By LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The revelation that senior Homeland Security officials suppressed a July intelligence bulletin warning of a Russian scheme targeting former Vice President Joe Biden marks the latest development in a “pattern” of politicization within the intelligence community, according to John Cohen, a former senior agency official during the Obama administration.
“I find it really disturbing that the pattern that is becoming clearer and clearer, that actions that are vital to protecting this nation … are just not occurring,” Cohen, an ABC News contributor, told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on the “Powerhouse Politics” podcast.
“And it’s not occurring,” he continued, “because intelligence professionals are afraid of angering the president or putting something out that’s viewed as being inconsistent with their political narrative.”
On Wednesday, ABC News reported that the Department of Homeland Security blocked publication of an internal bulletin meant to inform various state and federal law enforcement agencies of a Russian scheme to promote “allegations about the poor mental health” of Biden, according to internal emails and a draft of the document obtained by ABC News.
The document mentions Iranian and Chinese efforts to criticize Trump, but focuses on — and takes its title from — Russia’s attacks on Biden’s mental fitness.
In a statement to ABC News, a DHS spokesperson confirmed that the product was “delayed,” explaining that it “lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination.”
News of the blocked bulletin, which Cohen called “highly unusual,” comes on the heels of a controversial decision by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a loyal ally to President Donald Trump, to halt in-person election security briefings to congressional oversight committees.
Cohen said these two developments risk “undermining the ability of our government to protect against foreign interference.”
“If you are restricting in-person briefings at the same time you are blocking or altering intelligence products so that they either don’t [upset] the president or they support the partisan political narrative or the campaign narrative, then there are rightful concerns that Congress isn’t getting the whole picture,” Cohen said.
The president, who is 74, and his political operations have also taken aim at Biden’s mental acuity, weaponizing the former vice president’s age, 77, and repeatedly raising questions about his “geriatric mental health.” In a statement to ABC News, a Biden campaign spokesperson accused the Trump campaign of “speaking from the same script of smears and lies” as the Kremlin.
Regardless of the rationale for blocking the July bulletin, Cohen said the fact that the Trump campaign has engaged in a similar line of attack against Biden gives the impression intelligence is being “altered or blocked for political considerations.”
“We’re talking about foreign intelligence services planting conspiracy theories and lies into the public discourse to influence how people act on Election Day,” he continued. “The only way you can counteract that is by identifying those that [present] inaccurate information and notifying people. And that’s what this bulletin was intended to do.”
And with just two months until ballots are tallied, Cohen said the intelligence community should be doing more, not less, to inform lawmakers and the American public of efforts by “Russia and other hostile foreign countries … to influence the outcome of the election.”
“This isn’t a time to be restricting information to anybody,” he said.
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