It will come as a surprise to precisely no one that Trump has a 'slightly frayed' relationship with the intelligence community. As you'll undoubtedly recall, Trump engaged in a protracted, public dispute with Obama's former CIA Chief John Brennan over his assessment of 'Russian meddling' in the 2016 election...
.@FoxNews "Outgoing CIA Chief, John Brennan, blasts Pres-Elect Trump on Russia threat. Does not fully understand." Oh really, couldn't do...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017
much worse - just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017
...and his ongoing battle with the FBI seems to just now be getting warmed up...
Tainted (no, very dishonest?) FBI “agent’s role in Clinton probe under review.” Led Clinton Email probe. @foxandfriends Clinton money going to wife of another FBI agent in charge.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
So what do you do when you've grown convinced that your own intelligence agencies loathe your presence in the White House to such an extent that they would prioritize your demise over pretty much any other objective? Well, according to reporting from The Intercept, you just might take it upon yourself to start a new, privately-funded spy network to compete with the official agencies that increasingly look to be politically compromised.
The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency.
The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.
“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”
And while The Intercept notes that meetings have already been conducted to raise private funding for such an initiative, official sources from within the intelligence community have understandably denied all such rumors.
Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.
The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran.
"I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.” But a current U.S. intelligence official appeared to contradict that assertion, stating that the various proposals were first pitched at the White House before being delivered to the CIA. The Intercept reached out to several senior officials that sources said had been briefed on the plans by Prince, including Vice President Mike Pence. His spokesperson wrote there was “no record of [Prince] ever having met with or briefed the VP.” Oliver North did not respond to a request for comment.
According to two former senior intelligence officials, Pompeo has embraced the plan and has lobbied the White House to approve the contract. Asked for comment, a CIA spokesperson said, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.”
And here are the familiar names/companies behind the effort...
At the heart of the scheme being considered by the White House are Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his longtime associate, CIA veteran John R. Maguire, who currently works for the intelligence contractor Amyntor Group. Maguire also served on Trump’s transition team. Amyntor’s role was first reported by Buzzfeed News.
Michael Barry, who was recently named the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Intelligence Programs, worked closely with Erik Prince on a CIA assassination program during the Bush administration.
Prince and Maguire deny they are working together. Those assertions, however, are challenged by current and former U.S. officials and by Trump donors who say the two men were collaborating.
As with many arrangements in the world of CIA contracting and clandestine operations, details of who is in charge of various proposals are murky by design and change depending on which players are speaking. An Amyntor official said Prince was not “formally linked to any contract proposal by Amyntor.” In an email, Prince rejected the suggestion that he was involved with the proposals. When asked if he has knowledge of this project, Prince replied: “I was/am not part of any of those alleged efforts.”
Prince has strong ties to the Trump administration: His sister Betsy DeVos is secretary of education, he was a major donor to the Trump election campaign, and he advised the transition team on intelligence and defense appointments, as The Intercept has previously reported. Prince has also contributed to Vice President Mike Pence’s campaigns.
Of course, while a privately-funded spy network might help offset the problem of a politically compromised intelligence community, in the end these efforts will certainly prove to just substitute the political ambitions of corrupt public servants for those of corrupt private citizens who will undoubtedly expect a "return" on their invested capital.