Intelligence experts are warning that Pres. Donald Trump and his administration’s refusal to acknowledge truths that don’t align with their worldview could have serious geopolitical consequences — a situation that is made even more complicated by the “fundamental ignorance and inexperience of Trump’s inner circle.”
The Intercept spoke with current and former intelligence officials who said that the Trump administration’s habit of disregarding information that doesn’t match up with its ideology and political agenda are deeply reminiscent of the politicization of intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq under Pres. George W. Bush.
Analyst Nada Bakos — who worked for the CIA from 2000 to 2010 — told the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill that the Trump administration, like George W. Bush’s, is operating under “the expectation that you toe the line according to what they want versus the reality, the situation on the ground.”
She warned that subjecting intelligence data to a political agenda de-prioritizes the truth and incentivizes creating a false narrative to match the administration’s. In an agency run according to political objectives, factions will form, she said, particularly if the administration sets up an alternative team “that feeds the bottom line that you’re after.”
“That to me is one of the more concerning underlying factors in how [Trump is] treating the intelligence community,” Bakos said. “If it’s always serving his needs and serving his view of the world, he may as well not have one.”
Former FBI Special Agent Clint Watts of the Joint Terrorism Task Force told the Intercept that Trump’s tendency to ignore evidence in favor of ideology makes this White House uniquely vulnerable.
“We’ve already seen this now with the DHS’s intel assessment around the [Muslim ban],” Watts said. “They produced a report that didn’t match up with this policy that they’re pushing. So now you see the administration say, well, I’m not going to listen to it. We’re still going to push it forward.”
Last weekend, the White House dismissed a Department of Homeland Security report as poorly researched and “incomplete” because it found that the rationale for Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from 7 Muslim-majority nations is groundless and that the ban would not make the country any safer.
The Intercept’s Malak Habbak wrote, “Adding to the peril of politicized intelligence is the fundamental ignorance and inexperience of Trump’s inner circle, namely White House advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.”
“What is super scary about it to me is you’re looking at people who have got a thimble of knowledge about a lot of these groups that we’re tackling right now,” said Watts. They are painting a vast range of Middle Eastern groups and coalitions with one broad brush, lumping together Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, and ISIS. “This is lunacy.”
“The fact that Gorka can’t even understand that on a basic level,” Bakos added, “means that he is completely the wrong person to be looking at countering terrorism and understanding the Middle East.”
Watts told the Intercept that a major terrorist attack at this juncture would wreak complete havoc, “because it will bring the country under the umbrella of the president to be tough and have to prove yourself, and the ideologues will run first because they’re more organized.”
Trump’s inability to back down from a squabble, no matter how petty, Watts said, places the country — and by extension the world — at great risk.
“If I were al Qaeda or ISIS I would attack now,” he said. “If I was a nation state, Russia, China, Iran, I would provoke us right now because you’d get that overreaction that they want.”