Four of the people said the change has resulted in less intelligence on Russia making its way to the White House, but the exact reason for that — whether Elwood has been blocking it, or whether Russia officers have become disillusioned and are producing less, or even self-censoring for fear of being reprimanded — is less clear.
One administration official explained the reduced Russia-related intelligence flow from CIA to the National Security Council as a matter of “quality over quantity.” Another administration official said that while the CIA is not the only agency that provides intelligence to the NSC, this official’s perception was that the CIA was “certainly” exhibiting an “abundance of caution” about the Russia intelligence it was sending to the NSC, beginning around the time of Trump’s impeachment proceedings. A whistleblower complaint about Trump from a CIA analyst, which Elwood relayed to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg at the time, is what sparked Trump’s impeachment — feeding the mistrust toward Russia-related intelligence inside the White House and among the agency’s top ranks.
The heightened scrutiny within the CIA comes as the Justice Department, through prosecutor John Durham, continues to investigate the intelligence community’s findings about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and particularly the conclusion drawn by Russia analysts that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered specifically to boost Trump’s candidacy rather than just sow chaos.
Trump, who has publicly railed against the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016 to bolster his candidacy, has also been working to bring the intelligence community further under his control since his impeachment acquittal in February. He has installed loyalists in top positions like director of national intelligence and the senior-most intelligence post on the NSC staff.
Current and former officials have said that in private, the president remains extraordinarily sensitive around the subject of Russian meddling — to the point where they hesitate to raise the topic. As recently as last Thursday, the president blasted his own FBI director on Twitter for testifying that Moscow was seeking to “sow divisiveness and discord” and “denigrate Vice President Biden” in a bid to influence the 2020 campaign.
A CIA spokesperson did not dispute any of the factual assertions in this article. But he pushed back on the notion that Haspel’s enhanced scrutiny was politically motivated. “Scrutinizing intelligence product and process is exactly what is expected of Director Haspel not only because it’s her job, it’s her life’s work — developing sources, vetting information, and checking assumptions — it’s in her blood,” said CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett. “She rightfully asks difficult questions and ensures intelligence is corroborated, double-checked, and then run through the wringer once more. Any suggestion of a political motive for how she leads this agency is misguided.”
Haspel’s scrutiny of intelligence coming out of the CIA’s Russia House has led to some recent dust-ups. The head of Russia House, whom officials declined to identify