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A top CIA official posted a pro-Palestine image on Facebook two weeks after Hamas attacked Israel, in a rare public political statement by a senior intelligence officer on a war that has sparked dissent within the Biden administration.
The CIA’s associate deputy director for analysis changed her Facebook cover photo on October 21 to an image of a man waving a Palestinian flag that is often used in stories criticising Israel. The Financial Times has decided not to name her after the intelligence agency expressed concern about her safety.
Posting an overtly political image on a public platform is a very unusual move for a senior intelligence official. It comes as tensions rise inside the administration about whether President Joe Biden should put more pressure on Israel to bring an end to the fighting in the Gaza Strip.
In a separate Facebook post, the senior intelligence official also published a selfie with a sticker saying “Free Palestine” superimposed on the photograph. One person familiar with the image said it was posted to Facebook years ago and long before the current conflict.
“The officer is a career analyst with extensive background in all aspects of the Middle East and this post [of the Palestinian flag] was not intended to express a position on the conflict,” said the person familiar with the situation.
This person added that the senior official had also published posts on Facebook taking a stand against antisemitism.
The CIA official did not respond to an attempt to reach her via LinkedIn but after the outreach on Monday, the pro-Palestine images and unrelated posts from the past year and a half were deleted from her page.
Four former intelligence officials expressed surprise that one of two associate deputy directors reporting to the head of analysis would post an image on Facebook showing her apparent political views on a divisive issue.
The CIA official has previously overseen the production of the President’s Daily Brief, the highly classified compilation of intelligence that is presented to the president most days. The deputy CIA director for analysis and his two associates are also responsible for approving all analysis disseminated inside the agency.
“The public posting of an obviously controversial political statement by a senior analytic manager in the middle of a crisis shows glaringly poor judgment,” said one former intelligence official, who added that some intelligence community members were concerned that the post expressed a bias that could undermine the analysis directorate.
In a statement the CIA said: “CIA officers are committed to analytic objectivity, which is at the core of what we do as an agency. CIA officers may have personal views, but this does not lessen their — or CIA’s — commitment to unbiased analysis.”
The former US intelligence officials said the image raised concerns on several levels, including the fact that the CIA has strong relations with Israeli intelligence. “Given the CIA’s longstanding incredibly close relationship with the Israelis in a liaison capacity, this would be highly irregular for a senior agency official,” said a second former official.
The revelation came as CIA director Bill Burns arrived in Qatar for meetings with the head of the Israeli spy agency and the prime minister of Qatar, which has been involved in brokering a deal to release more of the hostages that Hamas is holding in Gaza.
“Given the role director Burns is playing in the ongoing crisis in Israel, social media activity along these lines by a senior US intelligence officer reflects exceptionally and surprisingly bad judgment,” said a third former intelligence official.
A fourth former official said the posting of the image appeared “biased from somebody who is supposed to be fundamentally unbiased”.
Biden’s strong support for Israel as it has pressed its deadly campaign to respond to the October 7 Hamas attack has divided staff in his administration.
Senior officials have hosted listening sessions with staff at the White House, state department and other agencies in an attempt to understand and try to quell their concerns about the president’s approach.
Dozens of US diplomats lodged formal protests over Biden’s approach via the state department’s so-called dissent channel this month. Hundreds of other government employees, including political appointees, signed other public and private letters calling on Biden to seek a ceasefire and allow more aid into Gaza.
Underscoring the polarising nature of the US response to the conflict, New York police last week arrested Stuart Seldowitz, a former state department official who served in the White House during the Obama administration, over several offences, including an alleged hate crime after he harassed a halal food vendor. Universities are also struggling to deal with escalating tensions on campuses between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups.
Biden has pursued a policy of pressing for limited ceasefires — now in their fifth day — under which Israel has agreed to brief pauses in its military campaign in exchange for the release of hostages. Hamas has released 74 hostages, mostly Israeli women and children, as well as nationals from Thailand, the Philippines and other countries.
The success of this effort has granted Biden some respite from pressure inside his administration. But US officials have made clear that they expect Israel will begin its military campaign again in the coming weeks once efforts to free hostages are exhausted, raising the possibility of further discontent from staff.