WASHINGTON—President Trump questioned the competence of U.S. intelligence agencies whose assessments of Iran, North Korea and other threats differ from his own, sparking warnings from national security experts and lawmakers that such public comments expose the U.S. to greater risks.
In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump suggested that Iran is close to developing nuclear weapons, and that intelligence agencies that don’t recognize the threat are misinformed. “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Mr. Trump said in one morning tweet. In another, he wrote, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s disparagement of the intelligence agencies risks demoralizing the spy agencies’ work forces, tarnishes their credibility with allied security services, and rattles foreigners who spy for the U.S.
“This is a big deal,” said Mr. Morell, who served both Republican and Democratic presidents and now hosts the “Intelligence Matters” podcast.
“Presidents have the right to disagree with the analysis that’s put in front of them. Presidents have the right to take their policies in a different direction than suggested by the intelligence they receive. Never should a president critique his intelligence community publicly. It’s dangerous.”
.. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, testified Tuesday that officials didn’t believe Iran was developing a nuclear weapon. In a report prepared for the committee and released Tuesday, the U.S. intelligence community collectively assessed that Iran continues to implement the 2015 nuclear deal limiting its capability to enrich uranium and facilitating international monitoring of its nuclear activities... Mr. Trump is hoping his personal chemistry with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will help smooth the path toward a nuclear deal. At a rally in West Virginia last year, he noted that he has gotten “beautiful letters” from Mr. Kim and the two “fell in love.” Mr. Trump is planning a summit meeting with Mr. Kim next month, hoping to lock down commitments to roll back the country’s nuclear program... John Brennan, a veteran CIA officer, the agency’s director under President Obama, and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump, wrote in a tweet of his own: “All Americans, especially members of Congress, need to understand the danger you pose to our national security.”Mr. Trump has long said he is wary of the conclusions coming from the U.S. network of spies and intelligence officials whose job is to keep him informed about foreign threats.
He has used the Iraq war to justify his skepticism, noting faulty intelligence estimates that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. As president-elect, his transition team said of U.S. intelligence agencies, “These are the same people who said Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.”
That statement came in response to reports that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential raceto aid Mr. Trump.
A surge of public activism by former CIA personnel is one of the most unexpected developments of the Trump era
Two former CIA officers — both Democrats, both women, both liberal — were elected to Congress on November 6. Abigail Spanberger, former operations officer, was elected in Virginia’s 7th District. Elissa Slotkin, former analyst, won in Michigan’s 8th District. Both Spanberger and Slotkin incorporated their intelligence experience into their center-left platforms. Their victories tripled the number of CIA “formers” in Congress.
At the halfway point in Trump’s first term, these formers see themselves as a bulwark of an endangered democracy. The president and his supporters see a cabal of “deep state” radicals out to overturn the will of the people. With the appointment of Matthew Whitaker, an unqualified political operative, as Attorney General, Brennan said a “constitutional crisis” is fast approaching. The clash between a willfully ignorant commander in chief and a politicized intelligence community seems sure to deepen.
..I think the blatant disregard for the threat of foreign influence in our election and the demonization of the Intelligence Community was a turning point for a lot of us,” former branch chief Cindy Otis told me in an email. “. . . Critics can call me ‘The Deep State,’ but I joined the CIA under George W. Bush and the vast majority of people at CIA lean conservative on foreign policy/natsec [national security] issues.”
.. in the 1980s, former director Bush and a host of senior agency operatives joined the Iran-Contra conspiracy. They sought to subvert the Democratic majority in Congress that had banned covert intervention in Central America. The agency’s rank and file did not object. Indeed, many applauded when President Bush pardoned four CIA officials who had been indicted in the scandal.
..After the 9/11 attacks, the consensus in Langley that torture was a permissible, effective and necessary counterterrorism technique no doubt struck many intelligence officers as apolitical common sense. But, of course, adopting “extreme interrogation tactics” was a deeply political decision that President Bush embraced, and President Obama repudiated. The agency deferred to both commanders in chief... The problem with Trump in the eyes of these CIA formers is almost pre-political. The president’s policy decisions matter less than his contempt for intelligence and the system that collects it... When we see things that are blatantly wrong, and the president is responsible, it is fair to speak out,” Bakos said in an interview. “If you’re silent, you’re part of the problem.”
.. Former personnel know better than anyone that the CIA has a license to kill. The agency can spy, capture, bomb and assassinate. It can overthrow governments, foster (or smash) political movements, even re-organize entire societies, according to the inclinations of the president and his advisers.CIA operatives could trust both neoconservative George W. Bush and internationalist Barack Obama with that arsenal because they believed, whatever their politics, both presidents were rational actors. With Trump, they can have no such confidence.
Trump’s contempt for the intelligence profession, weaponized in his “deep state” conspiracy theories, has agency personnel feeling professionally vulnerable, perhaps for the first time. An irrational chief executive has shattered their apolitical pretensions and forced them to re-examine what their core beliefs require.
.. Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to Hayden, told me, “Until now I’ve been mostly a Republican voter at the national level because Republicans shared my views on national security. For a lot of people inside the national security community, that is not necessarily the case anymore. The Republican Party under Trump has abandoned people like us.”
.. When Pfeiffer told me, “Who knows? I might have to vote for Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders in 2020,” he sounded amazed by the possibility but not averse to it. Two years of Trump can do that to a former spy.
The point is not that the CIA is getting more liberal, says John Prados, author of “The Ghosts of Langley,” a history of the agency. Rather, the election results show that the voting bloc that supports the president now skews even more to the hard right. “The migration of [the] political spectrum to the right makes the agency look more liberal than it is,” he said in an interview.
