Why do so many US intelligence chiefs become media pundits?

Jun 29, 2021

Retiring from being in charge of intelligence, counter-intelligence and counterterrorism to working as mainstream news commentators, this has become an established career path in the US; now you can rest assured of the objectivity and independence of the world’s greatest democratic free press…I am sure they provide objective and unbiased analyses, and their paymasters make sure they do. And pigs fly over the mountains …

Several angry readers have blasted me for even questioning the professionalism and objectivity of mainstream Western, especially American, journalism. Whatever faults and flaws such journalism suffers from, I quote from one hate fan, “it’s a damn sight better than the state-controlled and state-manipulated news media in China”.

Maybe she is right. But at least we all know media outlets in China are either owned or controlled and monitored by state authorities. It may be argued, and I do argue, it’s far more insidious when news outlets claim to be independent and objective when they are not.

Consider the following list. You be the judge:

John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and chief counterterrorism adviser to then US president Barack Obama, has been a senior national security and intelligence analyst for NBC News and MSNBC since 2018.

James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, has been a national security analyst for CNN since 2017.

Chuck Rosenberg, former acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is the host of the MSNBC podcast The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg, and also a frequent commentator.

Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general who is a former CIA director and ex-director of the National Security Agency (NSA), has been a CNN national security analyst since 2017.

This is how a 2017 article in the Columbia Journalism Review wrote about him: “It doesn’t matter what cable channel you prefer (CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News), what talk show you watch (The Late Show with Stephen ColbertReal Time with Bill Maher), or website you read (The New York TimesThe Washington Post, or The Wall Street Journal), Hayden is everywhere, commenting on the day’s news, while inevitably being portrayed as Mr Reasonable; a post-partisan straight shooter who will tell you How It Really Works.

“But members of the media who play along with this fantasyland portrayal of Hayden should be embarrassed.”

Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counter-intelligence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is a regular contributor to NBC News and MSNBC.

Frances Townsend, former homeland security adviser under President George W. Bush, first worked for CNN before switching to CBS as its national security analyst.

Steven Hall, “retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2015 after 30 years of running and managing intelligence operations in Eurasia and Latin America”, according to the website The Cipher Brief’s online bio. The Cipher Brief has been described as “covering national security way beyond cable news … Imagine a newsroom where half of the room is analysts and half is reporters. You combine what each of them is so good at doing and deliver that every day to the reader”.

Samantha Vinograd, a former homeland security adviser (economics) in Iraq, worked as a foreign policy commentator for CNN before returning to government as senior counsellor for national security in the Department of Homeland Security under the current Joe Biden administration.

Philip Mudd, a CNN counterterrorism analyst, was a senior career officer at the CIA and FBI, and White House national security official.

James Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent.

Jeremy B. Bash, who was the chief of staff at the CIA and the US Department of Defence, works for NBC and MSNBC.

Susan Hennessey? This is how a May 13 article in The Wall Street Journal describes her: “Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey announced this week she’s taking a job at the [Justice] department’s National Security Division, reportedly as Senior Counsel.

“Lawfare began in 2010 as a national security blog, though by the Trump era it had become an unabashed mouthpiece for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, and partisan enough to marinate in the anti-Trump fever swamps.”

Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe has been CNN’s senior law enforcement analyst since 2018.

Josh Campbell, a CNN correspondent covering law enforcement and national security, was previously a supervisory special agent with the FBI conducting national security and criminal investigations.

OK, this list can go on and on but I think you get my drift. I am sure they provide objective and unbiased analyses, and their paymasters make sure they do. And pigs fly over the mountains …

These are prime time cable TV talking heads and major online pundits. You can be sure there are many more obscure operators working within the US and global media industries to influence public opinion.

The media organisation Declassified UK last year published a statistical study of the reliance on unnamed intelligence or government sources by the British news media and concluded: “The UK press, from The Times to The Guardian, is routinely helping to demonise states identified by the British government as enemies, while tending to whitewash those seen as allies.

“The research, which analyses the UK national print media, suggests that the public is being bombarded by views and selective information supporting the priorities of policymakers. The media is found to be routinely misinforming the public and acting far from independently.”

I am afraid something far worse is the case in the US, where the intelligence honchos simply dominate major news platforms by acting as talking heads and pundits with little or no editorial filter or supervision. Why bother with reporters when those honchos can tell you directly what’s going on in the world?

You ever wonder why mainstream Western media can suddenly all swarm on the same news sources as their governments push to further their agendas – such as the Wuhan lab leak theory and the Uygurs in Xinjiang?

This article is republished from the South China Morning Post 24 June 2021. Click here to read the original article.

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