Deception Revisited

Edward Jay Epstein, who passed away at 88 in January, reprised many of his books and articles in Assume Nothing: Encounters with Assassins, Spies, Presidents, and Would-be Masters of the Universe, his last book, released in 2023. In all his works, Epstein was willing to go wherever the facts led him, in some cases where no author had gone before.

Epstein was the first chronicler of the Warren Commission with his Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth and he profiled Lee Harvey Oswald in Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald. These works brought Epstein into contact with James Jesus Angleton, a veteran of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. Angleton, a strong anti-Communist, handled counterintelligence, probing the efforts of the KGB to penetrate Western intelligence services through false defectors, double agents, disinformation and such.

Epstein’s Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and CIA broke new ground but was released in 1989 when the Soviet empire was breaking apart. As the author notes in Assume Nothing, the book landed in remainder bins because potential readers thought the invisible war was over. It wasn’t, and Deception remains more relevant than ever.

Angleton, a fly fisherman, liked to play Soviet defectors like Anatoli Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko for all they were worth. The former OSS man needed to know if the Soviets’ deception loop included persons inside the CIA who could tell how the other side was interpreting the operations. CIA bosses were unwilling to believe that they could be penetrated and in 1974, amid charges that the CIA was spying on Americans, Angleton was fired. For Epstein, who knew him well, this effectively turned the CIA inside out.

The agency cut back on human counterintelligence and relied more on technical means of information gathering. One architect of that policy was Jimmy Carter’s CIA boss Stansfield Turner, “a disaster” in the view of former attorney general William Barr, who launched his career as a CIA lawyer. A key background story marks an anniversary this year.

In 1974, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, The Gulag Archipelago first appeared in Western languages. As this 50th anniversary review notes, Solzhenitsyn made the case that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was much worse than anybody imagined. Enthusiasm for the USSR in particular, and Communism in general plummeted in Western Europe, but not so much in the United States. U.S. President Gerald Ford declined to meet with the author, at a time when the USSR retained control of Eastern Europe, fueled conflicts around the world, and continued to run candidates in American elections.

The Communist Party USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the USSR, had been running candidates since the 1920s. The CPUSA presidential candidate in 1972 was Gus Hall, an old-line Stalinist who had served time for attempting to overthrow the U.S. government. In 1976 Hall was again the Communist Party presidential candidate. One of those who voted for him was John Brennan, 21, a political science student at Fordham University. During that turbulent time, the CIA agency began to recruit through ads in major newspapers:

There aren’t many of you. One in a thousand, maybe. You’re a bright, self-reliant, self-motivated person we need to help us gather information and put together a meaningful picture of what is happening in the world. You can rely on your wits, your initiative and your skills. And in return enjoy recognition, positions of responsibility, life in foreign places, plus knowing that you belong to a small, very special group of people doing a vital meaningful job in the face of challenges and possible hardship …

And so on. The ads caught the attention of John Brennan, who duly sent off a resume. In Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies at Home and Abroad, released in 2020, Brennan explains that CIA man James Fitzgerald said “we could find a spot for you” and urged Brennan to complete graduate school. There he specialized in “Middle East Studies,” and in 1980 the CIA came calling. As with all recruits, they asked Brennan if he ever worked for a foreign government or for an organization dedicated to the subversion or overthrowing of the U.S. government. “I was about to respond in the negative,” Brennan recalls, “when it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

It was my first time voting in a presidential election, and, while only twenty-one years old, I was already disenchanted with the state of partisan politics in America. Entering the voting booth I had no idea for whom I was going to cast my vote, but I was thrilled at the opportunity to exercise my newfound citizenship privilege. I scanned the seven names listed and stopped at the Communist Party candidate, Gus Hall. I was vaguely familiar with the name but knew nothing about him. I pulled the lever on my protest vote and became one of the 58,709 Americans who voted for Gus Hall that year.

The CIA interviewer asked if Brennan had any other interactions with the CPUSA, and Brennan said just that one vote.

