Last summer, I received a request from Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to declassify and publicly release more information on the Jamal Khashoggi killing. I asked career intelligence officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to share and review U.S. intelligence on the Khashoggi murder with me to see if there was something more we could release to the public without jeopardizing sources or methods.
Upon receiving the first recommendation that there was nothing more to share because we had released everything we were able to share, I asked more senior officials to re-review the request again to ensure a fresh examination was done. I feared the quick and standard answer from the system was too automatic and it clashed with my desire to be as transparent as possible. But when the second review returned with a firm answer – and a greater explanation for protecting the sensitive information – I was satisfied that the career intelligence officials handling the issue had absolutely proven there was nothing more to say publicly on the issue that wouldn’t cause harm to our national security, intelligence personnel, or their important work.
I had been regularly challenging the system and its leaders to think about the intelligence community’s credibility problem with the American public, the very people who pay for the process, and the frustration from many that the U.S. government over-classifies information to protect bureaucratic mistakes or the reputation of government agencies. I was sometimes able to convince intelligence officials to declassify previously classified information, reports, and transcripts by asking to see the source or method being protected by higher classifications. And other times I was convinced by career officials that talking about or releasing more information on a certain subject would harm U.S. national security.
The recent re-packaging of information by the Biden Administration on the Khashoggi murder politicizes U.S. intelligence and overrules the assessment of career intelligence officials in an attempt to give the Iranian regime assurances that the Biden team is realigning the relationship. Two current career intelligence officials confirmed the directive from the ODNI to re-package the intelligence despite warnings from career officials that nothing more should be shared.
It comes at a time when President Biden and his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are working with the Europeans to convince Iran to come to the negotiating table. The Europeans, too, have started to raise their usual demand that the Americans should get tougher with Saudi Arabia and be more lenient with Iran. The repackaging of intelligence for short-term political gain means the Europeans are pleased with the rehashing of the Khashoggi case while the Iranian regime is thrilled the Biden Administration is publicly embarrassing their enemy.
While the Europeans may be relieved in the short term that they can ramp up trade with Iran without competition from American companies, they will quickly see that the Iranian regime will be back to raising money throughout Europe to support their terror programs and nuclear ambitions.
Shamefully, the Washington, D.C., reporters covering the intelligence community ignore the politicization of intelligence in this case because they are supportive of the pressure on the Kingdom. But this media pass to politicize intelligence when you agree with the goal is short-sighted and partisan. The Obama-Biden Middle East policies were wildly unpopular in the region and returning to them will surely cause our Arab allies to reassess their support for America and their willingness to stand up to the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities.
There should be a clear message from Congress and the media that a gratuitous repackaging of sensitive information, and therefore a manipulation of intelligence for political gain, is unacceptable.
Richard A. Grenell is the former Acting Director of National Intelligence and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany.
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