By Victor Davis Hanson
Rarely has an intelligence apparatus engaged in systematic lying—and chronic deceit about its lying—both during and even after its tenure. Yet the Obama Administration’s four top security and intelligence officials time and again engaged in untruth, as if peddling lies was part of their job descriptions.
So far none have been held accountable.
Those exemptions are likely because, in hubristic fashion, all four assumed their service to progressive noble agendas would justify any odious means felt necessary to achieve them.
In part their liberal credentials were seen as guarantees that the media either would ignore or excuse their dissimulation. And in part, untruth was innate to them as lifelong and now seasoned Washington bureaucrats. Their reasons to be in Washington were largely a quest for media exposure, government sinecures, revolving door profiteering, and maintaining a host of subordinate toadies at their service. A harsh assessment, perhaps—but lying to the American people earns them such disdain.
Politically Correct Deception
Former Obama United Nations ambassador and National Security Advisor Susan Rice was rarely credible in any of her major public statements. Her dissimulation bordered on the pathological. Indeed, it went beyond even the demands put upon her for partisan spinning.
On five occasions, Rice lied to the media that the murder of Americans in Benghazi, Libya by al-Qaida affiliated-terrorists was a result of spontaneous rioting—in response to an obscure, rogue, and right-wing Coptic filmmaker. She later attributed such dissimulation to a lack of information, when we now know that the truth of Benghazi—and the larger landscape of events that ensured something like a Benghazi—were only too known. The video was a canard.
Rice assured the nation that the AWOL and traitorous Bowe Bergdahl was a hostage taken during combat and had served nobly (“with honor and distinction”). In fact, the renegade Bergdahl likely was exchanged for terrorist prisoners for two reasons: one, to diminish the number of terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility as promised by Obama during his campaign, and two, to highlight the humanitarian skills of Barack Obama in bringing home an American “hero,” especially defined as one who was so loudly aware of his own country’s foibles.
Rice also assured the nation that her administration, through its diplomatic brilliance, had eliminated Bashar Assad’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical-weapons stockpile,” she lied. That supposed coup was worth the price of inviting in the Russians to the Middle East after a 40-year hiatus. In fact, almost immediately after entering office, President Trump was forced to bomb Assad’s WMD depots to prevent Syria’s air force from dropping more nerve gas on civilians.
Rice assured the nation there were no hidden side-deals in the Iran Deal, such as a prisoner-swap concession. “And we were very specific about the need not to link their fate to that of the negotiations, because we had no idea for certain whether negotiations would succeed or fail. We didn’t want to give the Iranians a bargaining chip to use against us in the negotiations,” she fibbed. In response, Americans knew almost immediately by her disavowals that there were quid pro quo hostage-prisoner trades that put the United States at a disadvantage.
Rice displayed an eerie habit of broadcasting her lies by preemptive denial that she was about to lie. In her case, the privileged Rice sometimes fell back on the boilerplate victimhood defense of racism and sexism. More likely, as with many Obama officials, she felt certain she could deceive with impunity out of contempt for the American non-elite and, like her associate Ben Rhodes, with full confidence in the obsequiousness and incompetence of the “know-nothing” media.
Boy Scout Sanctimonious Deception
Former FBI Director James Comey long ago lost his carefully crafted Boy Scout image of a truth-teller, buffeted in a sea of Washington deception. Like Rice, when Comey signals he cannot lie or that others are lying, we know that his own duplicity is forthcoming. The list of his untruths and unprofessionalism is growing, as continuous disclosures cannot be synced with either his congressional testimony or his public statements.
Comey did not interview Hillary Clinton in his supposedly exhaustive investigation of her alleged crimes before he cleared her of any wrongdoing.
Comey did know of an FBI communications trail surrounding the stealthy June 2016 meeting of Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a Phoenix tarmac.
Comey did accede to Lynch’s cover-up by altering the official nomenclature of the investigation to an innocuous “matter.”
Comey misled about the actual contents of Clinton confidante Huma Abedin’s email communications; the versions that he gave at various times and in different venues cannot be reconciled.
In his habitual lies of omission, Comey made no effort to correct a false public impression that he had helped foster and yet knew was a lie—namely that the FBI was investigating Trump on charges of Russian collusion at the very time he was assuring the president of just the opposite.
Comey was not fully candid about the full extent of his selective note-taking of a confidential conversation with the president; his use of government time and resources in preparing his carefully crafted notes; and his deliberately leaking his notes to the press in violation both of FBI protocols and likely the law as well.
Comey had obfuscated or masked the FBI’s role in the acquisition and dissemination of the infamous Steele-Fusion fake dossier. He was likely less than honest as well about his full knowledge of Obama administration reverse targeting, unmasking, and leaking related to U.S. citizens—both before and after the election.
