In the chaos theory of governance of the Trump administration, so much craziness happens every day that it is easy to overlook important events in the din of noise. Which is really the whole point of chaos theory. Trump wants to overwhelm the senses with the vast volume of his craziness every day so that no one thing he does can hold the attention of the public or the media for long in what used to be a normal news cycle, and the public eventually becomes numb to the sheer volume of his craziness and stops paying attention. This has led to the warning not to normalize Trump’s chaotic behavior (which the media has to a large degree).
But something happened this week which clarified that Donald Trump is the greatest national security threat to the United States.
The national security team which Trump himself appointed to lead the national security community — Trump repeatedly said during the 2016 election that he would “hire the best people” for his administration — testified under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, representing the work of thousands of professionals in the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. The collective wisdom of the intelligence community in this threat assessment, and the testimony of the security chiefs under oath before Congress is that President Trump is wrong about every position he has taken on foreign policy.
The Washington Post reported, Testimony by intelligence chiefs on global threats highlights differences with president:
CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other top officials joined Coats in a discussion that covered a wide array of national security challenges, including cyber attacks that will aim to disrupt the 2020 presidential election and the continued threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of national security challenges, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
He said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.”
That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons.
[T]hroughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with the president’s public statements.
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The distance between the intelligence community and the White House extended to areas that have ignited fierce political debates in Washington.
None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall.
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Officials also warned that the Islamic State was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable organization. Trump has declared the group defeated and has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as a result.
Coats noted that the terrorist group has suffered “significant leadership and territorial losses.” But it still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, he said, and maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks and attracts thousands of supporters around the world.
The officials assessed that the government of Iran was not trying to build a nuclear weapon, despite the Trump administration’s persistent claims that the country has been violating the terms of an international agreement forged during the Obama administration.
Officials told lawmakers that Iran was in compliance with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as some officials had previously said privately.
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Officials also warned, as they did last year, about Russia’s intention to interfere with the U.S. political system via “information warfare” waged largely on social media, which stokes social and political tensions to divide Americans. Other countries are likely to employ those tactics, as well, Coats said.
“We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections,” the intelligence director said in his written statement.
Trump continues to equivocate on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election on his behalf, contradicting the unanimous assessment of all the top intelligence officials currently serving.
Russian asset and Twitter-troll-in-chief Donald Trump, as he has done since his election, undermined his own security chiefs. Trump tells intel chiefs to ‘go back to school’ after they break with him:
President Donald Trump lit into the U.S. intelligence community on Wednesday, telling his intel chiefs to “go back to school” just one day after they publicly contradicted him on several of his foreign policy priorities.
Trump’s tweets were a direct rebuttal of the public testimony his top intelligence chiefs gave Tuesday morning while discussing the gravest threats to the U.S. worldwide. The attack also marked the latest example of Trump’s public feud with the intelligence community. The president has often cast doubt on the official assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid his candidacy, and even publicly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the matter.
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Members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees on Wednesday aired concerns over Trump’s dismissal of his advisers.
“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the split between Trump and the intelligence community was “not surprising,” but “is still disturbing that the president doesn’t seem to want to listen to the people whose job it is to give him this information.”
“He doesn’t have to listen to them,” King said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” but he insisted that Trump’s ignorance was a red flag. “If you look back over the past 50 years, our major foreign policy disasters were usually based upon either not listening to intelligence or getting bad intelligence.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who served on the Intelligence Committee in the previous Congress, echoed that urgency, imploring Trump to quit following his gut on such serious issues.
“The president needs to trust the people around him because they truly have the American interest and they truly have the American people in their hearts,” the West Virginia Democrat said on “New Day.” “And I know the president does, too. But he cannot continue to let his feelings overtake, basically, the facts. I’ve said this, we’re all entitled to our opinion, we’re just not entitled to create your own facts to support our opinion — none of us, including the president, me and everybody else in society.”
The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee called the president’s disagreements with the intel community unprecedented.
“I don’t think we have seen anything like this, where all the intelligence chiefs are at odds with the president’s public pronouncements,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who pledged “deep dives” by his panel into the threats discussed by the intelligence chiefs. “It is obviously very important that the American people understand the truth and what we know about the threats facing the country.”
