Ed's Blog

"Some people know everything, but that's all they know."

GENERAL FLYNN’S FATAL MISTAKE

DIA Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum

The minute Gen. Mike Flynn decided he could fly solo in his interaction with Russian officials, his fate was sealed. This happened before President Donald Trump selected him to be his national security advisor or when he lied to Vice President Pence about his phone conversation with the Russian ambassador. It likely began in 2015 when he traveled to Russia to participate in a forum and he met with Vladimir Putin .

As a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency it’s not as if Gen. Flynn doesn’t have plenty of experience dealing with foreign intelligence officials (friendly and not so friendly), although I doubt he met with them alone. Furthermore, his career in U.S. Army military Intelligence wasn’t in counter-intelligence or counter-espionage. Why is that important? Because counter-intelligence trained people never forget that practically every Russian or Chinese government official, especially diplomats, are always spotting and assessing individuals susceptible to recruitment, people they can elicit information from or useful idiots they can use.

Understanding the breadth and depth of their efforts and the measures the United States uses to counter them makes one far more sensitive to the danger that exists when you appear on their radar. I suspect Gen. Flynn didn’t fully appreciate the risk he was taking, or he just became overconfident in himself. He should have known that any phone conversation with the Russian ambassador would be tapped by NSA and made available to the Department of Justice. If he had, he never would have kept the Vice President in the dark. I heard in a news report today that Gen. Flynn knew he was under surveillance. If that’s true, the first thing he should have done was immediately make the President and Vice President aware of what he was doing and saying, but apparently he didn’t.

Throughout my 43-year career in the military and as a Department of Defense civilian I’ve seen this happen too many times. A military officer or civilian official decides he has the skills or rank to meet with Russian or Chinese officials on his own for the purpose of improving U.S.-Russia or U.S.-China relations. He allows himself to believe that there is no requirement to take someone else along or report his contact to the FBI or his superior to ensure that nothing in the meeting or conversation comes back to bite him.

Three individuals I know were convicted and went to jail because of their contacts with Chinese officials. Others were harshly counseled or their careers were ruined. As the senior country director for China in the office of the Secretary of Defense, I met with Chinese attaches and diplomats on a regular basis. I even had one defect to me in my office. I either took someone along to lunches and meetings with them, or I reported my contacts to the FBI. I knew never to say anything to a Chinese official I didn’t want my boss reading back to me.

I have no doubt that Gen. Flynn is a patriot and had nothing but the best intentions. His service to America has been exemplary. We have not yet seen a transcript of the phone conversation between Gen. Flynn and the Russian ambassador, and I doubt we ever will given how it was obtained, so we don’t know if he gave the ambassador assurances about what the Trump Administration might do after the election on U.S. sanctions on Russia or if the subject only came up tangentially. Personally, I would be surprised if it was the former. Gen. Flynn has enormous staff experience and knew that staff officers don’t make such commitments to foreign governments. Despite accusations by Democrats, it’s also highly unlikely that President Trump told him what to tell the Russian, otherwise, there would have been no reason to lie to the Vice President.

Serving at the highest levels in the national security establishment is a high honor and rare opportunity to serve your country. In that sense, it can be extremely rewarding. At the same time it often is like walking on a wire over an alligator pit. When you slip and fall there is no forgiveness and there are no second chances.

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Filed under: China-Taiwan, Military, National Security, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

14 Responses

  1. ozsanborn says:

    Hi Ed Agree However it all would probably been moot if he had not lied. That was the big mistake and in his former position an unforgivable one. Integrity is at the core of an individual

    Hope things are good with you.

    This thing with Flynn will die very slow agonizing death.

    Oz

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Kiddo Bowtie says:

    “…there is no forgiveness and there are no second chances.” With the sole exception of Hillary Clinton!

  3. Sherry Brown says:

    In my opinion he should never have been appointed. Was he not fired as head of DIA for distributing false information? The reason his son was dismissed earlier by Trump.

    The best thing which has happened since Trump took over!

    Now, why is Bannon allowed into top security discussions without that clearance? I think I could come closer to getting the clearance than he could. Yet NO ONE has asked that question.

    SCB

  4. artilleryocs says:

    Thanks Ed. I hated to see this happen, but he did step on it.

  5. Tome Walters says:

    Thanks for some excellent insights, Ed. I’m not going to pull any punches here. Flynn was in well over his head as the NSA. That was the consensus from many senior officers I talked with before the Russian Ambassador conversations blew up. It wasn’t of matter if he would eventually go, only when. The fact it was a land speed record validates the opinions of many of the old heads. Intelligence and good judgement don’t always go hand in hand in DC. This was a Harvard case study. A former (if dismissed) DIA head who didn’t know everything he and the Russian Ambassador said was being monitored ?? How is that possible ? Or was he just clueless that the content of those conversations was a major mistake ? Either way…

    • EWRoss says:

      Tome: Thanks for your comment. I agree, he was in over his head. I recall when Oliver North got in trouble for working outside his box. The NSC is an interesting place to work, but landmines are everywhere.

  6. Jeff Kohler says:

    Ed
    Well done as usual. Agree with Tome’s comments completely. Can’t say I’m sorry to see him go. I thought he would last a bit longer but a President needs the the best advisors around him…unfortunately, Lt Gen Flynn was not of did not fit that bill. Take care and keep ’em coming.

    • EWRoss says:

      Jeff: Thanks. I put aside my weekly columns mid 2015 when I wrote my novel “The Transpants.” Last year I wrote my memoir. I decided to leave political commentary to the professionals. However, I felt I had something to contribute on the Flynn affair and felt I had to write something. Feb 4 was the 32 anniversary of my kidney transplant. Hope everything is well with the Kohlers,

  7. Mark Torreano says:

    Agree he was not the man for the job, felt that way about him after his diatribe at the Republican Convention. As for the questions of did he sell out the US by promising a Trump administration will be Russia’s friend or encouraging Russian hacking to help Trump defeat Hillary, I’m pretty sure if he had that the transcripts would have been leaked before the election. Final issue is will the leaker, who broke the law, be identified and punished. Probably not.

  8. Rick Cassidy says:

    Ed: good commentary! One thing not addressed in your or others’ responses is the fact that someone with access to or previously had access to classified info had illegally leaked some details of the meeting with the Russian Ambo. A felony for sure (except if your name is Hillary Clinton). Trump will need to get someone assigned quickly to find and stop the numerous leaks (at least within the WH) that we have seen over the past three weeks. Someone that has the authority to identify the abuser(s) and say publicly “you’re fired.”

    • EWRoss says:

      Rick: Right, there appears to be a concerted attempt to bring the Trump admin down. Every new admin has a rough beginning, but none that I served in were under attack as intensely as Trumps. All the best. How all is well at your end.

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