Sunday, January 08, 2017

Trump and the Intelligence Community

On the Russian hacking issue and other things closely associated with it at the moment, I've maintained that everyone should try to reminder that it's important to walk and talk at the same time. We can be concerned about Russian interference in the election and also be alert to how outrage over that issue can be instrumentalized for nefarious purposes by the bad operators. We can insist on the need for skeptical evaluation and close reading of government and media claims about the Russian hacks and also recognize that some of the reactions from Trump and his Republican Party are also concerning.

On that latter consideration, Josh Marshall steps back to look at how Trump and his team seem to be viewing the US Intelligence Community more generally (Trump Prepping Ominous Moves to Gut US Intel Capacity TPM 01/04/2017):

There appear to be three separate forces in play here - which is in the ascendent is not clear.

First, Trump wants payback against an agency that he believes is his enemy. Period. He is undoubtedly encouraged in this by his closest advisors. Which brings us to number two ...

Second, Trump's chief foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn wants payback against the people who ended his career. Flynn was a career intelligence officer and one with a very strong reputation - working within specific and defined parameters. People who had worked with him earlier in his career said they couldn't recognize the person he became when he was placed in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was a disastrous manager, was taken in by numerous conspiracy theories and eventually had to be fired. Other generals got crosswise with the civilian appointees in the Obama administration. But they left with their reputations intact. Flynn was different. Flynn's personal beef is clearly the source of his animus against the DNI and the CIA.

Flynn is simply nuts and he wants to get even. This suggests Trump is going let him do just that.

Third, Trump and Flynn are not the first to push the 'CIA is missing the real story' line about the CIA. In fact, this is a debate which goes back some forty years. Trump has surrounded himself with a number of people who are either the intellectual descendants of the people who made this argument in the past or the people themselves.
And he elaborates on the history of the neocon "Team B" approach that eventually gave us the Iraq War.

Dawn Stover also notes in In denial: Trump on both climate and intelligence Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 12/16/2016 that Trump's expressed skepticism on intelligence claims about Russian hacking may be something other than a sign of careful reflection and skeptical thought:

When a president doesn’t trust the intelligence community, and relies instead on his own judgment and that of confidants who lack intelligence expertise—or are compromised by lucrative, personal ties to the Kremlin—he can cause huge problems for both foreign relations and the American people.

The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, for example, might have been avoided if President George W. Bush had paid more attention to an August 2001 presidential briefing warning that Al Qaeda was preparing to strike the United States. Afterward, Bush chose to believe that Saddam Hussein—rather than Osama bin Laden—was behind the attacks, and that the CIA had been fooled, despite protestations from intelligence officials.

In the case of the Russian election hacking, Americans may never know whether it affected the outcome of the election. But we do know that Putin has powerful friends within Trump’s inner circle, and that Trump’s businesses have significant financial connections to Russia. If a President Trump remains unwilling to believe intelligence about Russia, or disinterested in hearing it, that creates a huge blind spot surrounding one of America’s most powerful adversaries. And if one of the unnamed officials quoted in the NBC News report is correct, Putin’s goals were not only to carry out a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton, but also to convince America’s allies that they can no longer depend on the United States “to be a credible global leader.”

Intelligence denial and climate denial are dangerous for the United States’ international standing and ultimately for the security of the whole planet. If Trump doesn’t believe a solid scientific consensus, or a firm assessment by the US intelligence community, what other information will he choose to disbelieve in the future?

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