Cartoon by Rob Rogers
The Strange Places Trump Gets His Intelligence From
By Steve Denning, Senior Contributor
Forbes: Following the annual assessment of global threats by America’s intelligence agencies presented at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday by Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, and other officials appointed by the president, President Trump blasted them, accusing them of being “passive and naïve” about the dangers posed by Iran, and failing to defend his handling of Afghanistan, North Korea and ISIS. “They are wrong!” he tweeted about his own Intelligence agencies. “They need to go back to school.”
Intelligence Agency heads at the Senate Intelligence Committee Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg© 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP
Trump's outburst revealed the gulf between the Intelligence agencies and a president who came into office determined to disrupt long-standing foreign policy orthodoxy. It also revealed Trump’s deep frustration at the lack of recognition for his own intelligence assessments, and the lack of credit he has received for his successes.
The differences between Trump and the Intelligence agencies are striking in their width and depth, given that Trump himself appointed the heads of all these agencies:
On North Korea: the agencies say that North Korean is unlikely to give up its nuclear arsenal, whereas Trump believes his diplomacy has eliminated the threat.
On Iran: Trump views Iran as an implacable enemy, while the agencies believe that Iran is not taking steps to manufacture a nuclear bomb; and is fully in compliance with the treaty signed in 2015, from which Trump has had the U.S. withdraw.
On ISIS: Trump has declared that ISIS is already defeated, enabling an immediate withdrawal from Syria. In the light of the ensuing uproar, Trump said on Wednesday ISIS “will soon be destroyed.” The agencies believe that ISIS will remain a threat for many years.
On Syria and Afghanistan: Trump believes the U.S. should pull out soon. The agencies believe that this will lead to bigger problems down the road.
On Russian meddling in the election: Trump has said that he trusts Putin’s denial, while the Intelligence agencies are convinced that Russia meddled.
On NATO: Trump questions the value of NATO, while the Intelligence agencies all regard NATO as the bedrock of America’s international security.
On trade: The agencies believe that Trump’s confrontations in trade policies and his “unilateralism” have strained the United States’ alliances.
In short, in issue after important issue, the heads of the agencies were saying that the positions that the president has been taking are not consistent with their view of the evidence.
The annual “Worldwide Threat Assessments” have traditionally been dispassionate apolitical surveys of the threats facing the United States. The agencies’ assessment is based on a vast array of human and information resources around the world, carefully evaluated and cross-checked. In their report and their appearance before Congress, the agency heads continued in that tradition, knowing full well that the President would be furious with their conclusions. They were living examples of “telling the truth to power.”
The message did not go down well. Today, Trump summoned the heads of the Intelligence agencies to the Oval Office. We don't know exactly what happened in the meeting, but afterwards Trump claimed that the agencies had been “misquoted by the media”: they were, he said, "now all on the same page", though without explaining how the blunt and unanimous statements shown the previous day on national television could possibly have been merely “misquoted by the media,” or could plausibly have been resolved by a single meeting in the Oval Office.
The President’s Wide-Ranging Expertise
Over the last several years, President Trump has noted that on a vast array of topics he is the world’s “foremost authority". The subjects of his mastery include border security, campaign contributions, courts, debt, drones, Facebook, infrastructure, the Left, money, nuclear war, Osama Bin Laden, politicians, steelworkers, taxes, technology, television, trade, visas and Wall Street bankers. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the topic of foreign threats is also one on which Trump sees himself as better informed than his own Intelligence agencies.
If the Intelligence agencies are to catch up with the President’s expertise, follow his directive and “go back to school,” it is pertinent to ask: what school should they go back to? Conventional schooling such as universities and think tanks are beside the point, since the Intelligence agencies are already deeply linked to and allied with those resources. Instead, the President seems to be suggesting that the Intelligence agencies need to cast their information-gathering net more widely and draw on the diverse and unusual resources on which he himself relies.
Trump draws on at least three non-conventional sources for his insights.
Fox & Friends
Trump often draws on the wisdom of the talking heads on Fox television — longtime on-air personalities, retired generals, hardline foreign policy experts, and many who have no particular expertise apart from a willingness to praise and defend Trump’s actions, attack his critics and validate his “America First” approach to the world. Appearance on television is often an audition to join Trump’s administration as with National Security Adviser, John Bolton and the Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker.
Figures like Sebastian Gorka, a Conservative academic who writes about Islamic radicalism, Lou Dobbs, who has helped shape Trump’s view on China and trade, and Michael Pillsbury, the hawkish China scholar, don’t have jobs in the White House, but may be just as influential as if they did. Their views expressed on Fox often re-appear shortly after as Trump tweets. Whether their opinions have the depth and evidence to warrant presidential action remains an open question.
Knowledgeable experts puzzled for a time about the source of Trump’s extraordinary claim—made 10 times in the last 22 days—that immigrants from Mexico have stronger, bigger and faster cars than American law enforcement, that prayer rugs are mysteriously popping up at the border and that women are being duct taped and put in the backs of vans >>>