The White House is reportedly looking at a proposal to create a ghost network of private spies in hostile countries — a way of bypassing the intelligence community’s “deep state,” which Donald Trump believes is a threat to his administration.
The network would report directly to the president and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and would be developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, according to multiple current and former officials speaking to The Intercept.
“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 website.
Described as “totally off the books,” the network would be run by intelligence contractor Amyntor Group and would not share any data with the traditional intelligence community.
“The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly,” the official said.
The possibility of a private network of spies was first reported by BuzzFeed, whose sources said the secret cadre would be used to run privatized covert actions, intelligence gathering and propaganda missions.
Prince is reportedly working with longtime collaborator and CIA veteran John Maguire — now an Amyntor employee — to raise funds from Trump donors for the operation until the CIA approves it.
The group reportedly brought in former Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North to sell the idea to Trump.
Prince and Maguire deny they are working together, while North has yet to comment on the claims.
“I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [the White House] at all,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council told the Intercept. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.”
Prince rebranded his operation following a scandal in which Blackwater’s privately contracted soldiers were implicated in civilian deaths in Iraq, and is now working with countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates.
He has deep ties to the Trump administration, as a major donor to the president’s campaign and a member of the transition team advising on security and defense appointments. He is also the brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the U.S. intelligence agencies. This week he lashed out at the FBI over its treatment of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying the agency’s “reputation is in tatters, the worst in history.”