Guest Opinion: Trump's fight with intel agencies

The Baltimore Sun
Jan. 6
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Thursday morning, President-elect Donald Trump used his favorite tool, Twitter, to blame the media (of course) for making it appear that he’s not getting along with the CIA and its peers.

“The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Trump tweeted — along with an explanation that the “dishonest media” has falsely portrayed him as “in Agreement with Julian Assange.”

Tut, tut, how could those devils in the media have possibly gotten the idea that Trump was siding with Assange of WikiLeaks who claims the Russians have no involvement in the hacked and leaked Democratic emails? Perhaps it was because one day earlier, he tweeted this: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ — why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

And how might those evil scribes and broadcasters possibly have given anyone the impression that the president-elect was not a “fan” of the U.S. intelligence community? Perhaps it was to quote his actual reactions — often highly critical, dismissive and defensive — to the intelligence community’s persistent findings that the Russians are behind the hacking. Or maybe it was the recent report from The Wall Street Journal that Trump intends to downsize and restructure the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Surely no incoming administration has ever signaled such overwhelming disdain for the 16 federal agencies that together gather information about what’s happening in the world as this one has. And while Trump has sometimes tossed in an aside or two about how the CIA was wrong about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, his criticisms have been almost entirely directed at one thing — he doesn’t want Russia and Vladimir Putin to be blamed for the illegal hacking.

Trump was scheduled to on Friday finally receive his formal briefing on exactly what the Central Intelligence Agency and its brethren know on the matter. We imagine the president-elect’s views won’t be altered. Listening to reason (and national security briefings) simply isn’t in his repertoire. Evidence of Russian malware, links to websites operated by Russian military operatives or intercepted communications or spy reports? Details are for chumps.

This should not just worry U.S. allies — and most especially countries like Ukraine in nearby Europe and Asia that are within the Russian sphere of influence — but all Americans as well. We live in an age when intelligence gathering has never been more important, when conflicts may be won or lost not by the stockpiles of missiles or bombs in our inventory but by the nation’s ability to track the actions of small militant groups and their potential allies around the globe.

Trump appears wholly incapable of perceiving representatives of the intelligence community as anything but adversaries because they’ve had the temerity to write reports contradicting his favored narrative — that the recent election was untainted, that Putin is a good fellow and not a strongman dictator, and that the hackers, whoever they are, did the voters a favor. That is why Trump sees Assange as a highly quotable and credible figure today instead of the treasonous, potential death penalty candidate he perceived him to be when WikiLeaks was releasing highly sensitive State Department cables back in 2011.

It would be one thing if Trump’s fight with America’s spies was grounded in an informed or at least objective assessment of the intelligence community’s credibility, but it isn’t that at all. It’s a narcissist hearing things he doesn’t like, worried about his “ratings” with Americans and lashing out at the messenger. That’s no way to manage the White House cleaning staff let alone such a critical function of the federal government with enormous implications for national security. What a comfort it must give the evil doers on the world to witness a U.S. president who is at war with his own intelligence gatherers and unable to accept reality.