Politics, COVID and attacks on civil service wearing on intelligence community as election approaches
Scroll back up to restore default view.WASHINGTON — A worsening pandemic and fears about losing their protections as civil servants amid ongoing political chaos is leading many intelligence officers in the U.S. government to consider leaving their agencies, according to more than 10 current and former intelligence officers who spoke to Yahoo News.A combination of challenges is wearing hard on intelligence professionals these days, despite a tradition of avoiding even the most bitter partisan battles. While the intelligence community consists of 17 different agencies and thousands of employees, at least some are struggling in ways they’ve never previously experienced, according to those who spoke with Yahoo News.Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)Ongoing attempts made by President Trump and his director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, to politicize the intelligence community have made national headlines, but one of the largest concerns for rank-and-file intelligence officers is first and foremost their agency leadership’s handling of the pandemic — particularly as many of the intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, are bringing nearly all their employees back to the office in shifts, amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.In an unclassified message sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency workforce last week, the new DIA director, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, told employees that the agency would be moving to the next phase of returning to normal work, bringing all employees back into the building to work in two separate shifts. Berrier told his employees that the decision was not without risk, and that he would “own” that risk in the weeks ahead.However, that was not reassuring to some employees, particularly those with families at home. For some, Berrier’s message was also not convincing that the change was necessary.Increased flexibility and creating more opportunities for unclassified, open-source work was a priority of recently retired DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley. Before leaving, Ashley put into place protections for employees working from home with families, but those will expire at the end of the year.In office buildings with old HVAC systems and small cubicles separated by plexiglass, some intelligence officers are wondering whether the risk to their health and their family’s health is worth it. “I don’t feel protected at all,” said one intelligence officer.While the intelligence community made major strides to adapt to the pandemic early in its progression, and some work is still going smoothly, including remote, classified teleconferencing, many intelligence officers are feeling that leadership is impatient with the restrictions in place and moving too quickly to get things back to normal.“You’re going to have a mass exodus from the intelligence community,” said another intelligence officer.The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA and the DIA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ongoing challenges facing their workforces.Agency leadership is in a tough position, particularly at agencies like the CIA, where so much of the work is classified and must be done in secure spaces. In the early days of the pandemic, some employees felt the agency was too slow to respond and didn’t put out appropriate guidance, while others were concerned about the security risks of people trying to work from home.Some employees had the overall impression that the CIA “really mishandled the virus,” and failed to accommodate employees whose family members might be immunocompromised, said one former CIA officer.“Some of the messaging from the seventh floor played into the health misinformation to convince people things were safer than they were,” the officer said, referring to the top floor of the agency, where senior leadership is housed.Another national security official agreed, saying the attitude at the CIA is that it is an organization “that takes risks for a living,” making senior officials unwilling to “wait another six months for a vaccine.”However, one former senior intelligence officer who has spoken to officials making health-related decisions told Yahoo News that leadership faces tough choices.“You’re trying to balance the well-being of the workforce with the notion that you can’t also have half the workforce at home twiddling their thumbs,” the former officer said. “That’s just unsustainable.”“What they failed to anticipate and what they need to do for the future is to have this permanent workforce flexibility,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA officer who retired in 2019.“Multibillion-dollar international companies manage to do it, and they have sensitive proprietary information to protect,” he said. “This has got to be a huge place for reform and change in the intelligence community.”However, according to Polymeropoulos, the major threat to losing senior intelligence officials right now is the threat from Trump’s ongoing politicization of the intelligence community.Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images Polymeropoulos said employees should be concerned with blatant attempts to misuse raw intelligence from the investigation into Russian meddling in 2016, as well as two recent executive orders issued by the president targeting protections for civil servants and banning discussion of diversity and inclusion.While it’s currently unclear how the executive order on the civil service might actually affect intelligence officers, Trump’s message on diversity already has. According to four sources familiar with the matter, events, trainings and meetings focused on diversity and inclusion have been canceled across the intelligence community after Trump’s executive order in late September, leading to deep frustration among many officers.According to Polymeropoulos, who managed operations officers responsible for recruiting spies around the world, “having a diverse cadre of officers” was one of his biggest strengths. “If I’m in the Middle East, do I want a 6-foot-2 white guy with tattoos and a buzzcut on the street? Probably not,” he said. “The idea of doing something that alienates significant portions of our workforce is crazy.”“Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is a matter of national security,” said Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst who has written about her personal experience as a CIA officer with a disability, about her work on diversity and inclusion and about ways agency leadership must improve. “Analysis quickly becomes biased when it is conducted by people with identical backgrounds,” she continued.Other former senior intelligence officers felt that politics wouldn’t be the reason for any major loss of talent in the intelligence community. “We show up, do our jobs, recruit spies, steal secrets, do the analysis,” said former CIA officer Dan Hoffman.“That political stuff will blow in the wind,” he said. “In my decades at the agency, things went up and down. People left during the Clinton years because there was a peace dividend, and the opposite of that was 9/11, when so many people came in.”“Retirements tend to come at the end of the year regardless, due to the way the system is structured, maximizing annual leave payouts and such,” said Douglas London, a former senior CIA officer. “But morale could be better. [CIA Director Gina Haspel] hasn’t done the workforce any favors.”London also said the hiring of Bert Mizusawa, a Trump campaign veteran at the CIA, “suggests a purge of ‘disloyalists’ should Trump win.” It’s not necessarily uncommon for administrations to find jobs for employees who otherwise might be out of work. However, London warned that someone like Mizusawa, who has “extraordinary access” to sensitive employee files, could be part of an “unprecedented” purge based on “officers’ political beliefs and perceived lack of personal loyalty and fealty to Trump.”Regardless of whether politics will force an exodus from the top ranks of the intelligence community, the next president will likely make major changes to its leadership. Reportedly, Trump plans to fire several of his intelligence chiefs if he wins reelection, including Haspel and FBI Director Chris Wray.And if former Vice President Joe Biden wins, it’s likely he will bring in his own team as well. Multiple sources familiar with the matter predicted that former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell or former Deputy Director Avril Haines might be chosen to lead the CIA, while Robert Cardillo, a former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or former national security adviser Tom Donilon, might be tasked with heading the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.Joe Biden campaigning in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)In the meantime, those inside the national security community will have to navigate the threats presented by the upcoming election and the possibility that there will not be a clear result on Nov. 3.“It’s a very dangerous period,” said Polymeropoulos. “If Trump loses, what does he do that could further damage the intelligence community? Everybody’s worried about this interim period and the transition of power, but what about in the national security sphere, where we have adversaries watching us? It’s not a safe time for America.”
