The Washington Post over the past weeks has published a series of articles on the U.S. intelligence community. The resignation of Dan Coats as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the nomination of John Ratcliffe to replace him and Radcliffe’s withdrawal brought the intelligence apparatus into focus. An article on Gina Haspel, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), widened the focus. The reporting led to concern about the health and well-being of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
President Trump has repeatedly expressed his animosity for the seventeen intelligence agencies of the U.S. government. He agreed with Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor in the face of unanimous agreement among the intelligence agencies that it did. He has verbally lambasted the agencies and publicly shared intelligence results with Putin. He defended his choice of Radcliffe—a strong Trump supporter with no aptitude or experience for intelligence management—for DNI by saying he needed someone who could rein the intelligence agencies which “have run amok.”
All this alarms me. I spent thirty-five years as a U.S. intelligence operative and I know firsthand how often intelligence prevented disasters by warning U.S. leaders of our enemies’ intentions, plans, and acts. I am deeply concerned that President Trump will cripple the U.S. intelligence effort.
Maybe he already has. Because intelligence is classified, the public has no information on what is going on with the agencies. We do know that the former DNI, Dan Coats, continued to report to the president facts that Trump did not what to hear—about Iran’s adherence to the treaty it signed with the U.S., North Korea’s continuing buildup of nuclear forces, Russian malfeasance. We know that Trump rejected those facts. I suspect that Coats resigned in frustration. We don’t know what Trump may have done to the agencies in retribution.
I know from personal experience the tragedies that follow failure to believe and act on intelligence. Many times during the Vietnam war, U.S. commanders ignored intelligence warnings. It happened so often I coined the term the Cassandra Effect to describe the results. Examples: U.S. officials disregarded warnings about North Vietnamese intentions to attack at Dak To in 1967, their plans for the Tet Offensive, and their preparations to attack Saigon in 1975. The results were tragic.
Is the same thing going on now? Is the president disregarding validated intelligence? Is that what he means when he says that the agencies have “run amok”? Is he working to disable the intelligence agencies? We don’t know. The danger is real and serious.