Whereas Rice lied to cover up Obama Administration incompetence and to advance left-wing agendas that otherwise without deception would be unpalatable to most Americans, Comey dissembled to retain his job and his image of being a sensitive moral soul.
Comey’s self-inflicted tragedy was that he never quite knew whether Obama trusted him to keep out of Hillary Clinton’s scandals and would reward him accordingly; whether Hillary Clinton would implode amid provable felonies or would survive to become president and conduct the necessary retaliations; or whether Trump could be cajoled by Comey’s charm—or might implode and be removed, or settle down and become a powerful president worth serving.
Rather than telling the truth and thereby gaining a reputation even among his enemies as transparent and honest, Comey simply told the perceived stronger party of the day what it wished to hear in hopes of careerist gratitude to come.
Similar was the serial lying of CIA Director John Brennan, before, during, and after his CIA tenure. Brennan had a weird habit of becoming outraged at any who quite accurately alleged that he was mendacious, such as when he deceived the Senate Intelligence Committee officials that he had never unlawfully surveilled the computers of particular U.S. senators and their staffs (e.g., “beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do”).
Brennan also misled Congress when he assured that U.S. drone strikes had not killed a single civilian—a preposterous claim that was widely and immediately recognized as deceptive before he was forced to backtrack and admit his untruth.
When the careerist George W. Bush-appointee Brennan sought to recalibrate for the incoming progressive Obama Administration, he ritually denounced what he had previously asserted under Bush.
Bush’s former National Counterterrorism Center Director Brennan almost immediately disowned his prior loud support for enhanced interrogation techniques once he saw a chance for continued employment with Obama.
Brennan also told a series of whoppers to establish his new politically correct bona fides, among them that jihad was “a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” Tell that to the incinerated victims of self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammed Atta or those beheaded by ISIS.
In his third incarnation, as a postelection stalwart opponent to Donald Trump, the partisan former “nonpartisan” intelligence chief Brennan has both quite publicly denied that U.S. intelligence agencies ever improperly surveilled and unmasked the identities of Trump campaign and transition officials.
Even on his last day of office, Brennan was still busy reviewing intelligence surveillance of U.S. citizens and later deceiving Congress about it. His part in preparing the Benghazi talking points, and in the creation of the Russian collusion mythos, are still not known fully. Nor understood is his apparent background role in the rather strange and abrupt postelection resignation of his immediate predecessor David Petraeus.
It is hard to mention Brennan without bookending the similar careerist trajectory of Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.
Indeed, it is uncanny how Clapper emulated the Brennan model: the former Bush appointee reinventing himself as an Obama partisan after assuring the country that Saddam Hussein’s WMD depots were transferred to Syria; lying about the rise of ISIS and pressuring others in military intelligence to mimic his pre-planned deceptions; not being forthcoming about surveillance of the Trump campaign and transition; becoming a loud and partisan accuser of Trump’s supposed mendacities on cable television, while finding himself increasingly exposed at the center of the growing unmasking scandal.
If Brennan lied about surveilling U.S. senators and the drone program, Clapper, in turn, lied to Congress about the National Security Agency’s illegal monitoring of U.S. citizens.
If Brennan assured Americans that jihadism was not a violent effort to spread radical Islam, Clapper topped that by assuring Congress that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular.”
The deceptions of Comey, Brennan, and Clapper are perhaps far more disturbing than the partisan untruths of Susan Rice, a chronic political appointee who calibrated her national security fictions with Obama’s efforts to ensure reelection and later a presidential legacy.
But what extenuating excuse do the supposedly nonpartisan trio of intelligence and investigative directors offer?
They would like us to believe that only their nonpartisanship ensured subsequent tenures with the Obama Administration. In fact, their willingness to reinvent themselves and deceive were precisely why Obama retained and promoted them as sufficiently malleable and useful careerists—and why their post-government careers are today characteristically partisan and deceptive.
Of course, Trump, like Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, tells yarns and occasionally whoppers. But that character flaw is unfortunately the landscape of politics.
Government, bipartisan intelligence service, in contrast, was supposed to be an atoll of professionalism and honesty in a sea of political narrative fiction.
In truth, Obama used Rice as a political hatchet-woman masquerading as an elite thinker and strategist. Clapper, Brennan, and Comey were partisan careerists playacting as disinterested public servants sworn to put our security above politics.
Instead, they said what was necessary for their own agendas and so naturally too often what they peddled was simply untrue. And it is now not surprising that all three ended up orphaned and discredited—once their obsequious utility to their masters was exhausted.