White House aide’s plan to stop leaks: Spy on his co-workers

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom former national security adviser Michael Flynn brought onto the NSC as senior director for intelligence, sought technical solutions in early 2017 for collecting and analyzing phone and other data on White House colleagues for interactions with reporters. He portrayed his desired leak hunt as an “insider threat” detection effort, according to the ex-officials. Those who heard of it presumed it would focus on NSC staffers held over from the Obama administration.

It is unknown whether Cohen-Watnick’s efforts actually resulted in any monitoring program. The former officials noted the overwhelming technical and legal hurdles to doing so. One called it “wholly inappropriate” for Cohen-Watnick, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, to do anything of the sort, considering it a blatant attempt at intimidating his colleagues. Another, who agreed the proposed effort was inappropriate, likened it to a “Keystone Cop thing.”

“This seemed designed to intimidate rather than protect national security,” said a different ex-NSC official familiar with the proposal.