Ezra Cohen-Watnick

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Ezra Cohen-Watnick
Ezra Asa Cohen-Watnick

(1986-05-18) May 18, 1986 (age 33)[1]
EducationUniversity of Pennsylvania (BA)
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Rebecca Miller

Ezra Asa Cohen-Watnick (born May 18, 1986) is the national security adviser to United States Attorney General and a former Senior Director for Intelligence Programs for the United States National Security Council (NSC).

Early life and career[edit]

Cohen-Watnick gained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008 and then reportedly worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence after graduation.[2][3] Before joining the White House, Cohen-Watnick worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), beginning in 2010, where he served in Miami, Haiti, Virginia and Afghanistan.[4] Cohen-Watnick was accepted into the training program for the Defense Clandestine Service.

Cohen-Watnick underwent training at Camp Peary (commonly known as "The Farm"), where he was trained by the Central Intelligence Agency.[4] He was assigned to Afghanistan, with a GS-13 rank.[4][5] He was temporarily assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency Headquarters in 2014.[4] Cohen-Watnick left the DIA for the NSC on 20 January 2017.[4]

Tenure on the National Security Council[edit]

Cohen-Watnick was brought into the United States National Security Council by Michael T. Flynn, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and President Donald Trump's first National Security Advisor. He was named the NSC's Senior Director for Intelligence Programs.[6] This directorship was intermittently held by detailed CIA officers. Like Cohen-Watnick, the immediate preceding Senior Director from the Obama Administration was a political appointee.[7][8] Some viewed Cohen-Watnick's appointment as a sign of Trump's mistrust of the CIA.[9] Following Flynn's resignation in February 2017, the new National Security Advisor, H. R. McMaster, attempted to remove Cohen-Watnick, but he was overruled by Trump.[4] McMaster attempted to replace Cohen-Watnick with CIA official Linda Weissgold, the author of the infamous Benghazi talking points and member of the "Benghazi dream team", a group of intelligence community analysts assembled to counter the Congressional investigation into the Benghazi Affair.[10]

It is alleged that Cohen-Watnick inadvertently identified reports suggesting that members of Trump's campaign team had been subjected to incidental surveillance by the United States intelligence community, as part of an unrelated review of privacy procedures.[11][12] This information was passed on to Chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Devin Nunes by Assistant White House Counsel Michael Ellis.[13][11] In April 2017 the Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying that although Cohen-Watnick had access to those kinds of intelligence materials, he did not play a role in helping Nunes gain access to the documents.[13] According to a U.S. official, Cohen-Watnick was not involved in showing the material to Nunes, did not clear Nunes onto the White House grounds, did not review the material with Nunes, and was not even aware that the material was going to be shared with Chairman Nunes.[14][11]

It has been reported that Cohen-Watnick has advocated using the American intelligence community to overthrow the current Iranian government.[15][4]

The White House announced Cohen-Watnick's dismissal on August 2, 2017, following policy disagreements with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster over Afghanistan, Iran, and Intelligence Oversight.[16][17][18] According to The Washington Post, Cohen-Watnick resigned following a power shift under McMaster.[19] Upon Cohen-Watnick's departure, the White House commented that "General McMaster appreciates the good work accomplished in the NSC's Intelligence directorate under Ezra Cohen's leadership... General McMaster is confident that Ezra will make many further significant contributions to national security in another position in the administration."[20]

In late September 2017, Cohen-Watnick was reportedly succeeded by Michael Barry.[21]

Support for Counterintelligence Initiatives[edit]

In May 2017, Cohen-Watnick and the FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence reportedly advocated for strong law enforcement actions against Chinese government officials conducting operations targeting Chinese dissidents and asylum seekers inside the United States, against objections from Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton. Cohen-Watnick reportedly charged Thornton with "improperly hindering law-enforcement efforts to address China’s repeated violations of U.S. sovereignty and law."[22]

On December 25, 2017, The Washington Post reported that in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Brett Holmgren, Cohen-Watnick's predecessor in the Obama White House, briefed Cohen-Watnick on the actions the Obama Administration had taken to counter Russian active measures. Once in the job, Cohen-Watnick sent out memos identifying counterintelligence threats, including Russia’s, as his top priority, officials said. He convened regular meetings in the White House Situation Room at which he pressed counterintelligence officials in other government agencies, including the CIA, to finalize plans for Russia, including those left behind by the Obama team, according to officials in attendance. By spring, national security adviser H. R. McMaster, senior White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill and Cohen-Watnick began advocating measures to counter Russian disinformation using covert influence and cyber-operations, according to officials.[23]

Justice Department[edit]

In April 2018, he rejoined the Trump administration in the Department of Justice, advising Attorney General Sessions on counterterrorism and counterintelligence.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Cohen-Watnick is a member of the Union League of Philadelphia, a Republican-leaning Patriotic Society.[25] He married Rebecca Miller in November 2016.[5][26][27] His wife worked for Ketchum Inc., where as an intern she did public relations work for the Russian government.[5][28]