.. “I find it sad — and maybe a few other adjectives — that Brennan now gets a pass for some of [the] things he did as director, just because he’s combatting Trump,” Prados said.
.. “If Trump is going to carry out a secret war against Iran as he seems to want to do, who is our ally?” Prados asked. “Mossad [the Israeli intelligence service]? Who can work with Mossad? The CIA. If that is Trump’s Middle East agenda, the interests of current CIA people and the formers may diverge.”
.. “Trump is not only relying on lies and falsehoods in his public statements, but I have to believe he is pushing back on the realities that are brought to him. Imagine Gina Haspel goes to the White House with a briefer to talk about the latest intel on — fill in the blank:
- North Korea’s missile program.
- What China is doing to supplant America in Asia.
- Where Europe wants to go with NATO.
Does the president listen or care? Or even understand? We’re not in crisis on any one issue, but can we really say the government is functioning?”
.. Harrington expects the mistrust between the president and the intelligence community to grow in the next two years.
“No director of any federal agency can turn away the inquiries of the Democratic House,” Harrington said. “CIA people have to deal head on with the consequences of a president who is fundamentally not dealing with reality.”
If there’s one thing to be learned from talking to former CIA personnel, it’s the sense that the CIA system — powerful, stealthy, and dangerous — is blinking red about the latest news of an authoritarian leader in an unstable nation.
As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.
.. On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.
.. the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.
.. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.
.. The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
.. Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.
.. The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.
.. The list notably included prominent Obama administration officials, such as James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence (“very pleased”), and Michael J. Morell, who twice served as the C.I.A.’s acting director (“I applaud the appointment”).
.. Mr. Pompeo’s decision to elevate Ms. Haspel is also likely to be seen by the C.I.A.’s rank-and-file as a vote of confidence in their work from their new director, despite Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the intelligence community throughout his campaign and in the months between his election and inauguration.
.. The open disdain with which Mr. Trump mocked the C.I.A., especially after intelligence agencies said they believed that Russia had tried to swing the election in his favor, had raised concerns at the agency of a repeat of the unhappy tenure of a former director, Porter J. Goss.
Michael Morell, fmr. deputy director of the CIA, discusses President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
- The climate will be worse than it would have been
- Preservation of the nation
- nuclear war with Russia
- naturally occurring biological agent
- climate change is that serious over the long term
- Specific national security implications
- water shortages: conflicts over water.
- instability caused by growing deserts
- food scarcity
- US leadership: worse than not enforcing red line in Syria
- This undermine allies’s faith in US: Angela Merkel sees greater prospects with China than US
- Thought US did well to reassure Middle East Allies in Middle East (vis-a-vis Iran)
- Failure to reassure Europe over Article 5. They feel like America doesn’t have their back
- George Shultz: the US helped to forge
- Say what you mean: have clearly articulated policty
- Do what you say: draw red line, if you forge treaty, don’t abandon it
- I’ve been an analyst of other countries. Now I’m an analyst of my own country:
- Nationalists: Bannon, etc: very narrowly focused
- Globalists: McMaster, Mattis, Pompeo, Tillperson, Dan Coats, Gary Cohn: traditional Republican foreign policy
- Jared Kushner: not ideological, not long-term interests of US, looking out for Reputation of Family: Barak Obama of Administration
- President Trump: view was framed on campaign trail, what resonated with people: if there is a threat to US, we will crush it. Otherwise we will withdraw.
Is it wise to make Iran an enemy? Yes, Iran is a threat to strategic interests
- They conduct terror through Kuds force conducts terrorism against Jews, and neighbors
- Support terror
- Support Shia insurgent groups to overthrow Sunni regimes
- It is policy to destroy Israel
- It is policy to dominate region
- We need to push back agains bad behavior, but give them an out if they want to change.
- We need to reassure the allies
- We need to talk to our allies about democracy privately
- John Kerry says if we do more sanctions, they walk
- then that is them walking away from the table
- we should leave the door open to them
- they have to pay a price for their bad behavior, and I think that happens through sanctions
What is the significance of the James Comey firing and testimony
- Did any Trump associates conspire with Russians, help choose material, timing for maximal impacy
- Did Russian organized crime help launder money. Donald Jr. said that money was flowing in from Russia. Did they do due diligence to know where the money was coming from?
- Is there anyone in the Trump administration, particularly with classified info, with inappropriate relationship with Russian Intelligence
- Did the president obstruct justice by
- asking for loyalty
- asking to let Flynn issue go
- firing Comey
- Jared Kushner meeting with ambassador, asking for backchannel
- facts in public domain may not be accurate
- Russians talking to each other about meeting
- Officials leaking to reporters
- Reporters reporting on this: this is not a great chain of evidence
- This isn’t just about Kushner, Michael Flynn was there and would have known better than to ask for secure communications
- Its less the desire to set up a channel, supposedly to talk to Russian military about Syria. Why the secrecy? Maybe they were worried about leaks.
- Was this Flynn and Kushner’s acting on their own, or did Trump, Pence have permission?
- I’m more interested in what they were doing before the election than after.
- The facts as we know them do not indicate that there was something criminal.
- Hillary asked about whether anyone in the Trump camp helped weaponize stolen data and what fake news to promote.
Middle East: Syria: we’re entering a new phase
All of our focus is on the defeat of ISIS, but there is a growing risk of conflict between: US-Iran and US-Russia
- Assad-Opposition: as they are winning, they are getting closer to US allies
- US & Allies – ISIS:
- US: struck Syrian government forces
- Russia struck US allies getting closer to their base