Last Monday The Washington Post featured an op-ed by one Edward Price entitled “I didn’t think I’d ever leave the CIA. But because of Trump, I quit.” I must admit that it was refreshing at first to read something in The Post that did not rush to blame BOTH Trump and Vladimir Putin for everything going wrong in the world but, not to worry, evil Russia was indeed cited a bit farther along in the narrative.
Edward “Ned” Price is a likely lad. He has a nice intense look, clean cut, neat tie, good credentials with a degree in international relations from an unidentified college. He decided on a CIA career fifteen years ago and “work[ed] proudly for Republican and Democratic presidents…” Perhaps not temperamentally cut out to be an operations officer or spy, he claims that “as an analyst…[he] became an expert in terrorist groups and traveled the world to help deter and disrupt attacks.”
Price reports that he was quite happy in his work, because both the Bush and Obama administrations “took the CIA’s input seriously.” He was seconded to the White House in 2014 and pats himself on the back for “having [his] analysis presented to the president and seeing it shape events.”
But that was before the wheels came off the car. Per Price, “I watched in disbelief when, during the third presidential debate, Trump casually cast doubt on the high-confidence conclusion of our 17 intelligence agencies, released that month, that Russia was behind the hacking and release of election-related emails.”
Price was also unhappy with Trump’s admittedly odd speech combined with photo op to the CIA staff on his first full day in office but was particularly peeved over the reorganization of the Nation Security Council (NSC), which excluded the CIA director and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), but included Stephen Bannon, “who cut his teeth as a media champion of white nationalism.” Even though Price was wrong about the DNI and the White House quickly reversed course on including CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the duplicative DNI position might be eliminated, for Price the message was “It [the White House] has little need for intelligence professionals who, in speaking truth to power, might challenge the ‘America first’ orthodoxy that sees Russia as an ally and Australia as a punching bag.”
Towards the end of his apologia, Edward Price noted that his decision had “nothing to do with politics,” before observing how he served “under President George W. Bush, some of whose policies I also found troubling, and I took part in programs that the Obama administration criticized and ended.”
There is inevitably some concluding drivel about intelligence professionals who deliver “the fruits of their labor-sometimes at the risk of life or limb…” being “accorded due deference” by the White house, an amusing commentary from a careerist who clearly spent his time behind a desk.
There are a few things one might say about Price. First of all, his “nothing to do with politics” is pure balderdash. He found Bush policies “troubling” while the clearly more admirable Obama “criticized and ended” the nasty bits. Yes, Bush authorized the use of torture and renditions initially after 9/11 but they were de facto suspended in his second term. And while Bush presented the American people with Iraq, Obama gifted us with Libya and Syria while continuing Afghanistan. And Price was at CIA while the organization was surreptitiously monitoring the Senate Intelligence Committees investigation into its torture program. He was willing to continuing working for the Agency after the spying and the war crime that it was trying to hide was revealed but suddenly found Jesus or a backbone or a conscience (select whichever one applies) only when Trump was elected.
Ned appears to forget that it was Bush who demurred at killing civilians en masse using drones and Obama who has embraced and expanded the practice. Obama also initiated the assassination of U.S. citizens overseas without due process and used the State Secrets Privilege more than all his predecessors combined to block any judicial challenge to his actions. Apparently, Price considered all that to be just fine since it was a liberal Democrat at the controls. And, by the way, Price is on record as having contributed \$5,000 to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. He is a registered Democrat in the District of Columbia. His characterization of Steve Bannon as a “white nationalist” and mention of the “Russian hack” come straight out of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s playbook and the more recent Democratic Party narrative to explain why it lost the election.
And there’s more. Price’s rapid rise through the Agency ranks came after his assignment to the Obama White House where he worked for deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and became an administration spokesman on the NSC. That means he was not exactly a highly principled intelligence briefer “speaking truth to power,” which is itself a bullshit feel good expression as the CIA has a long history of trimming facts to please the audience, most particularly the president. Price should do a little background reading on what former leading Agency analysts Robert Gates, John McLaughlin, Michael Morell and John Brennan dissimulated about to make the client in the White House happy.
Ned Price was apparently renowned as a White House apologist working to sell a product to a possibly skeptical audience. He was reportedly a highly regarded spin-meister for administration policies, working a well-cultivated group of media contacts that would replay his analysis and attribute it to “a senior White House official.” The analysis would bounce back and forth until it was picked up and validated by appearance in the mainstream media. That used to be called by some “information management” while others would regard it as propaganda.
And then there are the errors in fact and interpretation that Price provides to make his case against Trump. The alleged “conclusion” regarding Russian hacking of the election was really based on the input of the only two intelligence agencies that have the capability to analyze and trace the origin of a hack – the NSA and the FBI. The FBI had to be pressured into agreeing with the conclusions of the report Price cites and the NSA supported them only with “moderate” confidence, meaning that it recognized that the evidence linking the hack to Russia just wasn’t there. Many former intelligence officers and some in the media have questioned the validity of the report and have demanded to see at least some of the evidence to support its conclusions, which, to this date, has not been produced.
Price’s account of the Trump reorganization of the National Security Council also is incorrect. The reorganization states “The Director of National Intelligence…will attend where issues pertaining to [his] responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” So the DNI was included and Price fails to recognize that after the DNI position was created under George W. Bush he or she was to be the intelligence referent and the CIA Director no longer filled that role and was excluded. That practice continued under Obama, which Price ignores even though he worked on the NSC, and he also does not note that the CIA and FBI Directors often have, in fact, joined in on the NSC “Principals” meetings as a courtesy. If the office of DNI is eliminated in the current reorganization, the head of CIA will step up and assume those responsibilities in the new structure, so the intelligence community is not in any sense being pushed out.
Price aside, I don’t know how many, if any, CIA officers have resigned recently either for ethical reasons or out of dislike for Trump. But if some have, I would hope they had better rationalizations for doing so than were produced in the op-ed, which is reduced to anti-Russian sentiment, dismay at government reorganization and longing for the good old days when a liberal Democrat who was able to lie very convincingly was running the show. I would have preferred an Edward Price op-ed explaining how he had resigned over a real issue, like the bipartisan unrelenting pressure on Iran that could easily lead to war, or the continuing practice of drone assassinations and special ops killings, like the recent raid in Yemen in which 15 women and children, including an eight year old, died. Still, even lacking that, I get it. Ned Price just doesn’t like Trump very much.