  1. ^ "Ezra Asa Cohen- Watnick". VoterRecords.com. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  2. ^ "2008 Commencement Program" (PDF). University of Pennsylvania University Archives. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 26, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2017. Bachelor of Arts [...] Ezra A. Cohen-Watnick
  3. ^ "Office of Naval Intelligence | Penn in Washington". University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences. The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on April 6, 2017. Retrieved April 6, 2017. Office of Naval Intelligence: S'08 Burr, Kyle; Fleming; Kate; Mendel, Jordan; Stewart, Jessica; Tavana, Daniel; S'07 Cohen, Ezra; Hsu, Kimberly
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Gray, Rosie (July 23, 2017). "The Man McMaster Couldn't Fire". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on July 24, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Stein, Jeff (April 13, 2017). "Cohen-Watnick: Inside the Rise of Trump's Invisible Man in the White House". Newsweek. Archived from the original on April 21, 2017.
  6. ^ Warren, Michael. "McMaster Interviewed CIA Operative to Replace Trump NSC Official". The Weekly Standard. The current NSC official is Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 30-year-old former intelligence operations officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency who was brought into the Trump White House by the former DIA director, Mike Flynn. Flynn resigned as national security advisor last month. Like Flynn, Cohen-Watnick has been critical of the CIA's perceived politicization during the Obama administration.
  7. ^ "Brett Holmgren". trumanproject.org. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  8. ^ "Donilon out, Rice in; POGO releases draft IG report on Panetta, ZD30; Well, that went well: chiefs exasperate senators during sexual assault hearing; Brett Holmgren is a TSA for Ash; PowerPoints gone wild; And a bit more". Foreign Policy . Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  9. ^ Moran, Christopher R.; Aldrich, Richard J. (April 24, 2017). "Trump and the CIA". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved April 24, 2017.(subscription required)
  10. ^ "McMaster Interviewed CIA Operative to Replace Trump NSC Official". The Weekly Standard. 2017-03-16. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  11. ^ a b c Miller, Greg; DeYoung, Karen (March 30, 2017). "Three White House officials tied to files shared with House intelligence chairman". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017.
  12. ^ "Obama aide denies using intel to spy on Trump advisers". AP News. Associated Press. April 4, 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Trump removes Bannon from National Security Council". AP News. Associated Press. April 5, 2017. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  14. ^ "2 White House officials helped give secret intelligence reports to committee chairman". The New York Times. March 30, 2017 – via Alaska Dispatch. Several current U.S. officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel's Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Matthew; Goldman, Adam (June 2, 2017). "C.I.A. Names New Iran Chief in a Sign of Trump's Hard Line". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 2, 2017. And Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the council’s senior director for intelligence — the main White House liaison to intelligence agencies — has told other administration officials that he wants to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government, according to multiple defense and intelligence officials.
  16. ^ Groll, Elias; McLaughlin, Jenna (August 2, 2017). "Top Intelligence Official on National Security Council Is Out". Foreign Policy.
  17. ^ "H.R. McMaster Cleans House at the National Security Council". The Atlantic. 2 August 2017.
  18. ^ "Flynn holdover Cohen-Watnick removed from Nat'l Security Council". United Press International. 3 August 2017.
  19. ^ Bump, Philip (2018-02-08). "Analysis | Thirty-seven administration officials who've resigned or been fired under Trump". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-13.
  20. ^ "Trump loyalist Ezra Cohen-Watnick fired from NSC, sources say". Conservative Review. 2 August 2017.
  21. ^ "CIA Officer Joins NSC Staff As Agency Vows To Be More "Vicious"". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  22. ^ O’Keeffe, Kate; Viswanatha, Aruna; Podkul, Cezary (2017-10-23). "China's Pursuit of Fugitive Businessman Guo Wengui Kicks Off Manhattan Caper Worthy of Spy Thriller". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  23. ^ Entous, Adam; Nakashima, Ellen; Jaffe, Greg (2017-12-25). "Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  24. ^ Goldman, Adam (2018-04-11). "Trump National Security Aide Ousted From White House Re-emerges at Justice Dept". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  25. ^ "Banner" (PDF). Union League of Philadelphia. June 2012. p. 15. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 30, 2017. Ezra A. Cohen-Watnick
  26. ^ "Report: Trump overrules national security adviser in order to keep NSC aide Cohen-Watnick". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. March 15, 2017. Archived from the original on March 30, 2017. Retrieved March 30, 2017. Cohen-Watnick celebrated his engagement to Rebecca Miller in November at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington, D.C., according to a synagogue newsletter.
  27. ^ Guttman, Nathan (March 30, 2017). "Meet Ezra Cohen-Watnick, The Secret Source At The Center Of Trump Russia Probe". The Forward. Archived from the original on March 30, 2017. Cohen-Watnick grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital and attended the nearby Conservative synagogue Ohr Kodesh. Last November he celebrated his engagement to Rebecca Miller at the synagogue.
  28. ^ "VICKI FRASER INTERVIEWED BY BLANCHE TOUHILL" (PDF). State Historical Society of Missouri-St. Louis. 6 August 2014. p. 23. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 5, 2017. Retrieved April 5, 2017. Becky Miller, who works for Ketchum, a PR and marketing firm in Washington, D.C. and her big challenges right now are Ketchum is responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better which is particularly difficult when they’re invading other countries and when Putin is somewhat out of control.