On Sunday, former US ambassador to the UN and recent Trump deputy secretary of state appointee, John Bolton, challenged the primary intelligence-gathering agency of the United States government, arguing that reports of Russian hacking during the presidential election may not be what they seem.

In an interview with Fox News’ Eric Shawn, the former ambassador used the phrase “false flag operation” in reference to the CIA’s purported assessment which concluded that Russia deliberately interfered with this year’s US election to help Donald Trump secure the White House.

Suggesting that the Obama administration’s lack of transparency makes it impossible to definitively conclude that the Russians were behind the hacking of US political parties, Bolton, who was reportedly appointed as Trump’s deputy secretary of state (the second highest position at the State Department), appeared to break away from his characteristically national security-first philosophy to assert a theory about foul play at the highest levels of government,

“It is not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC was not a false flag operation,” he told Fox News.

When asked to explain what he meant by the highly suggestive phrase “false flag,” Bolton gave a hazy answer.

“We just don’t know,” stated Bolton, refusing to say whether the US government was purposely misleading the public, or worse, had a hand in the “false flag operation.”

“But I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree,” said Bolton, adding:

If you think the Russians did this, then why did they leave fingerprints…

We would want to know who else might want to influence the election and why they would leave fingerprints that point to the Russians. That’s why I say until we know more about how the intelligence community came to this conclusion we don’t know whether it is Russian inspired or a false flag

Here's the transcript, detailing the relevant part of Bolton's interview with Eric Shawn:

Bolton’s comments reflected echo the skeptical attitude of the Trump team in the wake of The Washington Post’s report on the CIA’s unsettling findings about Russia’s interference during the presidential election. Trump, himself, called the CIA’s assessment “ridiculous” in a pre-taped interview that aired Sunday.

“I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it,” the president-elect told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “Every week it’s another excuse.” Trumped added that “nobody really knows” who was behind the hacking of emails belonging to top Clinton advisors and DNC officials.