As former acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell is sought out to speak on nearly every cable TV channel.
At the end of the month, his audience will be a room full of people in Santa Fe.
Morell will offer his thoughts on threats and challenges facing the United States as part of the Santa Fe Council on International Relations’ continuing series of lectures on world and national events.
Morell, who spent 33 years in the CIA, said it’s vital for intelligence officials to speak about policy in public.
“Answering questions in public is an important check on policymakers who may be going beyond what the intelligence says,” Morell said.
Morell hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast. He featured former Ambassador Vicki Huddleston on his show, and she invited him to speak in Santa Fe.
Huddleston, a Council on International Relations board member, will lead the question-and-answer session around the topic “A Dangerous World: The Key National Security Threats Facing the United States.”
Morell, 61, started as an analyst in the Middle East and Asia. During his career, he provided the daily presidential briefings and was the agency’s top analyst and administrator.
In 2010, he was sworn in as the agency’s deputy director and twice served as acting director, replacing Leon Panetta during his confirmation as Secretary of Defense and again in 2012, after David Petraeus’ resignation following a sex scandal.
Morell retired in 2013 and sits on a host of boards, contributes to news organizations and lectures at universities.
He said in an interview he expects to talk about what he considers the five largest threats and challenges to U.S. security, naming China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and extremism — which Morell clarified to mean “jihadist terrorism.”
He said the relationship between Beijing and Washington is the most important in the world and is vital to shaping the future. He said deterioration in that rapport could be dangerous. Morell said presidents since the 1980s have failed to slow the advancement of weapons held by North Korea, and the issue continues to pose a risk.
Morell said Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was likely to repeat itself in the upcoming election, using bots and misinformation tactics.
“Putin’s goal is to be seen as a great power and to undermine the U.S. at every point globally,” he said.
Morell said he couldn’t make a judgment on the Trump administration’s drone attack on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani until he saw the intelligence that led to the strike.
“If it was overstating intelligence, then I’ve got many more questions,” he said.
The administration deployed 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East after the strike.
When asked about the Washington Post‘s investigation into the Afghanistan Papers, which raised concerns about intelligence manipulation and whether U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war, Morell said the CIA provided the truth.
“The CIA analysis on Afghanistan was always a glass half-empty,” Morell said. “We shared those analyses. We were always honest with different presidents and the Defense Department.”
The investigation analyzed 2,000 pages of documents compiled by a federal project examining the root failures in the longest armed conflict in U.S. history by interviewing generals, diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials. Most replied with the understanding that their comments would not become public and offered unrestrained criticism.
He said there were no complaints during his tenure of “spinning intelligence to top officials.”
Morell said he’s concerned with the president’s use of social media to attack senior intelligence officials, saying it’s reduced their public presence and undermines public trust.
“Senior intelligence officials have gone to ground. They’re not going to universities. They’re not speaking publicly,” he said. “That is to the detriment of not just the intelligence community itself, but the country.”