“As an American, it is your absolute right to vote for whomever you choose,” the interviewer said. “It will not affect your application to the CIA.” Brennan was duly hired and his Undaunted account skips the other names on the 1976 ballot.

Minnesota Democrat and former Senator Eugene McCarthy, a favorite of liberals, ran as an independent. Democrat Lester Maddox, a former Georgia governor, and lieutenant governor under Jimmy Carter, threw his hat in the ring with the American Independent Party. The Libertarian Party offered Roger MacBride and the Prohibition Party ponied up Ben Bubar. The Socialist Party USA ran Milwaukee mayor Frank Zeidler, yet another option on the political left. These choices all offered opportunities for a “protest vote,” but Brennan opted for the Stalinist Gus Hall.

In 1980, Hall was on the ballot again, with Lenin Peace Prize Winner Angela Davis on the ticket for vice president. The Communists were going up against the anti-Communist Ronald Reagan, and Hall’s beloved Soviet Union was much in the news. In that context, the vote for Hall says a lot about Brennan, but even more about the agency that hired him.

As Whittaker Chambers noted in Witness, there was an open and secret Communist Party. Brennan’s vote for a Stalinist shows incredibly poor judgment. The CIA’s choice to hire him confirms that the agency was not the same after the firing of Angleton. With Brennan aboard, the changes would soon become apparent.

The Arabic speaker served a tour of duty in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in the early 1980s and in the late 1990s, “Al-Qa’ida carried out devastating attacks on U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.” Whatever duties Brennan performed had not enabled the CIA to prevent these deadly attacks, a foretaste of what was to come. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Brennan was meeting with CIA senior executive staff.

At the very end of the meeting, the head of CIA’s Operations Center opened the conference room and announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. He had no further details on whether the aircraft was large or small, and it was unclear at that moment whether it was a tragic accident or the intentional targeting of the iconic twin towers. The staff meeting ended abruptly and we all headed back to our offices with an uneasy feeling about what we had heard and what we might soon find out.

In other words, they knew nothing. The mighty CIA, with the “best experts in the world on al-Qa’ida,” failed to stop the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor in 1941, the very type of attack the CIA was created to prevent. Brennan mentions “the CIA’s heroic actions in the aftermath of 9/11,” but comes up short on the details. On the other hand, Brennan does provide clues about CIA failures against Islamic terrorism.

John Brennan believes that jihad is “a holy struggle in pursuit of a moral goal and that terrorist attacks are neither holy nor moral.” Brennan says “I was trying to make the point that ‘violence’ and ‘jihad’ were not necessarily synonymous, which ran counter to the view of most Americans.” Those Americans doubtless include the families and friends of 9/11 victims, and scholars such as Robert Spencer, author of The History of Jihad: From Mohammed to ISIS.

Brennan notes that al-Qaeda was behind the attack on Fort Hood in 2009, in which “soldier of Allah” Nidal Hasanan open jihadist—killed 14 Americans and wounded more than 30. The undaunted Brennan fails to recall that President Obama called it “workplace violence,” not even gun violence. This brand of jihad denial weakened the CIA, and Brennan would make it even weaker.

As Bill Clinton’s intel briefer, Brennan came to know national security advisor Anthony Lake. Lake regarded the up-and-coming politician Barack Obama as “the real deal” and told Brennan to lend a hand to his campaign. The Gus Hall voter was already on board.

Brennan claims he only “cursorily scanned” Obama’s book Dreams from My Father when it was published in 1995, when Brennan had been in the CIA for 15 years. In 2009, when Brennan had been in the CIA for nearly 30 years, he says he finally read Dreams from My Father. How odd that a veteran intelligence officer would show no curiosity about the happy-drunk poet “Frank,” who is actually Frank Marshall Davis, a dutiful Communist on the FBI’s security index.

Undaunted was published in 2020, three years after David Garrow’s Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, which outed Davis as Communist and revealed that Dreams from My Father was a novel, not an autobiography, and the author a “composite character.” In 2013, the composite character tapped John Brennan to head the CIA. Facing renewed scrutiny, the nominee remembered what happened to Clinton pick, Anthony Lake, but gives readers no explanation.

