President Donald Trump speaks during a Made in America showcase event on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A new scandal is rocking official Washington. Apparently, President Trump often questions and disagrees with the assessments of the intelligence community. These are the headlines:
CNN: Former official says Trump often refused to believe his intelligence briefings
USA Today: Former DNI official: Trump had ‘no foundation or framework to understand limits of intelligence’ matters
Axios: Former intelligence official: Trump often didn’t believe our findings
The source on this is former deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon who Trump forced out of office shortly after Dan Coats got his walking papers.
Inside the stories, though, you find that the headline statement is ripped out of context from the underlying story in what can only be an attempt to bolster the narrative President Trump gets all of his information from Fox & Friends. This from the CNN piece:
Gordon, an intelligence veteran of more than 30 years, said Monday that Trump had two typical responses to briefings.“One, ‘I don’t think that’s true,'” Gordon told the Women’s Foreign Policy Group.“The one is ‘I’m not sure I believe that,'” Gordon continued, “and the other is the second order and third order effects. ‘Why is that true? Why are we there? Why is this what you believe? Why do we do that?’ Those sorts of things.”Speaking of Trump’s disbelief, Gordon said, “Remember, intelligence is fundamentally a craft of uncertainty and of possibility, so that doesn’t put you off. It’s trying to catch up to how you adjudicate the sources that led him to believe that and how you respond to it.”
Just a couple of thoughts at this point. First and foremost, given the CIA’s horrendous track record at forecasting events, I don’t care whether you are talking about the overthrow of the Shah of Iran or the collapse of the Warsaw Pact or the breakup of the Soviet Union or the rise of ISIS, the first question out of any president’s mouth should be “why is that true?” An “I don’t believe that” is certainly warranted. Secondly, as we saw from the Ukraine hearing, intelligence estimates are usually shaped to conform to the conventional wisdom of “the Interagency.” State and Defense and CIA have a certain view of how things should be and the best way forward and those institutional biases play a major role in determining what intelligence is used and how it is presented. The CIA also has a reputation for throwing presidents under the bus in order to save its own butt. For instance, the CIA leaked a deceptive narrative that it had warned George W. Bush of the possibility of the 9/11 attack knowing the President’s Daily Brief was classified and the odds of them being called on their bullsh** was minimal. The CIA provided the analysis that supported the invasion of Iraq and then fed the narrative that it was Bush who’d “cooked” the intelligence. It was the CIA who constantly leaked about the imminent failure of the US effort in Iraq only to be proven disastrously wrong by “The Surge.” So the fact that you’re dealing with duplicitous careerists has to be a consideration any time you are dealing with CIA analysts.
Gordon suggested that the President’s intelligence briefers not only faced a challenge because of Trump’s lack of familiarity with the world of intelligence, but also because he consumes information and hears opinions that aren’t as carefully vetted as an intelligence product.
“Because he is probably the first president that arrived with no framework and a world that has massively available information with infinite people offering opinion that oft-times sound the same, but in fact are grittier because they are — they don’t have to have the same standard,” Gordon said.
Since Trump “is much more economic in the way that he sees the word and the intelligence community traditional is much more political, military, purposely so,” Gordon said. “We were scrambling a bit to try and produce intelligence that was foundationally useful for someone who is interested in making trades and deals.”
I would argue that Trump’s view of the world is much more realistic. People and nations are driven by economic concerns. If you understand the economics, you can make much more sense of the political. This is not new information. The entire pseudo-science of economics is built upon the idea that people, individually and groups, pursue courses of action that are most advantageous to them…even when the long term effects may be terribly counterproductive. Trying to analyze political affairs without bothering to examine the economics is the kind of blindered view that causes you to see the USSR getting stronger over a 20-year horizon rather than collapsing.
Finally, there is another good reason for President Trump to look askance at the information he’s given. He has to be thinking “are the bastards setting me up?” Since before he was elected, the CIA took an active role in creating the basis for the Russia Hoax. Stephan Halper was a CIA asset. Joseph Mifsud appears to be an asset of Italian intelligence and was probably tasked by the CIA to try to compromise George Papadopoulos. Alexander Downer and Christopher Steele have strong ties to the CIA. It was probably the CIA that tried to use “Azra Turk” as a honeytrap for Papadopoulos. John Brennan’s CIA was front and center in trafficking in the bullsh** claim that Russia was actively promoting Trump’s candidacy because he was their preferred candidate rather than simply mischief-making. The numerous leaks of personal calls between Trump and world leaders calculated to make Trump look inept have not abated. A CIA analyst, Eric Ciaramella, is the guy behind the current drive to impeach President Trump. Collectively, these actions have left zero doubt that the intelligence community is actively hostile to the Trump administration and to Trump, personally, and Trump would have to be an idiot to not take what they are pushing with a mountain of salt.
Most telling is this:
Gordon said that she found Trump to be “actually kind of a fun brief because he was interactive, he would challenge you.”
That is how a president should receive intelligence. He needs to be a skeptic. He needs to know that he’s dealing with people who, by nature, aren’t honest or trustworthy and whose primary loyalty is to their agency. He shouldn’t be like a baby robin being fed by its mother.