News reports these days are filled with stories about how President Trump and his subordinates handle intelligence. I’m deeply concerned.
I spent my entire professional career, before retiring to write fulltime, in intelligence. I learned early that the exposure of sources and methods to the intelligence target destroys the flow of information. During the Vietnam war, I saw repeatedly that ignoring intelligence led to deaths.
If current press reports are to be believed, many in the Trump administration have not received final clearances but nevertheless have routine access to some of the country’s most sensitive intelligence. Some of the clearances have been withheld because people being cleared “forgot” or hid information about contacts with foreign governments or other damaging data. Such omissions have in the past always led to the permanent withdrawal of clearances.
In short, people who in the past would have been denied clearances for cause now have unlimited access to some of the most fragile and valuable information available to the U.S. government.
The press also tells us that Trump doesn’t read the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of the most urgent intelligence. Instead, he relies on verbal coaching and news from Fox & Friends on television. And the verbal briefings omit information likely to spark Trump’s wrath, like, for example, reports on Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump has likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazis. “He mocked their judgment that Russia had intervened in the campaign to help him win. And he repeatedly accused them of leaking to the media to embarrass him and undermine the White House.” And Trump disclosed to senior Russian diplomats highly classified intelligence about ISIS that had been obtained in Syria, reportedly by Israel, and had been given to Washington on the condition it go no further.
To the degree that press reports are accurate, the U.S. is likely to be losing vital intelligence through careless compromise. At the same time, urgent reports are being ignored.
When those two conditions prevail, people die.