Who Are the Senior Officials at the Pentagon and the N.S.A?


WASHINGTON — A purge of the senior civilians at the Pentagon and the ascension of a similar hard-line policy official to a top job at the National Security Agency have prompted concerns that the Trump administration may be planning new punishments for Iran and releasing classified documents about President Trump’s interactions with Russia.

Here are the four new officials.

With fewer than 70 days left in the Trump administration, it is unclear what effect Mr. Tata will have on Pentagon policy, which often takes months to determine in the best of times. Mr. Tata’s acting capacity also places constraints on what matters he can authorize on his own and which he must kick up to his new boss, the acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller. —Eric Schmitt

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 34, was a little-known young officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency before he gained attention in early 2017 after taking a job in the Trump administration, where he served as the National Security Council’s director for intelligence programs under the president’s first, short-lived national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. In that post, he told other administration officials that he hoped to use covert action to help topple Iran’s clerical government.

After Mr. Flynn resigned under pressure, the new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, sought to push Mr. Cohen-Watnick out of the White House — but was thwarted by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Stephen K. Bannon, then Mr. Trump’s senior strategist.

General McMaster eventually prevailed, but the struggle helped make Mr. Cohen-Watnick a hero figure to anti-establishment Republicans and believers that a so-called deep state in United States intelligence agencies was out to topple Mr. Trump.

Before leaving the White House, Mr. Cohen-Watnick, at the instruction of two senior White House officials, compiled intelligence reports about the federal investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. Other officials then provided the material to Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Nunes cited those reports as evidence of improper behavior by Obama administration officials. A lawyer for Mr. Cohen-Watnick said his client did not provide the material to Mr. Nunes.

Mr. Cohen-Watnick next worked in the Washington office of the software giant Oracle, whose chief executive and other senior executives are supporters of Mr. Trump.

In April 2018, Mr. Cohen-Watnick was named national security adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. After Mr. Sessions resigned later that year under pressure from Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen-Watnick attended law school.

The House Intelligence Committee later released phone records that included a 25-minute call between Mr. Patel and Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had led a back-channel effort to pressure Ukraine’s government to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent at the time, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Mr. Patel said the call was personal and denied communicating with Mr. Trump about Ukraine or supplying him with materials on the subject.)

Mr. Patel left the White House in February to become a senior adviser to Richard Grenell, then the acting director of national intelligence. After Mr. Grenell’s departure this spring, Mr. Patel became a deputy assistant to Mr. Trump and his top White House counterterrorism official.

A lawyer from Garden City, N.J., Mr. Patel was a public defender in the Miami area before joining the Justice Department in 2014, where he worked on counterterrorism cases before going to work for Mr. Nunes in 2017.—Michael Crowley

Michael Ellis is acknowledged, by conservatives and moderates, to be a smart, young lawyer. Yet his quick rise from the House Intelligence Committee to the legal staff of the National Security Council and then to senior intelligence posts has puzzled many of the same people.

After serving as senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, Mr. Ellis was appointed this week to be general counsel of the National Security Agency, one of the most influential legal posts in the intelligence community. Mr. Ellis was chosen after the White House put pressure on the Pentagon. Because it is a Civil Service position, Mr. Ellis would continue in the job into the next administration.

Although the Biden White House could order his removal, he would be difficult to fire, and would have to be given another legal job in the Defense Department.


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