Schiff, in a post to Twitter later Wednesday morning that linked to the president’s dismissal of the intelligence community’s assessment of Iran, wrote that “it is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face.”
“It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer uged America’s top intelligence officials to stage an intervention and educate the commander in chief about how important it is for him to back the U.S. intelligence community. Schumer urges Coats to stage intelligence intervention with Trump.
Naturally, the Twitter-troll-in-chief accused Sen. Schumer of being “weak and passive” on Twitter.
It appears that the intelligence chiefs did, however, follow-up on Sen. Schumer’s request to hold an intervention with President Trump, but to no avail. Trump is not listening to them and, as always, is lying about what happened.
UPDATE: DONALD TRUMP ADMITS HE DIDN’T READ INTELLIGENCE REPORT, THEN CRITICIZES REPORTING ON IT: President Donald Trump admitted he had not read the intelligence report when speaking to the press on Thursday. But that did not stop him criticizing how the press had reported on it.
Alex Ward explains, Trump just lied about what his intelligence officials said:
On Tuesday, much of the media noticed that top US intelligence officials made public statements about the current state of the world that directly contradicted many of President Donald Trump’s most important claims about foreign policy.
But despite the fact that those statements were made on live television before Congress, and were also written down and entered into the congressional record, Trump is now claiming that none of that happened and that the media is lying.
“Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office who told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media,” Trumptweeted on Thursday. “I would suggest you read the COMPLETE testimony from Tuesday.”
Please, by all means, do as the president says and read it for yourself.
Or, if you prefer, you can just watch the public Senate hearing — in which CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and others say the exact same things they wrote in the report — in its entirety, courtesy of C-SPAN here or on YouTube.
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Trump says this report doesn’t actually contradict his views on foreign policy, and that claiming that it does is “fake news.”
Let’s take a look, shall we? Here is what President Trump has said on these key issues:
- ISIS is defeated in Syria.
- North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat” and Kim Jong Un is committed to giving up his country’s nuclear weapons.
- Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
- Climate change is a hoax.
- Staying in the Iran nuclear deal would lead to that country acquiring nuclear weapons in “just a short time.”
So, ironically, Trump’s comments are the actual “fake news.”
John Sipher and Benjamin Haas explain at Just Security how Trump’s Moves Against the Intelligence Community Are Hurting U.S. National Security:
[W]e write today not to comment on the content of the assessment or Trump’s substantive positions on the issues. Rather, we write to emphasize that Trump’s hostility toward and derision of the intelligence community (IC) undermines national security in serious ways.
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Trump’s continued criticism of the IC also increasingly suggests that he wants the IC to conform to his own beliefs, notwithstanding their inaccuracies. This politicization of intelligence is dangerous, and many have warned against it. Intelligence should inform policy, not vice versa.
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It’s clear, however, that the IC is currently not shifting its assessments to please Trump. It was, of course, the IC’s assessments, at odds with the president’s views, that triggered Trump’s outrage this week. This, in turn, begs an obvious question. With such a wide gap between the president and the IC, what precisely is informing Trump’s decision-making? Several problematic possibilities come to mind. Is he guiding his policies based on flawed personal beliefs and mercurial whims? Does he believe that attacking the institutions of the so-called “deep state” appeals to his political base and makes it easier to label them as illegitimate if the results of the Mueller probe are politically or personally damaging? Joshua Geltzer, a former senior Obama administration national security official, floated some other ideas—that Trump may rely on news programs that parrot disinformation, and that foreign countries may have employed financial means to sway his views. Even worse, is it possible that he’s somehow vulnerable to the influence of a hostile foreign power that would seek to discredit the IC?
See, Trump Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Meeting In Private With Putin. Trump is a compromised Russian asset. He may be taking direction from Putin.
At bottom, what’s at stake is the ability of the president and other officials to rely on the IC’s labors and credibility. To be sure, the IC has made mistakes in the past—sometimes very costly ones. Yet the IC has worked hard to implement reforms and rehabilitate its reputation in the wake of those mistakes. The IC takes pride in objectivity, analytical integrity, its credible voice, and the selfless risks its members assume. Astonishingly, the president continues to impair the confidence the IC deserves. Trump’s behavior is not only self-defeating. It is a real danger to the national security of the United States and our allies.