Sri Lanka US
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed the Trump administration’s rhetorical onslaught against China in Indonesia on Thursday as the American presidential election looms.
With China a central theme in President Donald Trump’s campaign to win a second term in just five days time, Pompeo took aim at Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea, where it has advanced maritime and territorial claims over the objections of its smaller neighbors, and over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking in Jakarta, the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Pompeo praised Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN for pushing back on what he called China’s “unlawful” claims and lauded Jakarta’s protection of its own territory.
“We respect freedom of the seas, sovereignty and the rule of law,” he said, standing beside Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Marsudi agreed, saying “international law must be respected,” although she did not specifically mention China.
“Our law-abiding nations reject the unlawful claims by Chinese Communist Party in the South China Sea as is clear from Indonesia’s courageous leadership on this subject within ASEAN and at the United Nations,” Pompeo said. „It’s a cause worth pursuing in multilateral settings and the Trump administration very much supports this.”
Earlier this year, the Trump administration clarified its longstanding policy on the disputes by rejecting outright nearly all of Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. That decision in July came as Trump began a concerted effort to use China as a campaign cudgel against his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, who he paints as weak on China and beholden to it.
Previously, U.S. policy had been to insist that maritime disputes between China and its smaller neighbors be resolved peacefully through U.N.-backed arbitration. But in a July 13 statement, Pompeo said the U.S. now regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims outside its internationally recognized waters to be illegitimate.
China has pressed ahead with attempts to enforce its disputed claims in the South China Sea, leading to serious spats with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia in recent years. It has ignored arbitration rulings that the disputes must be negotiated.
In making the U.S. announcement, Pompeo said China cannot legally claim the James Shoal near Malaysia, waters surrounding the Vanguard Bank off Vietnam, the Luconia Shoals near Brunei or Natuna Besar off Indonesia. On Thursday, Pompeo said Indonesia’s protection of Natuna Besar was commendable.
Pompeo arrived in Indonesia from the Maldives, where he announced the United States would for the first time open an embassy in the Indian Ocean archipelago, a move that reflects growing U.S. concern about increasing Chinese influence in the region.
“The Chinese Communist Party continues its lawless and threatening behavior,” Pompeo said in Male, just hours after accusing China of being a ”predator” during his previous stop in the Sri Lankan capital of Colom
Election 2020-Voting-Early Voting
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — With coronavirus cases spreading rapidly across her state, Samantha Allen laments that Missouri does not allow voters to cast their ballots in person before Election Day.
More than 21 million voters across the U.S. have taken advantage of early in-person voting amid record-breaking early turnout, according to Associated Press elections research. But that option isn’t available in Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri or New Hampshire, which has stirred worries about long lines and big crowds on Election Day with the threat of COVID-19 looming large, particularly in Missouri.
Allen, a 55-year-old Republican, said spreading out voting over a long period would keep the lines shorter, which she said is especially important during the pandemic.
“A lot of people could do it easier,” she said. “It would thin out the lines (and) keep the spread of the COVID down.”
Connecticut this year gave every voter the option to cast an absentee ballot by mail or drop it off before Election Day. Interest has been so great that it has overwhelmed municipal clerks, who had processed about 674,000 absentee ballot requests by mid-October, compared to fewer than 130,000 that were cast in Connecticut during the entire 2016 presidential race. Most say they have been able to keep up because they hired more staff.
Carol Rizzolo, an independent 64-year-old Connecticut voter and co-founder of an initiative called SafeVoteCT, said local elections officials are struggling to retrofit the state’s absentee ballot system, which wasn’t designed for such a deluge of requests. She said the state should have given voters the chance to cast a ballot early in person.
