The Day After…Revisited

For the second time in six months, a pronouncement from the White House has occasioned some very personal remembrances.

During my time at “The Farm” – Camp Perry, the intel agency training facility outside Williamsburg, VA – a legendary covert operative (also my closest mentor) once warned me: “If you live long enough in this business you end up walking with ghosts.”

Undercover: Former Cold War spy shares one hair-raising espionage story

Every now and again, those “spirits of operations past” come back to counsel on matters more immediate.

This is happening once again, courtesy of profoundly naïve Tweets coming from the President of the United States. Over the past two days, he has yet again dismissed his entire intelligence community in favor of a fabricated fiction.

This is not politics; this is not a disagreement over policy. This is a decisively dangerous disregard for those who regularly put themselves in harm’s way to protect national security. And it is hardly the first time.

Back in July, Trump accepted the word of President Putin and rejected the unanimous “high confidence” (in intel parlance meaning “virtually certain”) conclusions of the leadership he himself selected to run the U.S. intelligence community.

Such callous disregard for the consequences of words wantonly bandied about goes well beyond the ideological fodder flying from either side of the persistent cable news warfare.

It sacrifices those who put their lives on the line.

Back in July, after the first presidential rejection, I was compelled to think back. It produced a retrospective Oil and Energy Investor I entitled “The Day After.”

It is appropriate to visit it again as the stakes grow higher.

The Day After

(published July 17th, 2018)

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In the academic tradition from which I come, there is something called a giving of accounts. Periodically, at gatherings or reunions or wakes, I am obliged to recount and defend my principles, what I hold most sacred, and the manner in which I have lived a life.

Here, at least, I always had solid footing. Despite mistakes, regrets, shortcomings, I knew who I was and what I stood for.

Until yesterday…

In two months, I turn 70. About 24 hours ago, matters I have held most dear in a professional life spanning more than five decades have been called into question by the American President. And it is both saddening and depressing.

I used to ask my university students what war defined their lives. Iraq would come up most often. When the question moved to their fathers, it was Vietnam; for grandfathers, World War II. They were not expecting the response when the tables were turned and somebody from class asked me the question.

Mine was the Cold War.

For almost three decades, including (and despite) a stint in Vietnam, this was my real war. In hindsight, it seemed almost unimaginable that we in the intelligence community rose every morning on the brink of annihilation, always with a clock ticking in the background with almost impossible objectives.

This wasn’t Hollywood or a TV “reality” show. It was the real-world grind of defending the country.

But it did give life an immediate purpose. There was no question who the enemy was or what the priorities were or, for that matter, what I was defending …each day, every day.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I was thrown under the bus, as were others both here and gone. It was a crushing and personal humiliation.

Based on reactions received last night into early this morning from colleagues – past and present – I was hardly alone. For the first time, I felt my earlier career had been a waste of time.

Because the first U.S. President in my lifetime publicly told the world he did not believe his nation’s own national intelligence apparatus and preferred an adversary to his own fellow citizens.

I took an oath similar to his. I defended my country, carrying wounds even today as a result. It was never partisan politics. When it came to field operations or critical analysis, we all parked our personal political predilections at the door.

But the guy who cavalierly dismissed what the intelligence community does for national security is at the apex of the power structure. Whoever sits behind the desk in the Oval Office was always my boss’s boss, my commander-in-chief.

“Tell truth to power” is the pervasive internalized mantra at the CIA. Unfortunately, few ever thought those in power would have no interest in listening. There are numerous reasons why this is unacceptable. 129 of them come to mind as I write this.

This is what you see entering the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building at Langley.

Photo: Central Intelligence Agency

That’s the Memorial Wall on the right (the lobby’s north wall) between U.S. and agency flags. In the Alabama marble are carved 129 stars, one for each CIA officer killed in defense of his or her country. The most recent four have been added in 2018

Framed beneath the stars and sitting under an inch of plate glass is the black Book of Honor. This contains by year each of the stars on the wall. Names appear next to 91 of them. The remaining 38 have a blank space next to the star, indicating the officer died in what is still a classified operation.

I personally knew three of them. If not for a freak occurrence, one of them would be writing something like this Oil & Energy Investor today and I would be on the Wall without my name in the Book.

There is an annual service at the Wall commemorating the sacrifices it memorializes. The latest occurred this year on June 12. Barely a month later, the bus ran over all of us.

I have often discussed in Oil & Energy Investor about how geopolitics influences, and in some cases determines, energy prices and direction.

Helsinki followed Blenheim Palace and Brussels in a week that portends the most massive shift of U.S. global posture in decades. This shift is already ushering in a huge and likely to be protracted political fight inside The Beltway.

This past week now combines with the renewal of Iranian sanctions and the rise of a trade war pitting the U.S. against China, Europe, Canada, and Mexico. This is geopolitics on steroids.

We will have some nice profit moves in the energy sector, regardless of how all of this plays out. That always happens when politics collides with the market.

But today, I had a more compelling human cost in mind.



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