Trump vs US intelligence agencies?

How PEOTUS Donald Trump openly challenging, mocking own intelligence agencies is probably unprecedented and we may also expect some changes in the intelligence structure. How do you read this, what kind of effect this my have on US intelligence services and their work? Read few comments.

Wayne White, Scholar, Middle East InstitutePolicy Expert, Washington’s Middle East Policy Council

As a former intelligence officer for 26 years in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence & Research, Trump’s overall attitude toward the US Intelligence Community (IC) is foolish, insulting and dangerous.  There will be veteran intelligence personnel who will take early retirement or leave for jobs in the private sector in order to avoid serving under his administration.  His comment that he knows things no-one else knows about cyber security is absurd, given the vast expertise in the US government inside and outside the IC.

Reorganizations of the IC are frequent; I experienced many of them.  In fact, I believe the current Director of National Intelligence structure instituted after 9/11 inserted yet another large layer of bureaucracy between the IC’s experts and those who rely on its intelligence.  Instead of being lean, it ballooned into a huge operation, much of it redundant.  So, the IC certainly can be further reformed.

The suggestion of sending large numbers of additional CIA personnel abroad will be welcomed at Langley.  CIA constantly asks for more positions abroad.  However, in an administration seeking to reduce costs, this would have the opposite effect.  Each officer sent abroad means expensive travel costs (most go with their families), big shipping costs for personal effects, the securing of residences/apartments, and a need for more secure office space in embassy compounds, involving construction.  I doubt there will be a dramatic increase in those sent abroad.

However, Trump appears to be an especially thin-skinned and vindictive character, which bodes ill for an IC he views as hurting him for telling the truth about the aggressive Russian hacking that helped his campaign and casts public doubts about his legitimacy.  More likely from such a bullying, unfriendly personality would be punitive measures, such as cutbacks in CIA and other IC personnel.  Even more dangerously, he could move to insert political appointees (not intelligence experts) lower down in the IC bureaucracy who would have the effect of politicizing and degrading intelligence.

Republicans like Senators Graham and McCain should be wary of announced efforts by Senate Majority Leader Mitchell to ram Trump’s cabinet appointees through hasty confirmation hearings in short order between now and January 20 before getting what they want from Trump in terms of greater vigilance toward and more vigorous retaliation against Moscow.  For example, it would be prudent to withhold confirmation of Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson until they secure Trump’s commitment to a tougher policy on Russia.

Jeffrey Taliaferro, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Tufts University

The public statements over the past several days by President-elect Donald Trump and his surrogates openly mocking the US Intelligence Community, in general, and the CIA and the FBI, in particular, are unprecedented. Although previous presidents have disagreed with intelligence assessments or distrusted the CIA (e.g., Richard Nixon), I know of no other president or president-elect who has publicly castigated the agency and professional intelligence analysts in way that Trump has. This does not bode well for the relations between the incoming Trump administration and the CIA.

I suspect that Trump and his surrogates view any intelligence assessment about the Russian hacking and dissemination of email from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and that Clinton Campaign designed to harm the Democrats as somehow “de-legitimating” Trump’s election to the presidency. Hence, they want to cast dispersions on the Intelligence Community. There is a tremendous irony here: Trump spent eight years casting doubt on the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s election by demanding the president produce his birth certificate to show he had actually be born in the United States.

The discussion about reorganizing the top management of the Intelligence Community is not unprecedented or unusual. The current structure only dates to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. There have been previous calls to trim the number of personnel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

David BarrettProfessor, Department of Political Science, Villanova University

It is shocking and demoralizing to most who work at the various intelligence agencies, you can be sure. No president or president-elect has every disparaged the intel agencies the way that Trump has.

I don’t doubt that most who work at the agencies are professionals, though, and will continue to do their work appropriately.

Significant changes of the intelligence establishment’s “structure” would require congressional approval; it is unclear if Congress would go along with Trump. It depends on what he would want to change. (As president, by way of executive orders, he can bring about certain limited changes, however, as to how things are structured.)

In general, it is absolutely accurate to say that the intelligence agencies, especially CIA and the office of the DNI, faced unprecedented hostility from the incoming president. Meanwhile, Trump seems to have very little understanding of the intelligence business.

Aki Peritz, Former CIA Analyst, Senior Fellow, Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, George Washington University

It is indeed troubling for the people in the US intelligence community to deal with an uncertain future and an uncertain leadership. I do not believe we have ever had an incoming president who has been so dismissive of his own intelligence services so publicly. I’m not sure what the intelligence community can do to fundamentally change the mind of a policymaker who is firm in his understanding of a given situation. If CIA says “X”, and the President thinks “Y”, repeating X over and over again will only annoy the First Customer.

That said, the people and the organizations will be upset, but unless they are told to do something truly illegal or immoral — commit war crimes, for example — they will do their best to fulfill the needs of the incoming Administration. But they won’t be happy.


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