Given President Donald Trump’s obsessive watching of Fox News, could a foreign intelligence agency influence his decision making by compromising a prominent Fox host and coercing them into delivering their government’s desired messages?
According to former CIA analyst Aki Peritz, the disturbing answer is, “Yes.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Peritz argues that any competent foreign spymaster would look at Trump’s frequent live-tweeting of Fox News programs and conclude that targeting the network’s hosts as potential assets would be a surefire way to influence the president.
“Understanding what the U.S. president is going to say or do is important for any foreign intelligence analyst trying to determine America’s next steps,” he writes. “And what better way to determine what the president thinks — for the price of basic cable — than to watch selected Fox News programming?”
But what would such an effort to compromise Fox look like? According to Peritz, it would not simply involve passively watching Fox to see how it affects the president’s behavior — rather, it would try to mold coverage to benefit a foreign power.
“A truly aggressive intelligence effort… would target the on-air talent, as well as the folks behind the scenes who make the network’s programming possible: producers, bookers, associate producers, production assistants and the like,” he explains. “This might range from opening friendly contacts with these employees to outright recruitment.”
And even if foreign powers aren’t able to, say, blackmail Steve Doocy, Peritz said they could just as easily tap the phones of prominent Fox hosts to listen in when the president calls them.
“Trump reportedly calls Sean Hannity after his show,” he notes. “If hostile foreign services compromise Hannity’s phone (or place a listening device in the room where Hannity takes his private calls), that could provide real-time intelligence on the American president and his thoughts.”