According to recent reports, President elect Donald Trump has been turning down the intelligence briefings that the intel community provides to incoming presidents to prepare them for the job. Instead, Vice President elect Mike Pence is getting the intel briefings just about every day. When questioned on the matter, Trump’s campaign manager said, “I can’t discuss that publicly…What I can tell you is that he is the most engaged individual I’ve ever met and brilliant to boot, and he is certainly availing himself of the information as provided to him from a number of sources, including those intelligence briefings.”
Not only did the campaign manager provide a non-answer to the question, but left lingering doubts as to whether the President elect is over-delegating responsibility to his vice president. Even more interesting is her comment that Trump gets information from numerous sources, not just intelligence briefs.
The United States government runs an unparalleled intelligence community that costs the American tax payer somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 billion dollars a year. That Trump would shake off briefings from governmental intelligence professionals and instead listen to whoever “a number of sources” happen to be is concerning, but not unprecedented.
Take just a short stroll down memory lane and we can re-visit the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal. Clinton’s friend and confidant, Sid Blumenthal, ran a off-the-books intelligence network. The information he gathered often came from dubious sources and was fed directly to Hillary Clinton who was then secretary of state. Intelligence sources need to be vetted and carefully weighed against other human and technical sources of information to ensure accuracy. That information than needs to be filtered through a team of analysts.
Remember when Dick Cheney went down to the CIA demanding to see “raw intelligence” information as he sought out proof that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction? That’s the type of thing we hope to avoid by actually leveraging our entire intelligence apparatus as it was designed to work.
Instead, Blumenthal funneled privately gathered information directly to secretary of state Clinton, information that she used to make important decisions regarding countries like Libya. Blumenthal sent Clinton information directly from sources in Turkey that read as little more than Turkish propaganda, he e-mailed her leaked information from the NSA that was classified top secret, and sent briefings on Libya that blurred the lines between business interests and national interests. Not only was Clinton making decisions based off of Blumenthal’s inaccurate intelligence briefings, but when the e-mail server was discovered it nearly led to her being indicted by the FBI.
Hopefully Donald Trump and his team learn the correct lessons of contemporary history before heading down the same road as Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney. Our intelligence community is flawed and desperately requires reform, but also has to be given the chance to function properly. Otherwise, let’s not blame our foreign policy failures on the intelligence professionals whose briefings the President never attended.
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