An odd appearance on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show foreshadowed the current clash between a whistleblower and the White House. It suggests the so-called “deep state” much abused by President Trump is striking back.

A few weeks ago, the Central Intelligence Agency permitted a retired high official to explain on national television why and how Russian President Putin orders assassinations on foreign soil of informants, agents and spies. CIA people are under lifetime non-disclosure contracts that require Agency approval before ex-employees can make any public statements, even on well-known public-source news items.

But on that Rachel Maddow show one of them happily volunteered information that — I would think — should be classified. Likely explanation: The Agency wanted him to reveal it.

Whyever would they do that? The Agency — probably the whole intelligence community — is committed to defending the country against Russian electoral interference, as the Constitution requires. To do this, they must overcome or work around President Trump’s denial of Putin’s misdeeds. They also face staff demoralization under Trump’s outbursts. Many foreign-affairs officials have left. The deep state is fighting for its corporate integrity.

Joseph Augustyn, a 28-year CIA veteran, explained to Rachel Maddow how his job from 1991 to 2001 was to resettle secret informants into witness-protection-type hiding. This came just after Oleg Smolenkov attracted media attention. Smolenkov was our man in the Kremlin who witnessed Putin’s orders for “active measures” in 2016 and became a main support for the intel community’s certainty about Russian penetration.

The Agency “exfiltrated” Smolenkov in 2017 as he vacationed with his family in Montenegro and earlier this year settled him — under his real name, probably at his request — in a lovely suburban Virginia home with his wife and three kids. (Six bedrooms, three acres. Gosh, can I defect?)

NBC’s Ken Dilanian got his address and rang the doorbell. No one answered, and in five minutes two federal types roared up and demanded to know what Dilanian was doing. That’s flimsy security for a top ex-spy. It turned out the family had departed in haste the previous morning.

It is widely believed that the CIA was goaded into action when President Trump told visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in May 2017 that FBI Director Comey was fired and no longer a problem. In so doing, Trump casually blabbed clandestine information, possibly from Smolenkov, who, now in imminent danger of getting caught, accepted the Agency’s standing offer to flee to the U.S.

The Kremlin has long sought revenge on Russian agents who inform for foreign powers. Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian secret policeman who defected to Britain, died hideously in London in 2006 from radioactive poison in his tea. In 2018, former Russian intel official Sergei Skripal and his daughter were almost killed by a nerve agent smeared on his front doorknob in Salisbury, England. In late August, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Chechen who fought the Russians, was shot dead in a Berlin park. His brazen Russian assassin was quickly caught holding a genuine Russian passport and plenty of cash.

Putin is telling turncoats: Any time, any place, we can get you. Recall how Stalin had Trotsky killed in Mexico in 1940. Putin was a KGB lieutenant colonel who proudly intones the old saying, “There is no such thing as a former Chekist.”

The substance of Augustyn’s revelations are minor, but they represent the growing hostile interface between classified and public knowledge that perturbs everything from whistleblowers to the Mueller Report to congressional subpoenas. When and by whom should classified materials be made public? By leak, television, court cases or congressional committees? Or never. Classification is now the chief battleground between Trump’s supporters and critics and could determine Trump’s tenure in office.

The intelligence community and Trump have been at odds from the beginning. Multiple-source intel confirms Russian interference in 2016, but Trump and leading Republicans must angrily denounce that finding because it delegitimizes Trump’s election. Frightened and defensive, Trump includes the intel community in an alleged “deep state,” a term that was first used for Turkish military and security bureaucrats who have pulled several coups. Trumpers are convinced there’s a U.S. equivalent that’s out to get Trump. So he’s out to get them, no matter what the damage to our institutions.

The tension lends some credence to the deep-state theory. Sometimes intelligence (and weather) officials contradict an ill-informed president in order to protect the country. Good. I applaud them. I just wish they would also caution against unwinnable endless wars.

The recent revelations almost dare the administration to bring federal charges. They won’t, because that would make public a lot of material the White House wants hidden, especially as elections near. Smolenkov could even testify in court — or before Congress — about Putin’s supervision of Russian manipulations.

A revival of “The Americans” would have plenty of new material. How about Moscow sends back its top spies to murder a defector?