When Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee in May 2017, he was asked whether he had intelligence indicating that anyone in the Trump campaign was “colluding with Moscow.” Instead of answering the question directly, Brennan said he knew from past experience that “the Russians try to suborn individuals, and they [to] try get them to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.” And he recalled that he had left the government with “unresolved questions” about whether the Russians had been successful in doing so in regard to unidentified individuals in the case of the 2016 elections.
Brennan’s notion of “unwitting collaboration” with Russian subversion is illogical. Although a political actor might accidentally reveal information to a foreign government that is valuable, real “collaboration” must be mutually agreeable. A policy position or action that may benefit a foreign government, but is also in the interest of one’s own government, does not constitute “unwitting collaboration.”
The real purpose of that concept is to confer on national security officials and their media allies the power to cast suspicion on individuals on the basis of undesirable policy views of Russia rather than on any evidence of actual collaboration with the Russian government.
The “witting or unwitting” ploy has its origins in the unsavory history of extreme right-wing anti-communism during the Cold War. For example, when the House Un-American Activities Committee was at its height in 1956, Chairman Francis E. Walter declared that “people who are not actually Communist Party members are witting or unwitting servants of the Communist cause.”
The same logic – without explicit reference to the phrase — has been used to impugn the independence and loyalty of people who have contacts with Russia.
It has also been used to portray some independent media as part of a supposedly all-powerful Russian media system.
The revelation that it was turned against a sitting president, however briefly, is a warning signal that national security bureaucrats and their media allies are now moving more aggressively to delegitimize any opposition to the new Cold War. [Source]