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The Neo-Patrimonial National Security State

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Another day, another corrupt Trump loyalist gets access to the nation’s most important secrets.

President Donald Trump’s new acting intelligence director, Richard Grenell, used to do consulting work on behalf of an Eastern European oligarch who is now a fugitive and was recently barred from entering the U.S. under anti-corruption sanctions imposed last month by the State Department.

In 2016, Grenell wrote several articles defending the oligarch, a Moldovan politician named Vladimir Plahotniuc, but did not disclose that he was being paid, according to records and interviews. Grenell also did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which generally requires people to disclose work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign politicians.

How did the current Ambassador to Germany and now acting Director of National Intelligence acquire a security clearance? Some mysteries are just meant to be stonewalled.

“That’s really easy, he should not have a clearance,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington-area lawyer specializing in security clearances. “If he were one of my clients and just a normal [federal employee], he would almost assuredly not have a clearance.”

McClanahan said it’s unclear how Grenell could have already gotten a clearance as an ambassador. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the Trump administration has overruled career officials in granting security clearances to political appointees.

As Trump’s pick for acting director of national intelligence, Grenell will have access to the country’s most sensitive secrets. Grenell isn’t subject to Senate confirmation because Trump appointed him on a temporary basis.

Grenell’s qualifications for the job include receiving an MPA degree from the Kennedy School and playing Trump’s today online.

Grenell, who is also continuing in his current posts as ambassador to Germany and special envoy for negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, has gained Trump’s favor with his unwavering loyalty and combative tweets. (In one instance, he attacked ProPublica in response to reporting that Vice President Mike Pence’s office had intervened in foreign aid decisions.) He raised hackles in Berlin by injecting himself into the country’s domestic politics, a departure from usual diplomatic protocol.

Grenell does not have prior experience in intelligence. He was the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.

Grenell is not even the worst example of, as Adam Mount puts it, a “major overlooked scandal of the administration”:

But wait, there’s more. Grenell has already begun the process of corrupting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

One of his first hires was Kashyap Patel, a senior National Security Council staff member and former key aide to Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Patel will have a mandate to “clean house,” CBS News reported, citing a person close to the matter.

If you don’t remember Patel from some of his greatest hits, then you might recall his part in feeding Trump conspiracy theories about Ukraine.

What we’re watching is the subversion of the national-security apparatus of the most powerful nation on earth – to service the ego of a cognitively challenged failed businessman and demagogue.

Update: ICYMI, Trump fired Grenell’s predecessor, Joe Maguire, because he briefed House Democrats on Russian interference in the 2020 campaign. Here’s Admiral William McRaven on that firing:

But the president chose Maguire. And, like most of these good men and women, he came in with the intent to do his very best, to follow the rules, to follow the law and to follow what was morally right. Within a few weeks of taking the assignment, he found himself embroiled in the Ukraine whistleblower case. Joe told the White House that, if asked, he would testify, and he would tell the truth. He did. In short order, he earned the respect of the entire intelligence community. They knew a good man was at the helm. A man they could count on, a man who would back them, a man whose integrity was more important than his future employment.

But, of course, in this administration, good men and women don’t last long. Joe was dismissed for doing his job: overseeing the dissemination of intelligence to elected officials who needed that information to do their jobs.

As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.

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