Jan. 11, 2017
A shaky detente between Donald Trump and the intelligence agencies he will soon control has broken down, as Trump wrongly accused US intelligence of leaking an unverified, salacious document to damage his nascent presidency.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Trump said that “who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies” were responsible for the document, which he said would be “a tremendous blot on their record”.
Earlier, Trump likened the intelligence agencies to “Nazi Germany”, in a tweet, saying they “never should have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ to the public. One last shot at me”.
Intelligence veterans reacted with shock to the renewed and intensified attack, with one saying Trump had exhibited “open, irrational and hysterical hostility” to their colleagues on the eve of Thursday’s confirmation hearing for Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Mike Pompeo. Another suggested conscientious intelligence officials may have to contemplate resignation.
The intelligence agencies neither compiled nor leaked the unverified dossier. It and several of the claims it contained have circulated for months within newsrooms, including the Guardian’s, which resisted their publication until adequate verification could be unearthed.
Before CNN reported last night that aspects of the dossier, acquired by the FBI in December from Arizona Republican senator John McCain, were briefed to Barack Obama and Trump, no news organization had published the accusations, which purport to reveal compromising information Russia possesses on Trump. Trump has denied them, and NBC later reported that the material was prepared for the Trump briefing, but not discussed.
Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee and a consistent critic of spycraft excesses, told the Guardian it was “profoundly dangerous” for Trump to continue his feud with the agencies.
“The president is responsible for vital decisions about national security, including decisions about whether to go to war, which depend on the broad collection activities and reasoned analysis of the intelligence community. A scenario in which the president dismisses the intelligence community, or worse, accuses it of treachery, is profoundly dangerous,” Wyden said.
One retired intelligence official, who declined to be named, said he was in a “wait and see” mode with Trump, as Pompeo and Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, seemed like “reasonable choices” for their positions. Trump’s rhetoric “hasn’t helped morale” within the agencies, but the ex-official questioned its theatricality and said former colleagues’ reactions to Trump were “mixed” and were not panicked.
“Nobody’s planning on quitting or jumping from the seventh floor of the building,” the retired official said.
But Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer, said resignations were a rational response to Trump, as the intelligence agencies face “existential crisis” prompted by the imminent prospect of serving “someone for whom the truth is irrelevant”.
Carle continued: “One is forced either to serve a man disdainful of the community’s mission, and of facts in general, as essentially a toady, or provide intelligence to the parts of the government that may actually know how to use it in the national interest, such as the military or other organs of the government, or resign. The choice is that stark.
“This crisis cannot be covered over with a politician’s, or an egotist’s, bromides and lie.”