.”


Again, this is balderdash. CIA agents have been investigated by Department of Justice prosecutors in the past. In fact, John Durham headed the investigation into CIA personnel allegedly destroying tapes of ‘enhanced interrogation’ sessions. There is no requirement that an IG investigate on-the-job misconduct and then refer the case to law enforcement, particularly when it seems that a criminal predicate has already been discovered. And I laughed out loud at McLaughlin’s complaint about prosecutors not using a ‘nuanced’ standard. The fact is that, if the evidence leads where I think it is going, the CIA attempted to derail the candidacy of Donald Trump and, when that failed, elements within the CIA conspired to create a fact case that could result in him having to resign or, failing that, being removed through impeachment. That is not ‘nuance.’ That is sedition.

This plays along with the story I posted a few days ago about the establishment beginning an attack on John Durham’s reputation. What you’re seeing here is Bertrand, who has carried water for NeverTrump forces within the CIA for the past three years, framing the investigation into CIA actions as overreach and part of a vindictive program of score settling by Bill Barr. They are also framing it as a loyalty test for Haspel. She can either protect her agency or side with the President. One of these storylines is designed to discredit Durham’s actions. The other is to try to convince Haspel that her duty is to serve as a roadblock to stymie Durham.


What’s going to make this a difficult sell is that it appears that the rogue CIA operation was carried out under Haspel’s nose in London but cut her out. I’ve been suspicious of her because, as CIA Station Chief in London, she should have known about all these operations. That may have been a mistaken assumption:

An inspector general report released earlier this month said the embassy’s deputy chief of mission at the time briefed the FBI’s legal attache and another official—whose title is redacted, but is Haspel, according to another person familiar with the matter—on Downer’s outreach. The attache told the inspector general that Haspel, upon being briefed, said the Downer information sounded “like an FBI matter.”

By declining to touch the Downer information, Haspel seems to have been sending a message that she was not going to muck around in domestic politics. One can surmise that Brennan and his posse took that answer to mean that she could not be relied upon to participate in further shenanigans.

What we can say is this. Durham is focusing on Brennan and some of his cronies. They are feeling the heat and perhaps beginning to run scared. Mike Rogers cooperating with Durham seems to have spooked them. Now they are trying to prepare the battlefield for the political/legal battle that lies on the horizon and Gina Haspel is key to how that plays out.


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