Former CIA Officials Assess Russia

    Dave Majumdar

    Security, North America

    The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia

    The Center for the National Interest brought former CIA officials together to examine the state of American analysis of Russia.

    Winston Churchill stated in 1939 that Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Today, as then, Russian actions and intentions remain the subject of intense scrutiny in the West. To examine the state of American analysis of Russia, the Center for the National Interest convened a high-level panel of former veteran CIA officials on May 22. The speakers included George Beebe (Director for Intelligence and National Security at the Center for the National Interest, former director of the CIA’s Russia analysis and a former Special Advisor to Vice President Cheney), Milton Bearden (a former CIA officer who was a station chief in Pakistan where he played a central role in training and arming the Afghan mujahideen to battle the Soviet military) and Peter Clement (the former Deputy Director for Analytic Programs at the CIA and a professor at Columbia University). The meeting was moderated by Paul J. Saunders, the executive director of the Center for the National Interest and a former Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs in the George W. Bush administration.

    Looming over any discussion of Russia is the omnipresent issue of political interference in the 2016 election. There was a broad consensus among the panelists that Russia did interfere in the elections but that it was a fairly low-grade operation and that Moscow is capable of far more, especially if provoked. The interference was based primarily not on the fact that America is a democracy, but because of Washington’s actions. In Bearden’s view, relations between Russia and the United States today are worse—and more dangerous—than they were during the Cold War.

    According to Beebe, many in the Washington’s political circles and national security apparatus assume that they understand Russian intentions without fully analyzing the problem. There is a consensus in Washington that Russia seeks to fundamentally undermine democratic government in the United States, but that conclusion is not based on any sort of sound analysis.

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