Question: The involvement of government agencies in these presidential elections – starting from the FBI role in the Clinton emails, now the Trump investigation – investigating both candidates and being quite public about it – is unprecedented, isn’t it? Why has the intelligence community taken on this visible and political role this time around?
Mowatt-Larssen: I agree with you actually, I find it very regrettable. I’m very concerned about the politicisation of intelligence. I do agree it’s happening to some extent. I think the FBI and the CIA are still very reliable organizations that are following their guidelines. I still have complete trust and confidence in the organizations. But you’re right. The questions do arise. And it’s because of the highly politicised nature of our domestic politics right now – between the Republicans and the Democrats, between those who support the president and between those who don’t support the president. So I agree, it’s a very concerning time. And I think, it’s going to be a time when we in a way redefine our limits – what is the proper role of the CIA and the FBI in our domestic affairs? We’ve learned in our history in the past that we should stay out of American politics.
Question: The House Intelligence Committee has released the Republican ‘Nunes’ report’ which contains allegations that FBI misled the judge in obtaining permission to spy on Trump’s presidential campaign. This report has already been branded ‘inaccurate’. Is it part of the blame game or is there some substance to this?
Mowatt-Larssen: Personally I think, it’s the blame game. That’s my personal view: the Nunes’ paper is a Republican version of cherry-picking the facts as they choose to present them. Now I understand there’s another version circulating – the Democratic version. I frankly find the whole process not something I’m proud of as an American. I prefer to see both parties sit down and discuss these things, not in the public eye, without declassifying or releasing the classified information. All of that isn’t something that I, as an American citizen, would endorse and say is a good thing.
Question: [CIA Director] Mike Pompeo has just recently met heads of Russian intelligence bureaus – “to protect the American people”, as he put it. So, hostile rhetoric, threat-naming, sanctions aside, Russia and the US are still pragmatic enough to work together on some issues, right?
Mowatt-Larssen: It’s really important that professionals in the intelligence business not cease cooperation even at the hardest times. We have a long history between the US and Russia that goes back in the Soviet days, of setting aside our most grievous complaints against one another and cooperating in areas like counterterrorism, and sometimes on counterintelligence and other issues that impact our bilateral relations. I applaud the recent visit of the three Russian intelligence chiefs in Washington with director Pompeo. I think it’s a great move to reinforce the idea that we must continue to cooperate in the areas of common interest for both countries.
Question: Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer has demanded publicly naming everyone who had contact with the Russian intelligence delegation. Won’t that sort of all-across-the-board disclosure be damaging for the nation?
Mowatt-Larssen: Yes, I think it sends the wrong message. If I were to talk to Senator Schumer I would certainly urge him not to politicise… You talked about politicising intelligence earlier – that would be an example of it. If we don’t do this cooperation between one another in the areas of exchanging information and analysis of the terrorist groups and their activities whether this is in Syria, Caucasus, the US or in other parts of the world, we should all be fired. We have to have the courage to do that. In my experience I was involved in the earliest lays on work between the US and Russia at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union. And I don’t recall a time when three intelligence chiefs all came together to Washington such as just happened. I take it as a very positive signal of a desire to do more. And I hope both sides can find the strength to do that.
These are relevant excerpts from an interview with Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, CIA veteran who served as Moscow section chief among other positions, by Russian state-affiliated media outlet RT (Russia Today). [source]