Last week Michael Morrell, the acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010 to 2013, published an op-ed in the New York Times unlike anything that has occurred before in an American election.
In endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, Mr. Morrell made the case that the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is a national security risk, an “unwitting agent” (useful idiot) for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton:
During a 33-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, I served presidents of both parties — three Republicans and three Democrats. I was at President George W. Bush’s side when we were attacked on Sept. 11; as deputy director of the agency, I was with President Obama when we killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
I am neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican. In my 40 years of voting, I have pulled the lever for candidates of both parties. As a government official, I have always been silent about my preference for president.
No longer. On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Between now and then, I will do everything I can to ensure that she is elected as our 45th president.
Two strongly held beliefs have brought me to this decision. First, Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president — keeping our nation safe. Second, Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.
I spent four years working with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, most often in the White House Situation Room. In these critically important meetings, I found her to be prepared, detail-oriented, thoughtful, inquisitive and willing to change her mind if presented with a compelling argument.
I also saw the secretary’s commitment to our nation’s security; her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous; her understanding that diplomacy can be effective only if the country is perceived as willing and able to use force if necessary; and, most important, her capacity to make the most difficult decision of all — whether to put young American women and men in harm’s way.
Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of the raid that brought Bin Laden to justice, in opposition to some of her most important colleagues on the National Security Council. During the early debates about how we should respond to the Syrian civil war, she was a strong proponent of a more aggressive approach, one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold in Syria.
I never saw her bring politics into the Situation Room. In fact, I saw the opposite. When some wanted to delay the Bin Laden raid by one day because the White House Correspondents Dinner might be disrupted, she said, “Screw the White House Correspondents Dinner.”
In sharp contrast to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has no experience on national security. Even more important, the character traits he has exhibited during the primary season suggest he would be a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief.
These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.
The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president. It is already damaging our national security.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.
In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
Mr. Trump has also undermined security with his call for barring Muslims from entering the country. This position, which so clearly contradicts the foundational values of our nation, plays into the hands of the jihadist narrative that our fight against terrorism is a war between religions.
In fact, many Muslim Americans play critical roles in protecting our country, including the man, whom I cannot identify, who ran the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center for nearly a decade and who I believe is most responsible for keeping America safe since the Sept. 11 attacks.
My training as an intelligence officer taught me to call it as I see it. This is what I did for the C.I.A. This is what I am doing now. Our nation will be much safer with Hillary Clinton as president.
Mr. Morrell was interviewed about his op-ed on ABC’s This Week by Martha Radaitz on Sunday. Raddatz brought her pearl clutching “A” game to the interview, but Mr. Morrell stuck to his guns. Full Interview: Michael Morell On ABC’s “This Week” (8/7/2016) (video); Transcript(8/7/2016):
RADDATZ: OK, Mr. Morell, you came out in that strong op-ed — let’s go back to that — in support of Hillary Clinton, saying Donald Trump would be a poor, even dangerous commander in chief and referencing his comments about Vladimir Putin, you said, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
Recruited an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation — do you really believe that?
MORELL: Yes, I do. And look at it from Putin’s perspective, right. He’s a trained intelligence officer, worked for the KGB, very talented, manipulated people much smarter than Donald Trump. He played this perfectly, right. He saw that Donald Trump wanted to be complimented.
He complimented him. That led Donald Trump to then compliment Vladimir Putin and to defend Vladimir Putin’s actions in a number of places around the world.
And Donald Trump didn’t even understand, right, that Putin was playing him. So, in Putin’s mind, I have no doubt that Putin thinks that he’s an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation, although Putin would never say that.
From Mr. Trump’s perspective, right, he simply heard Putin compliment him. He then responded by complimenting him. He never thought that he might be being played.
On Monday, another 50 Republican national security officials signed a letter saying that Donald Trump presents a national security risk. 50 G.O.P. Officials Warn Donald Trump Would Put Nation’s Security ‘at Risk’:
Fifty of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials, many of them former top aides or cabinet members for President George W. Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
Mr. Trump, the officials warn, “would be the most reckless president in American history.”
The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States’ moral authority and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American policy should be based. And it laments that “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”
“None of us will vote for Donald Trump[.]”
Among the most prominent signatories are Michael V. Hayden, a former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency; John D. Negroponte, who served as the first director of national intelligence and then deputy secretary of state; and Robert B. Zoellick, another former deputy secretary of state, United States trade representive and, until 2012, president of the World Bank. Two former secretaries of homeland security, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, also signed, as did Eric S. Edelman, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and as a top aide to Robert M. Gates when he was secretary of defense.
Robert Blackwill and James Jeffrey, two key strategists in Mr. Bush’s National Security Council, and William H. Taft IV, a former deputy secretary of defense and ambassador to NATO, also signed.
The letter underscores the continuing rupture in the Republican Party, but particularly within its national security establishment. Many of those signing it had declined to add their names to a similar open letter released in March. But a number said in recent interviews that they changed their minds once they heard Mr. Trump invite Russia to hack into Mrs. Clinton’s email server — a sarcastic remark, he said later — and say that he would check to see how much NATO members contributed to the alliance before sending forces to help stave off a Russian attack.
* * *
Missing from the signatories are any of the living Republican former secretaries of state: Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
* * *
It is unclear whether the former secretaries plan to stay silent or will issue their own statements. But particularly striking is how many of Ms. Rice’s closest aides at the White House and the State Department, including Philip Zelikow, Eliot A. Cohen, Meghan O’Sullivan, Kori Schake and Michael Green, are all signatories.
“We agreed to focus on Trump’s fitness to be president, not his substantive positions,” said John B. Bellinger III, who served as Ms. Rice’s legal adviser at the National Security Council and the State Department, and who drafted the letter.
Mr. Bellinger said that among the signatories, “some will vote for” Mrs. Clinton, “and some will not vote, but all agree Trump is not qualified and would be dangerous.”
Yet perhaps most striking about the letter is the degree to which it echoes Mrs. Clinton’s main argument about her rival: that his temperament makes him unsuitable for the job, and that he should not be entrusted with the control of nuclear weapons.
“He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood,” the letter says. “He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”