When Americans think of U.S. intelligence officials, they may imagine spycraft, surveillance, and covert espionage, but intelligence agencies are also filled with analysists whose job entails monitoring developments around the world, looking for patterns and potential threats.
And as the Washington Post reports, some of those analysts are now feeling a sense of dread, not because of events unfolding abroad, but because of developments in their own country.
The scenes have been disturbingly familiar to CIA analysts accustomed to monitoring scenes of societal unraveling abroad -- the massing of protesters, the ensuing crackdowns and the awkwardly staged displays of strength by a leader determined to project authority. In interviews and posts on social media in recent days, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have expressed dismay at the similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations.
King University professor Gail Helt, a former CIA analyst responsible for tracking developments in China and Southeast Asia, told the Post, "I've seen this kind of violence.... This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me."
Reflecting on Trump's church photo-op on Monday, Marc Polymeropoulos, who formerly ran CIA operations in Europe and Asia, added, "It reminded me of what I reported on for years in the third world."
The Post report went on to say, "Former intelligence officials said the unrest and the administration's militaristic response are among many measures of decay they would flag if writing assessments about the United States for another country's intelligence service."
I tend to see the fabric that holds American society together as fundamentally strong. At times it will tear and fray. It will stretch and show signs of wear. But when push comes to shove, it holds together. It always has. One wants to believe it always will.
It's why it becomes all the more unsettling when U.S. intelligence officials take a good look at Donald Trump, his antics, his exploits, and his authoritarian tendencies, and say things such as, "This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me."