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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

Axios Investigates

Exclusive: Suspected Chinese spy targeted California politicians

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A suspected Chinese intelligence operative developed extensive ties with local and national politicians, including a U.S. congressman, in what U.S. officials believe was a political intelligence operation run by China’s main civilian spy agency between 2011 and 2015, Axios found in a yearlong investigation.

Why it matters: The alleged operation offers a rare window into how Beijing has tried to gain access to and influence U.S. political circles.

Updated 9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Afghanistan, cyber defense on the agenda for Biden in Brussels

Joe Biden arrives at Melsbroek Military Airport in Brussels on June 13. Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden touched down in Brussels on Sunday evening ahead of two days of talks with NATO and European Union leaders as part of his first foreign trip as president.

Driving the news: Biden was greeted on the tarmac by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and a slate of other officials, including Douglas Jones and Mark Libby, the U.S. Permanent Representatives to NATO and the EU respectively.

Maersk CEO: Global businesses should be wary of politics

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."