The Attorney General cannot exonerate the CIA

A little-known, little-discussed stepping stone on his journey to becoming President Trump’s Attorney General is the fact that Bill Barr worked for the CIA during his George Washington law school days.

He and I were on the analytical side of working with the CIA in the 1970s. Our paths did not cross, and perhaps his experience was different from mine. But my takeaway from being contracted by the CIA was actually a pleasant professional experience which included learning a lot about their culture.

So I have a very simple question; how can Barr possibly say what was quoted from him in the press:

Attorney General Barr is reflecting on the calls he made that benefitted President Trump and a few that didn't in his final days in office – as he said the CIA didn't stray beyond its international spy brief in 2016.

Barr told the Wall Street Journal he was suspicious that CIA agents – who are barred from spying on Americans – had spied on President Trump's campaign. The president repeatedly alleged publicly he was spied on.

But according to Barr, it didn't happen. 'The CIA stayed in its lane,' he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. 

How would he really know—

Imagine his DOJ/FBI “investigation":

Mr. CIA  Director: “Did you stay in your lane?”

“Why, yes,  Mr. Attorney General, we did.”

Well, that settles that.

Does anyone think they would tell the AG they conducted illegal surveillance?

Or did AG Barr ask the crack FBI counterintelligence team to resolve the question? 

I guess when they were not sneaking around, Peter Strozk and Lisa Page would get right on that investigation.

Or is the AG blindly believing the FBI, while forgetting that they fingered poor Richard Jewell as the Olympic bomber with no proof?

If the past is prologue, there are two hard facts that show the CIA has not been known for “staying in their lane,” by conducting illegal domestic “spying.” As an aside, “spying” which is a headline term and not really the inside baseball term of art, is better known as "collection."

A very nasty example of illegal CIA surveillance before President Trump was elected was a case involving Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, issued an extraordinary apology to leaders of the US Senate intelligence committee on Thursday, conceding that the agency employees spied on committee staff and reversing months of furious and public denials.

Brennan acknowledged that an internal investigation had found agency security personnel transgressed a firewall set up on a CIA network, which allowed Senate committee investigators to review agency documents for their landmark inquiry into CIA torture.

A second instance involved myself: The CIA actually sent a collector to breach my files when I was Director of Technology Assessment, International Technology Security at the Department of Defense when we were investigating the illegal conventional weapons being sold to Saddam Hussain in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I was called after the fact by the custodian of my records who told me that a pleasant FBI agent asked him for permission to review my files. We had gone to Iraq as a DOD inspector general team, so sharing hard evidence of criminality collected in Iraq was actually good government at work, and I had no problem.

Independently, a CIA employee had also asked for a look and rummaged through the files, too. I actually found out about that after the fact. I  was miffed by this absence of inter-departmental respect and courtesy in their not asking, as we often say, “Mother May I,” but for the greater good, I had no problem with CIA. Ironically, if asked, I would have driven from Pentagon to visit Langley CIA HQ and given a presentation if they had just asked. However, by not asking, it was actually totally illegal surveillance. But at the time, I let it go.

My point is simple: The CIA is a large security-compartmented organization and by design often does not symbolically want the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.

For the AG to wander into that hall of mirrors and make a grand lasting statement about CIA staying in its lane and not “spying” on candidate and then-President Donald Trump is preposterous on the merits.

Before the historical record sets to concrete, for the AG to say that the CIA stayed in their lane, a penalty flag must be thrown that such a blanket denial by AG Barr is factually illogical, not supportable by even the recent the historic record, and should not be allowed to stand.

Image credit: Pixabay public domain

If you experience technical problems, please write to