Trump Team Considering Anthony Shaffer, Controversial Former Army Officer, for Senior Defense Intelligence Role

Shaffer
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, left, with retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn on September 12 at an awards ceremony for the London Center, a New York-based conservative think tank. Shaffer presented Flynn with a leadership award. The London Center

A former Army colonel at the center of a years-long controversy related to the  September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon may be joining the Trump administration as a senior Defense Department intelligence official.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, 54, said he was invited to join the administration in some capacity, but declined to say who approached him or what the job might be. The position would be at  the “senior defense intelligence” level, Shaffer has told associates who asked for anonymity because the discussions were considered private.  

“I was asked to put my name in for a job—that's it,”  Shaffer said in a brief telephone interview. He is connected to retired Army Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, the incoming White House National Security Adviser, through their joint service in Afghanistan as well as The London Center, a New York-based conservative think tank where Shaffer is vice president for strategic initiatives and operations. At a banquet in September, Shaffer presented Flynn, a senior fellow at the center, with a leadership award. The center is named after its founder, Herbert I. London, a widely published social critic and one time Conservative Party candidate for mayor of New York.

Shaffer ignited years of Pentagon and congressional investigations a decade ago with his charges that Defense Department suppressed the existence of his top-secret unit’s reports on the 9/11 plotters a year in advance of the attacks. The reason, he said in interviews, congressional testimony and a book, Operation Dark Heart, was that Defense Department officials didn’t want to be blamed for the intelligence failure that tarred other security agencies. The first edition of the book was bought up and pulped by the Pentagon even after reporters had received advance review copies of it. Shaffer’s publisher later issued a heavily censored edition.

A 16-month investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Shaffer’s operation, code-named ABLE DANGER, “did not identify Mohamed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to September 11, 2001," and dismissed other assertions that have fueled 9/11 conspiracy theories. The Defense Department’s inspector general (DoD OIG) made a similar conclusion.

But Shaffer’s attorney during the probes, Mark Zaid, stands by him. "I personally participated in the DoD OIG investigation of ABLE DANGER, and I was not impressed,” he told Newsweek by email Wednesday. “I saw firsthand how findings and facts were manipulated, and I had several internal sources support that view.” Zaid added that, “Behind the scenes, numerous witnesses supported Tony Shaffer's version of events."

Shaffer and Flynn share out-of-the-box views on some of the most contentious events in recent U.S. foreign policy. In 2012, Shaffer claimed—falsely—that President Obama was "in the White House Situation Room in real-time watching" the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. At the time, Flynn was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and according to The New York Times, startled aides with an abrupt conclusion that Iran was behind Benghazi. Both assertions turned out to be baseless.   

The two have hawkish views on other key issues, particularly Islam. Flynn, who was fired as head of the DIA in 2014 for his inflammatory leadership style, according to several reports, recently tweeted that “fear of Muslims is rational.” Shaffer, likewise, claimed in a November radio interview that “15 to 17 percent” of Middle East and North African refugees “are ISIS," or agents of the Islamic State militant group.

Even the right-wing CounterJihad group had doubts about his assertion. “The figure is shockingly high, which means we should ask how plausible it is,” it said in a blog post, but “he has the right kind of contacts to obtain access to this kind of information.”

Shaffer has also called for banning the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR),  a Washington, D.C.-based group formed in 1994 to “promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America.” CAIR has been a frequent target of conservative activists who allege that it’s a cover for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

This week Shaffer was active in swatting back charges by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia covertly interfered in the U.S. presidential campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. On Monday he maintained that "the Russians would not benefit” from electing Trump, who has repeatedly said he wants closer relations with Moscow. “There's no upside for a President Trump in the Russian influence in the world," he said in a radio interview. On Wednesday he declared that CIA Director John Brennan “is making stuff up” about the alleged Russian campaign to put Trump in office.  

“I was told by folks at the FBI and DoD and on Capitol Hill that no one will back up what Brennan is saying,” Shaffer said in his telephone interview with Newsweek. “They think it’s nonsense.” Democrats, joined by some Republicans, however, have said the CIA’s congressional briefings on Russian interference, disclosed first by The Washington Post, have merit and need further investigation and hearings.

Upping the ante on Wednesday night, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News they had "a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign.

A CIA spokesman declined to discuss the particulars of what the agency knows about the Kremlin’s covert campaign to tilt the election. But a knowledgeable intelligence official told Newsweek over the weekend that the agency was struggling to keep out of the political fray over the explosive charges.

“We're at the center of a Class 5 political hurricane and have been doing everything possible to ensure we are completely nonpartisan and objective,” he said in exchange for anonymity to discuss the current chaos, "knowing that anything we say or do will be spun by individuals on both sides of the aisle.”

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