WASHINGTON – The Trump administration politicized intelligence-related meddling in foreign elections in 2020, which resulted in significant errors in its reports to Congress and the public over the past year, according to a report from the Intelligence Community Ombudsman.
Barry A. Zulauf, the analytical ombudsman in the office of the director of the National Intelligence Service, noted that the reporting of election threats over the past year has shown “a loss of objectivity” and a politicization of the secret service.
“Analysis of interference in foreign elections has been delayed, distorted or hindered because of concerns about political reactions or political reasons,” said the report that was presented to Congress on Thursday.
The formal validation is in line with popular beliefs about how the Trump administration will deal with intelligence, and underscores the challenge the Biden administration faces in preparing to take over the country’s spy agencies. The report is sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, since it was finalized under an intelligence director who was viewed with skepticism by the Democrats, it is unlikely to be seen as the final word on what happened.
The Senate Committee plans to review the report and will work with the new administration “to stop any politicization of intelligence and correct the mistakes of the Trump administration,” said Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. which is set to lead the panel after the inauguration.
Some of the most damaging materials in the report concern a briefing to Congress in March shortly after Richard Grenell, the then ambassador to Germany, assumed the position of acting director of the national intelligence service.
The March topics of conversation, an unclassified version of it has been releasedsaid the Kremlin does not support the re-election of a candidate – an attitude that contradicts what intelligence officials had previously told Congress: Russia has favored President Trump.
Mr Zulauf said he could not determine who wrote the discussion items for the briefing, but found that they were “coined” by Mr Grenell and other officials in his office.
“Analysts indicate that there are significant differences between what the conversation was about and what the I.C. actually thought, “said the report, referring to the intelligence community.
The reluctance of the secret service employees to provide the points for discussion “should have been a red flag,” wrote Zulauf, “but the publication of the statement was not prevented.”
The report also states that in May, Mr Grenell held up a memo from the National Intelligence Council on security threats in elections. His office revised a draft that highlighted intelligence loopholes about what was known about these threats. According to Mr Zulauf’s report, the revised version “buried the leadership”.
Mr Zulauf said he did not interview Mr Grenell because he was no longer under his responsibility as an ombudsman. When asked for an answer, Mr. Grenell criticized the Ombudsman for not speaking to him.
“I’ve never worked on the secret services,” he said. “Any criticism of sharing or working information during my tenure is a criticism of the amazing career officials who are in charge of the process.”
The Ombudsman for Secret Services, who was held in a post-Sept 11 Overhaul, is tasked with identifying defects in crafts and practices. Unlike an Inspector General, ombudsmen don’t look for waste, fraud, or abuse.
Mr. Zulauf also examined how the intelligence services analyzed the intentions and activities of Russia and China in connection with the 2020 elections in order to classify interference in foreign elections in August.
Analysts believed that the classified document – following intervention by John Ratcliffe, the current director of national intelligence, to add the warning about China – was an “outrageous misrepresentation of their analysis,” he said.
They believed that during a lengthy review process, senior politicians had “watered down” their conclusions on Russia to make it sound “not too controversial” while drawing attention to China by raising awareness of its threat.
Still, some intelligence officials noted on Friday that a separate public statement in August – issued on behalf of William R. Evanina, director of the National Counter-Espionage and Security Center – treated the two countries exactly differently. Russia was said to be taking steps to violate Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s candidacy. China hoped Mr. Biden would win, but did not claim that China had also taken steps to intervene.
In his own letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Evanina claimed that he “reproduced the intelligence of the intelligence services exactly as I saw fit,” adding, “I have never politicized intelligence services in my career, and every suggestion I have made would make is a personal insult to me. “
In another letter, Mr. Ratcliffe defended his interventions, arguing that the intelligence service’s assessment of China’s efforts to influence the elections was “below the mark”.
Even as Zulauf reported that Russian analysts were upset that the agencies’ political leaders appeared to be delaying and suppressing their conclusions, he also suggested that intelligence agencies be politicized not just from above but also from below.
China analysts, he wrote, “appeared reluctant to view Chinese actions as undue influence or interference.”
“These analysts seemed unwilling to provide their analysis on China because they tended to be inconsistent with government guidelines and actually said, ‘I don’t want our information to be used in support of those guidelines,” he continued.
However, Mr. Zulauf did not cite any evidence to support the conspicuous assumption that analysts underestimated threat assessment in China for political reasons, and later wrote that the differences between the two “were not intended, but the result of different rhythms of collection and analysis -interpretations by analysts who do not question each other between regional topics. “
Some of the Ombudsman’s findings, which focused on allegations that information about China was not properly investigated, were previously reported by The Washington auditor.
The Ombudsman’s investigation appeared to focus closely on handling information and analysis on Russian and Chinese actions related to the 2020 election, and the letter failed to address other cases where the Trump administration made allegations of politicization of intelligence agencies Has.
For example, it does not address a memo drawn up by Mr. Ratcliffe’s office the summer days after the New York Times reported that the C.I.A. had found that Russia was covertly offering rewards to an Afghan criminal-militant network to incentivize more frequent attacks on American troops, but the White House had failed to respond to this analysis.
The new memo – a so-called sense of the National Intelligence Council Community Memorandum reporting to Mr Ratcliffe – contained no new information. Instead, the same data that the C.I.A. had already addressed and instead emphasized uncertainties and gaps in the evidence available, officials familiar with it, aided the administration’s attempts to justify its inaction against the month-long assessment.