ISSN 2330-717X

The Donald Vs US Intelligence Community – OpEd


By CJ OConnor*

If there’s anything that’s keeping me up at night, other than my PhD thesis, it is The Donald.

On a personal level, his (dis)temper, inadequate preparation for the exigencies of the office he has won, and his utter incapability to withhold commentary on absolutely anything that is purported to relate to him, concern me. The bigotry, homophobia, prejudice and racism upon which his campaign rested concern me. His “policies,” such as they are, concern me. His alliances with, and appointment of, heads of major corporations and individuals with a similar political acumen to himself (little to none), concern me. His policies toward immigrants, women, the disabled, and the poor concern me.

But there’s something more, that concern me as an Intel researcher. On a professional level, in addition to the above concerns I do have one major, overriding concern about his Presidency: his utter disinterest in the intelligence provided by the largest intelligence community in the world. Listening to intelligence briefs and taking in the information provided is not a matter of figuring it out yourself ‘because you’re a smart guy.’ This is a matter of listening to the findings and judgements of professional analysts, many of whom train for years to fulfill their function of providing the President with the best possible information, that he may make informed decisions as to military and governmental policy and manoeuvers. It strikes me that, if the senior intelligence officers of the United States of America think that the President ought to know something….then the President should know. That is, after all, the entire point of the President’s Daily Brief, or the PDB in Intel parlance.

By refusing the daily intelligence briefing, not only is Mr. Trump turning down a valuable policy-informing tool but he is breaking with decades of tradition; to my knowledge, the original PDB came about in the Truman administration. It is not enough to be “available at one minute’s notice”; if you aren’t informed on a multitude of topics and a wide variety of constantly-changing security threats, you cannot and will not be an effective leader. In addition, I highly doubt that Mr. Trump will, in fact, be available at one minute’s notice, particularly if he intends to go home on the weekends, and work on The Apprentice in his spare time. I certainly don’t recall President Obama doing such things.

Something else about Mr. Trump’s distaste for general and important knowledge concerns me. As the President of the United States, he will have access to highly classified information. My concern, given his demonstrated inability to refrain from Tweeting anything that happens to be bothering him, is whether information that is supposed to be secret will remain so under his administration. Such a lack of self-control on the part of the President of the United States should concern everyone, but most especially it should concern the intelligence community that is endeavoring to brief a President on issues he does not seem to care about.

*C J O’Connor, Security researcher, currently specializing in cyber intelligence and counterintelligence. Past focuses include Cold War-era espionage and surveillance platforms. Originally from New Zealand, currently based in Melbourne, planning a PhD and spending spare time reading and learning a few more languages. You can follow her on twitter @CJaiyah.

Bombs and Dollars

Bombs and Dollars stands to bridge the gap between academia and policy, commentary and opinions, reporting and blogging and reflects the maturity of the personal experience of its Editors, who are now early-mid career correspondents, authors and academics.

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