CIA Chief warns Trump: Scrapping Iran Deal

The director of the CIA has warned US President-elect Donald Trump that ending the Iran nuclear

deal would be “disastrous” and “the height of

folly”.In a BBC interview, John Brennan also advised the

new president to be wary of Russia’s promises,

blaming Moscow for much of the suffering in Syria.

In his campaign, Mr Trump threatened to scrap the

Iran deal and also hinted at working more closely

with Russia.

Mr Brennan will step down in January after four

years leading the CIA.

In the first interview by a CIA director with the

British media, John Brennan outlined a number of

areas where he said the new administration

needed to act with “prudence and discipline” –

these included the language used regarding

terrorism, relations with Russia, the Iran nuclear

deal and the way in which the CIA’s own covert

capabilities were employed.

Russia’s role in Syria

Mr Brennan offered a bleak assessment of the

situation in Syria arguing that both the Syrian

regime and the Russians were responsible for a

slaughter of civilians which he described as

“outrageous”.

The administration of President Barack Obama has

pursued a policy of supporting moderate rebels

fighting the Assad regime in Syria. The CIA

director said that he believed the US needed to

continue that support to help rebels withstand

what he called an “onslaught” carried out by Syria,

Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.

Russian continued to hold the key to Syria’s

future, he said, but he expressed scepticism about

its willingness to come to any kind of deal. He

said Moscow had been “disingenuous” in their

negotiating tactics, seeking to draw the process

out in order to “choke” Aleppo.

“I do not have confidence that the Russians are

going to relent until they are able to achieve as

much tactical battlefield successes as possible,”

he said.

The incoming Trump administration has suggested

it may try to work more closely with Russia on a

number of issues.

“I think President Trump and the new

administration need to be wary of Russian

promises,” Mr Brennan told the BBC, arguing

Moscow had failed to deliver in the past.

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Hacking the US election

On the role of Russia in trying to influence the US

election by hacking and releasing information, the

CIA director confirmed Russia had sought to carry

out such activity but said he would defer to

domestic counterparts as to the impact.

He did confirm that he had conversations with his

Russian opposite numbers to challenge them over

these actions and warn them that such activity

would backfire.

The US should not “stoop to their level” or risk

escalation by responding in kind to Russian

hacking, but he said there were other ways of

ensuring Russia understood such activity was

unacceptable.

Iran nuclear deal

Another area where he warned Donald Trump’s

incoming team was over their position taken

during the campaign to abandon the nuclear deal

with Iran.

“I think it would be disastrous. It really would,” Mr

Brennan told the BBC.

“First of all for one administration to tear up an

agreement that a previous administration made

would be unprecedented.”

He said such a move would risk strengthening

hardliners in Iran and risk other states pursuing

nuclear programmes in response to a renewed

Iranian effort. “I think it would be the height of folly

if the next administration were to tear up that

agreement,” he said.

Terror threat

Terrorism remains an over-riding concern. The

team planning external attacks within the so-called

Islamic State remained “very active” and, he said,

was seeking to demonstrate that – despite

setbacks on the battlefield – it still had the ability

to carry out attacks against the West.

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Drones and detainees

The CIA is charged with gathering intelligence and

acting as the covert arm of the president. Its

activities are usually secret and often – when

revealed – controversial.

One of the most public challenges that John

Brennan faced during his tenure was dealing with

the fallout of the CIA’s use of techniques such as

waterboarding on detainees after the 9/11 attacks.

President-elect Trump has said he would consider

resuming waterboarding if he thought it would be

effective. John Brennan made clear he thought that

would be a mistake.

“Without a doubt the CIA really took some body

blows as a result of its experiences,” he said. “I

think the overwhelming majority of CIA officers

would not want to get back into that business.”

The pace of drone strikes increased during the

Obama administration although responsibility for

many of them has shifted to the military rather

than the CIA. When John Brennan ran counter-

terrorism operations in the White House, he was

instrumental in putting in place a series of rules

over drone strikes.

So could a new administration simply re-write the

rules on drone strikes as well as the handling of

detainees?

“This is where there is tremendous responsibility

on the new administration…to make sure that they

use the great capabilities that this government has

as effectively and as judiciously as possible,” he

told the BBC arguing that if powers such as drone

strikes were misused they could prove

counterproductive to US security.

‘War on Islam’

The CIA director said he had not yet sat down with

the new team to discuss the capabilities and

programmes the CIA has but he was ready to do

so.

“There are a lot of people out there who read the

papers and listened to a news broadcasts where

the facts may be a bit – you know – off. And so I

want to make sure the new team understands what

the reality is. It ultimately will be up to them to

decide how to carry out their responsibilities.”

Some members of the new administration, such as

Gen Michael Flynn, have talked of the US needing

to recognise it was in a “world war” with Islamist

militants.

When asked if language about “world wars” was

helpful, the CIA director said the new team needed

to be “disciplined in the language that they use

(and) the messages that they send. Because if

they are not disciplined, their language will be

exploited by the terrorist and extremist

organizations as a way to portray the United States

and the government as being anti-Islamic and we

are not.”

Mr Brennan said President Obama had asked US

intelligence to “dig down” on whether the

transition period might be exploited by

adversaries. President-elect Trump has said he

will nominate Congressman Mike Pompeo to be

the next director of the CIA.

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