Trump's White House has looked for other ways seize the reins.Officials have expressed an interest in having more raw intelligence sent to the president for his daily briefings instead of an analysis of information compiled by the agencies, according to current and former U.S. officials. The change would have given his White House advisers more control about the assessments given to him and sidelined some of the conclusions made by intelligence professionals.
There have been conflicts between presidents, presidential candidates, and U.S. intelligence agencies, but Americans have arguably never seen the kind of ongoing acrimony between Donald Trump and intelligence professionals.There's no real question as to who threw the first punch. As a candidate, Trump said he wouldn't trust the information he receives from American intelligence officials. "I won't use them because they've made such bad decisions," the Republican said before the election. When agencies provided Trump with proof of Russian interference in the election, he not only rejected their findings; he publicly mocked the CIA.The tensions continued for months, prompting the Washington Post's Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, to describe Trump's criticisms as "an insanely dangerous antic that materially undermines American security." Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and CIA, had a related piece, raising practical concerns about the deteriorating relationship between the amateur president and the intelligence community.It didn't help matters when the White House reportedly leaked sensitive information to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) last week, as part of a clumsy scheme to bolster one of Trump's conspiracy theories.The Associated Press reported over the weekend on one of Team Trump's more provocative ideas, which would almost certainly make a bad situation worse.
It's hard to overstate just how bad an idea this would be.Intelligence agencies acquire raw information, and it falls to experienced officials and analysts to vet and contextualize what's been collected, recognizing what's important, discarding what's not, and ideally connecting the dots in ways policymakers will find constructive.It is, in a nutshell, why intelligence professionals have jobs in the first place.The idea of circumventing analysts and providing the president with raw intel directly -- a president who doesn't like to read, has no background in this subject, and wouldn't have any idea what he was looking at -- is the sort of thing that should make Americans quite nervous.To be sure, the article didn't say that this change has necessarily happened, but the fact that "officials have expressed an interest in having more raw intelligence sent to the president" -- what he'd do with the information is unclear -- is not at all a good sign.There's already evidence that intelligence agencies don't trust the president to be responsible with sensitive information. This AP report probably won't help matters.