Lake had testified that Alger Hiss might be innocent, which he wasn’t. (See Perjury: The Hiss Chambers Case, by Allen Weinstein) That mistaken belief was one of the reasons Lake failed to become CIA director. John Brennan had voted for the Stalinist Gus Hall, but that did not become public until 2016, when Brennan was already CIA director, and serving as the agency’s chief DEI enforcer.

“Since its birth in 1947, CIA had only partially shed its reputation as a bastion of white male dominance,” Brennan explains. “One CIA demographic group that my deputies and I felt especially privileged to support was the LGBTQ community.” As Bruce Bawer notes, homosexuality and transgenderism are “two utterly different phenomena,” so the formulation is a construct, another leftist divide-and-con game. If anyone gains a post for any reason other than actual merit, the CIA is not the best it can be. In similar style, facing an enemy with the second-best military offers two choices—bluff or fold.

The CIA’s proper turf is abroad, but as he telegraphs in his subtitle, Brennan’s primary enemies are at home. His hatred for Donald Trump far surpasses anything he expresses for the Islamists or Communist regimes such as Cuba, whose intelligence officers he praises as “impressive and highly professional” and worthy of collaboration on terrorism and drug trafficking.

Undaunted endlessly repeats the Russia collusion hoax, that Putin intervened in the 2016 election to hinder Hillary Clinton and “enhance the electoral prospects of Donald Trump.” As Obama’s CIA boss wonders, “was the number of Hillary Clinton haters far larger than anyone had realized, and much greater than I could fathom, such that Trump won in what amounted to a protest vote? Or did the Russian influence that the intelligence community had warned about tilt the election in key swing states so that Trump came out on top?” The questions “haunt me still,” says Brennan.

As Brennan confirms, one doesn’t have to be a Communist Party member to showcase a Stalinist mindset. In Stalin’s USSR, economic difficulties were attributed to sabotage, wreckers, foreign spies and so forth. For Brennan, the election of Donald Trump can only be explained by Russian meddling. Fortunately, Brennan’s inadvertent confession was not a one-off.

Jump ahead to 2023 and the publication of Neutering the CIA: Why U.S. Intelligence Versus Trump Has Long-Term Consequences, by former CIA man John Gentry. He acknowledges that Brennan downplayed Islamist extremism and made the spy agency a woke, partisan bureaucracy. His vote for Gus Hall “was consistent with the general political orientation Brennan demonstrated in later life.” Gentry also cites former CIA Operations Officer Charles “Sam” Faddis, who said Brennan’s “real profession for most of his career was being a Democratic political hack.” That is not a stretch.

As Faddis notes, CIA directors John Brennan and Mike Morell were among the 51 signatories to a letter charging that Hunter Biden’s laptop was “Russian disinformation.” The clear purpose of the letter “was to bury the contents of the laptop and get Joe Biden elected.” As Faddis notes “I have seen the contents of that laptop and retain a copy to this day. I can assure you it was immediately obvious in looking at the laptop’s contents that it was real and that it suggested strongly that Joe Biden himself was compromised by a number of foreign actors—chief among them the Chinese Communist Party.”

Politicization of the intelligence community, Gentry explains, “receded markedly after Joe Biden became president in 2021, making it even clearer that the politicization of intelligence was aimed at Trump. While it is in remission, the changes in the political culture of some IC agencies that triggered the attacks on Trump remain intact, available for reactivation in the event of another serious candidacy by Trump or the election of another Republican president.”

This is what happens when a composite character, whose autobiography is a novel, and whose beloved Frank Marshall Davis was a Communist, becomes the most powerful man in the world. This is what happens when a Stalinist voter becomes head of the Central Intelligence Agency, a bust at protecting the nation but now deployed against Trump and his supporters.

“In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you,” Trump explains, “and I’m just standing in their way.” So as the former president also likes to say, we’ll have to see what happens.

Editor’s Note:  Portions of this article are adapted from the author’s forthcoming book Coincidence Theory.

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