The former CIA analyst who helped launch the claim that the U.K. spied on Donald Trump is a longtime critic of U.S. intelligence and defender of Russia.
He maintains the CIA — not Russia — may have been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. He frequently appears on Russian state media to reject American intelligence conclusions, including the consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. And he infuriated Democrats in 2008 when he peddled a conspiracy theory about Michelle Obama, though he now says he was “used” by the Clinton campaign in that episode.
Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and blogger, acknowledges he was one of the sources for Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano’s claim — later repeated by the White House — that British intelligence services spied on Trump during the election. The U.K. has rejected the claims and the White House has appeared to distance itself from the specific accusation, putting the onus on Fox News.
“That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox,” Trump said at a news conference on Friday. “And so you shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”
Fox News stated unequivocally on Friday that it did not have evidence Trump had been surveilled.
The claim’s path from a onetime CIA analyst to the Trump White House follows a pattern seen throughout the first months of the Trump administration. The White House relied on a conservative media report that rested on people who appear to have drawn their information from other second-hand or third-hand sources who are not identified. Even as the White House has railed against the use of anonymous sources by the media, it ignited an international incident by giving presidential credence to the unsubstantiated Fox News report.
Johnson, a key source for the report that was roundly denied by U.K. and U.S. officials, told POLITICO on Saturday that he received his initial tip from a Democrat who is not in the intelligence community but has ties there. “He was alarmed at what he saw as this meddling in the election,” Johnson said, declining to cite the individual involved.
He called his original source someone “with a history of having access to national security information.”
He then said he confirmed the tip with two people in the intelligence community. “We’re not talking janitors and cleaning ladies,” he said.
Johnson asserts the British intelligence services passed along information on Trump and his associates to the CIA and “did not go through proper channels.” He said he is speaking out because he fears figures in the intelligence community are seeking to undermine Trump. “This is a threat to our democracy,” he said.
Johnson was revealed as one of Napolitano’s sources after the Fox commentator, when pressed about his claim, asked Johnson to speak with the New York Times.
Johnson gained widespread attention as a blogger who circulated a conspiracy theory about Michelle Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, though he now says Clinton operatives took advantage of him and used him to spread the theory.
He has been vocal in his defense of Russia against allegations that a Vladimir Putin-ordered hacking campaign was conducted to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and help Trump win.
In the weeks before the inauguration, Johnson told state-controlled Russia Today that the U.S. conclusion that Russia interfered in the election was “a joke,” and called the American intelligence community “stupid.”
Johnson said he is not paid by RT for his appearances, and he doubts RT had any impact on the election given its low viewership in the U.S.
He has made his claims about British involvement before, telling RT in early March that Britain colluded with U.S. officials to spy on Trump.
“In this case I understand from very good friends that what happened was both Jim Clapper and John Brennan at CIA were intimately involved in trying to derail the candidacy of Donald Trump,” he said in an interview with RT the day after Trump accused President Barack Obama of ordering his phones tapped. “That there was some collusion overseas with Britain’s own GHCQ [Government Communications Headquarters]. That information that was gathered from GHCQ was actually passed to John Brennan and it was disseminated within the US government. This dissemination was illegal.”
In the same interview, Johnson said: “There’s no evidence on the side of Russia meddling in the U.S. election.”
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia did meddle in the election.
Johnson has also peddled the theory that the CIA — not Russia — was behind the hacking of the DNC.
Johnson’s British spying claim, apparently first made in the RT interview, developed into an international event in a matter of weeks through a bizarre series of events. Napolitano made the claim on Fox News on Tuesday, citing three anonymous sources. The White House then repeated the accusation on Thursday, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reading verbatim from the Fox interview.
In an unusual move for the tight-lipped British intelligence community, the GCHQ released a statement denying the charge. The White House said it would not repeat the claim, and reports indicated Spicer had apologized. But Spicer later declined to back down, telling POLITICO on Friday he simply read “straight from the Fox transcript.”
One element that casts further doubt on the allegation is the American and British agreement not to spy on one another as members of the so-called “Five Eyes” — the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The group shares intelligence among the member states and agrees not to conduct espionage against each other. British spying on an American presidential candidate would seem to violate the agreement.
Johnson said he does not believe the Director of National Intelligence’s assertion that 17 U.S. agencies concluded Russia interfered in the election, and he does not believe that the FBI, CIA and NSA have information to back up their unclassified report published in January, which alleges Russia not only interfered in the election but interfered to help Trump.
He backed up his assertions by saying he spoke out against the Iraq War and cast doubt on reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “They lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I didn’t,” he said.
Johnson worked at the CIA from 1985 to 1989, and served as the deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993, according to his website.
“I’m not a Trump supporter,” he said. “I’m more anti-Hillary than pro-Trump. I’m not part of the Trump team. I’m not trying to get a job with the Trump administration, I’m not on some Trump advisory panel.”
“I’m not a nut,” Johnson said. “I call things as I see it. I don’t pander to any one particular political position.”
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