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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Even before President Trump took office, an effort was underway to sniff out elements within the intelligence community perceived as disloyal, in yet another example of the deep tensions between the administration and its own intelligence agencies.

Driving the news: In 2017, former CIA officials close to the then-incoming Trump administration assembled a "purge list" of agency personnel they deemed ideologically unaligned with the administration or incompetent, two former agency officials told Axios.

Between the lines: "This was about cleaning house at CIA," said a former senior agency official familiar with the list. While some of the impetus for the list was "score settling," the person said, it was also "the deep state thing": ridding the CIA of "bad guys."

  • Deeply concerned, this official reported the activities of his former colleagues multiple times to his CIA superiors.
  • "This was not a passing thing," the person said. "They were serious about it."
  • At the time, “the Trump administration was paranoid,” recalls another former CIA official. “They thought everyone was going to work against them.”

Details: The list, which began being assembled during the presidential transition, was initially passed from Trump-aligned former agency officials to Steve Bannon, said the former senior CIA official.

  • Some of the personnel targeted for firing worked on Middle East or counterterrorism-oriented operations, said the former senior official. The targeted CIA officials are still working undercover, this person says.
  • The list's generators did possess high-level access within Langley: One such Trump-aligned former agency official was granted at least one in-person meeting with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, said the former senior CIA official.

Yes, but: In the end, the list’s authors failed to have the disfavored CIA personnel fired. "The irony is that they never did the purge," recalls the former senior official. "They just reorganized DNI. All the bluster has come to nothing."

Of note: At the time, word about the "purge list" was greeted within the agency more with incredulousness and bemusement than fear, said the former officials.

  • This was partly because of the Trump administration’s plans around the same time to have Stephen Feinberg, a private equity billionaire, undertake an outside review of the U.S. intelligence community.
  • That was considered a more significant and potentially far-reaching move, said the second former CIA official. (In 2018, Feinberg was named chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.)

The big picture: Even when unsuccessful, Trump administration efforts to purge people viewed as insufficiently loyal to the president can damage morale and send career officials with institutional expertise looking for an exit. That’s a particular concern in matters of national security.

Meanwhile: The Open Technology Fund, a federally funded nonprofit that supports tech tools for dissidents living under authoritarian regimes abroad, is fighting its own battle over an apparent attempt to either purge its existing leadership or neuter it in favor of a Trump-loyalist alternative organization.

  • OTF is now calling for an inspector general investigation into the agency that funds it.

Go deeper

How Trump chose disinformation over his own cyber chief

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump, in announcing the latest in a line of post-election firings, embraced unsubstantiated claims of election hacking over one of his own top cybersecurity officials.

Why it matters: This is only the latest example of an ongoing attempt to purge officials deemed insufficiently loyal to the president. But the potential decapitation of cyber leadership at the Department of Homeland Security could also create expertise gaps during the presidential transition period, making the country less secure.

Scoop: USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.