For Trump, things got off to a bad start with the intelligence community right from the start. When he received an intelligence briefing on August 17, 2016, he came out afterwards and declared that he could tell from the “body language” of the briefers that they didn’t like President Obama or agree with his policies. It didn’t sit well with the intelligence community, and they sent messengers out to let this be known. For example, the former Executive Assistant to Director of the CIA, Paul Pillar, said:
“Those selected for this task would have been the most professional of an elite corps of intelligence officers. One of the last things they would do is express either verbally or through body language preferences” how they feel about the current administration in Washington.
Former acting Director of Central Intelligence Michael Morell said that Trump’s remarks demonstrated that he has “got zero understanding of how intelligence works.”
“This is the first time that I can remember a candidate for president doing a readout from an intelligence briefing, and it’s the first time a candidate has politicized their intelligence briefing. Both of those are highly inappropriate and crossed a long standing red line respected by both parties. To me this is just the most recent example that underscores that this guy is unfit to be commander in chief.”
Both Pillar and Morrell have extensive experience in creating intelligence reports and briefing the president. Morrell led the team that created the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) for President George W. Bush. To say that they don’t like or agree with Donald Trump is putting it mildly. And it shouldn’t shock you to see Pillar quoted in David Corn’s new piece on a classified memo he’s seen instructing briefers to keep Trump’s PDB short and free of nuance.
“These issues about the overall length of the book as well as whether there are going to be conflicting interpretations—that unfortunately sounds like…bowing to the reality of a president with a short attention span and little ability to deal with ambiguities,” says Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University.
These leaks and the comments about these leaks are what are known in the business as “the long knives.”
Trump is literally being carved up before our eyes, which makes it unsurprising that he’s got a plan to fight back.
President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.
The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president.
It’s unclear how effective Feinberg can be in cleaning house. At least ostensibly, his mission won’t be to purge the intelligence community of critics, and most changes to the way we do intelligence would require sign off from Congress.
Still, Trump has to do something because things have escalated to a point where now the intelligence community is running to the Wall Street Journal to tell the country that they won’t share intelligence with the president because they don’t trust him.
The two salvos Trump is fielding this morning complement each other in an ironic way. On the one hand, the intelligence community is withholding information from him because he may be a Russian agent, and on the other hand they’re mocking him for wanting a very short PDB that contains no conflicting information. It would seem that denying him information would solve itself. He hardly wants any in the first place.