It is the US President’s disdain for his intelligence services which has brought about the current existential crisis in the White Houseby Jay Elwes / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
In February, I spent several weeks interviewing spies. Some of them were serving, others were retired, some were British and others American—and they all wanted to talk about Donald Trump. The problem, it seemed to me back then, was that the US’s intelligence and security agencies, and their allies, thought Trump didn’t understand their role, or the significance and delicacy of their product. They were worried, in short, that he might screw it all up.
Trump has done little to alter that view. His post-election turn at CIA head-quarters, when he stood in front of the commemorative wall dedicated to fallen CIA officers and bragged about the size of his inauguration crowd, was greeted with horror by agency staff. Greg Treverton, the Chairman of the US National Intelligence Council told me shortly afterwards that, “There is a very large set of professionals in the intelligence agencies and they’re prepared to do anything for a president that’s legal. And so to set out to offend them, to diss them, that seems to me to be really kind of worse than stupid.”
The clash between the studied, lawyerly upper echelons of the intelligence and security world—which have come to be embodied in the towering, ramrod-straight figure of former FBI Director James Comey—and the fast and loose NYC property developing spiv, was inevitable. Trump has thrown his considerable weight around and come up against something he has almost certainly never experienced in his days spent building absurd, sardanapalian monuments to his own ego: men and women who spend their lives in the slow procedural accumulation and sifting of evidence, in the tortuous process of developing sources and of piecing together the logical components that go to make up intelligence reports. These are not Trump people. These are so not Trump people that when he first arrived at the White House he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in having the Presidential Daily briefing, the most important intelligence source at his disposal. “I’m, like, a smart person,” Trump said. “I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day.”
So great was Trump’s failure to grasp the role of the intelligence agencies that I speculated…