The Trump administration is reportedly weighing proposals for a global, private spy network that would evade U.S. intelligence agencies and report directly to the White House and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The plans have been developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and CIA veteran John R. Maguire, with help from Oliver North, who played a prominent role in the Iran Contra scandal, The Intercept reported late Monday.
Several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals said it's been pitched to the White House as a way to combat “deep state” enemies who want to undermine President Trump.
“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals told The Intercept. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books. The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”
National Security Council spokesman Michael N. Anton said he was not aware of any such proposals.
“I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” Anton said. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.”
Other senior Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who were said to have been briefed on the plans, denied knowing of the proposals. A CIA spokesperson called the report “wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.” Prince has also denied involvement.
But two former senior intelligence officials said Pompeo has pressured the White House to move forward with the contract that would buoy an army of spies with no diplomatic cover abroad.
People involved in the plans secretly met with top Trump donors to ask for assistance with financing, the report said.
“[Maguire] said there were people inside the CIA who joined in the previous eight years [under Obama] and inside the government and they were failing to give the president the intelligence he needed,” a person said of Maguire’s pitch.
Maguire told at least two potential donors that Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster had authorized surveillance of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s two eldest sons. He claimed McMaster used a burner phone — usually a prepaid phone that’s later disposed of — to send information to a facility in Cyprus owned by George Soros.
Some potential donors were taken to a suite in Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C, which was set up to conduct “secure communications” about the proposals. The suite was referred to by White House staff and Trump backers as “the tinfoil room.”
“John [Maguire] was certain that the deep state was going to kick the president out of office within a year,” said a person who discussed the proposal with Maguire. “These guys said they were protecting the president.”