“There’s no question, if we had early voting, if we could have started the damn process two weeks ago, then we wouldn’t have swamped people. It wouldn’t even be a question,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be pandemic-related. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Adopting early in-person voting permanently in Connecticut would require a change to the state constitution. But states can also take temporary actions during emergencies.
That’s what happened in Kentucky, where the Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state struck an agreement to make it safer to vote during the pandemic. For the general election, the state is offering absentee voting to anyone who feels at risk from COVID-19, as well as early in-person voting to try to hold down crowds on Election Day. So far, at least 530,000 Kentucky voters have cast their ballots in person.
Under a temporary change to state law in New Hampshire, anyone concerned about the virus can vote by absentee ballot, either by mail or by dropping it off.
Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, said small towns probably don’t have the money to support early in-person voting, which he said is rarely discussed in the state’s political circles.
“I think a lot of people recognize that Election Day is Election Day,” he said.
Early in-person voting has been a popular option this fall in places that allow it, but some states have been reluctant to allow or expand it for reasons ranging from Republican skepticism and a lack of funding to states’ political cultures and whether a state is primarily urban or rural, said Lonna Atkeson, director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy at the University of New Mexico.
In Mississippi, bills to allow early voting passed the state House with bipartisan support in 2016 and 2017 but were killed by a state Senate committee led by Republicans, who have controlled both legislative chambers for nearly a decade.
Some Democratic lawmakers in Mississippi sought to expand absentee voting this year because of the virus, but those efforts went nowhere. Under current law, absentee voting is limited to people who are age 65 or older, who have a disability or who show they can’t make it to their polling places on Election Day.
Missouri expanded absentee options for voters at higher risk of being severely sickened by the virus, and all Missouri voters can vote by mail if they get their ballots notarized. But rules around mail-in ballots and concerns about Postal Service slowdowns have left many voters wishing the state had gone further.
Shirley Kelly, a 70-year-old retiree from Columbia, said she’d like to have the option to vote early in person. She believes that would improve turnout among her fellow Black voters, especially those with disabilities or older people who don’t drive.
“A lot of us don’t have transportation,” said Kelly, a Democrat.
Advocates tried to put a six-week early voting proposal on the state ballot in 2014, but they couldn’t get enough petition signatures. Republican lawmakers pitched an alternative that would have allowed advance voting for six business days, but voters rejected it.
There’s now some bipartisan support to make it easier to cast ballots early in Missouri, at least in future elections.
Republican state Rep. Peggy McGaugh, who served as a local elections official before joining the Legislature, is pushing for no-excuse absentee voting. She hopes the temporary mail-in voting law in effect this year because of the coronavirus will help her bill gain traction.
“I hope in the end that the legislators find that it was a success,” she said.
Associated Press writers Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
- US Air Force F-16s intercepted an unauthorized aircraft flying near a rally President Donald Trump held Wednesday afternoon in Arizona.
- The plane ignored initial intercept procedures, North American Aerospace Defense Command said in a statement, but it established radio contact when the F-16s deployed signal flares.
- When Trump saw the incident, he pointed at the sky and said, „Look at that. They gave the president a little display.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
US Air Force F-16 fighter jets tasked with defending US airspace intercepted an unauthorized aircraft that was flying in a restricted area near a Trump campaign rally in Bullhead City, Arizona, Wednesday afternoon, North American Aerospace Defense Command said.
„NORAD F-16 aircraft investigated a general aviation aircraft that was not in communication with [Air Traffic Control] and entered the Temporary Flight Restriction area surrounding Bullhead City, AZ without proper clearance,” the command said in a statement.
NORAD added that the aircraft did not initially respond to intercept procedures. It made radio contact, though, when the F-16s popped flares. The NORAD F-16s then escorted the plane out of the area.
The command did not say what the intercepted aircraft was doing in the restricted area.
A NORAD spokesman told Insider that the airspace the plane flew into was temporarily restricted because of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally.
Temporary flight-restriction areas are typically established by the Federal Aviation Administration and enforced in part by NORAD, which is responsible for defending domestic airspace. In a crisis, NORAD has the ability to rapidly scramble F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Eagles, and F-22 Raptors.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, domestic air defense has been strengthened, and the capabilities provided by NORAD are only one part of a layered defense.
“The Chinese Communist Party is a predator,” he said.
Responding to Pompeo’s remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the secretary of state’s true intention was to “let China fall back to an era of poverty and un-development, and let the world fall into the abyss of confrontation and division.”
“This is just the biggest threat facing the world today. But regrettably, Pompeo was born in the wrong time. The trend of peace, development, cooperation and win-win in this era is irresistible,” Wang told reporters.
Part of Wednesday’s incident was caught on video by C-SPAN, which was covering the rally. Trump paused his speech to call attention to the aerial activity.
„Oh, look at that. Look, look, look,” Trump said, pointing at the sky. „Look at that. They gave the president a little display.” The crowd then chanted, „USA, USA, USA.”
Trump, according to The Associated Press, told the crowd it was a fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. He then asked rhetorically, „You know how hard it is to get Democrats to pay for that?”
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