Three former Central Intelligence Agency directors have emerged to denounce Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to the benefit of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. It's troubling to see past leaders of America's foreign intelligence agency, which is responsible for subverting and influencing foreign targets through propaganda, attempting to do the same at home to influence a presidential election.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Michael J. Morell, a former acting director and deputy director of the CIA, wrote: "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."
Ironically, that's exactly what career intelligence officers appear to be doing right now to the American voting public.
It's hard to ignore the fact that since leaving the CIA, Morell has worked for Beacon Global Strategies -- whose managing director, Philippe Reines, was a senior advisor to Clinton during her time as a U.S. senator and secretary of state. But Morell isn't the only ex-CIA chief with Democratic ties who's gone after Trump.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who ran the agency under President Barack Obama and attended last week's Democratic National Convention, said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Trump "is truly not qualified to be president of the United States."
In addition to the attacks from Morell and Panetta, 50 prominent Republican national security officials signed a letter denouncing Trump and stating that none of them will vote for him. One of the signees was Michael Hayden, a former CIA director and director of the National Security agency.
And just as the group letter was hitting the press, a former CIA officer stepped into the limelight by announcing that he'll run for president as an alternative to Trump. Evan McMullin, who served as a refugee resettlement officer in Jordan on behalf of the United Nations, worked briefly at Goldman Sachs and spent about a decade with the CIA, has to be the most tone-deaf presidential candidate of all time. Did McMullin miss the memo that this election has had major anti-establishment undertones, and that voters aren't interested in electing a former CIA apparatchik, former Wall Streeter and former member of the U.N. bureaucracy?
But back to that letter, which includes no mention of Clinton's foreign policy failures as secretary of state but is highly critical of Trump's foreign policy positions.
"He persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends," the letter writers complain.
The word "threaten" is rather subjective in this case. Take, for example, Trump's criticism of NATO, a military and diplomatic straitjacket. When Trump declared NATO obsolete, it was a threat only to the system that has supported the letter-writing national security officials for much of their lives. It makes perfect sense that Trump would want to forge cordial relationships with potential new allies such as Russia in order to tackle the unsolved challenge of asymmetric terrorist warfare. But if the U.S. allied with Russia, it would no doubt leave the CIA and other agencies without a key budget justification.
Compare Trump's problem-solving approach to Morell's assertion in an interview with Charlie Rose of CBS that, "We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price."
Pay a price for what? For laying bare the CIA's agenda in the Middle East, which resulted in the training and arming of the "Syrian rebels" who morphed into the Islamic State? For rolling up their sleeves and rooting out the Islamic State as Western forces stood idly by?
"I want to go after those things that Assad sees as his personal power base," Morell told Rose. "I want to scare Assad."
Seriously? And Trump is the one who's reckless?
Compare Trump's take, which comes from an interview with The New York Times: "I think that our far bigger problem than Assad is ISIS, I've always felt that. Assad is, you know I'm not saying Assad is a good man, 'cause he's not, but our far greater problem is not Assad, it's ISIS."
In their letter, the national security experts accuse Trump of being "unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood." Yet, unlike the establishment experts in the CIA and State Department, Trump doesn't seem stuck in a time machine permanently set to the Cold War era. More interested in forging pragmatic new alliances and re-evaluating those that have been taken for granted, Trump has called out "traditional" U.S. ally Mexico for its lack of border control, resulting in a flood of undocumented immigrants into America. He also told The New York Times that Saudi Arabia would have to start pulling its weight as an ally -- which would certainly be a nice change from the Saudis' more prominent role in funding terrorism.
In his op-ed, Morell tried to portray Trump as a dupe.
"In the intelligence business," Morell wrote, "we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."
In the propaganda-deciphering business, we would call that a rhetorical hit job. Why don't we just all regress back to the 1950s and call everyone who disagrees with our worldview a commie? Morell is trying to prop up a weak argument by manipulating people's emotions and provoking their fears.
Former CIA leaders have no business using such tactics on the American public.