During Wednesday night’s candidate forum, host Matt Lauer asked Donald Trump about two recent intelligence briefings he received. Trump praised the people who gave him the briefings, calling them “terrific people” who were “experts” on Iraq, Iran, and Russia. He said it seemed to him that President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry “did exactly the opposite” of what it seemed to him that they were saying.
Lauer asked if anything in the intel briefings made him reconsider whether he could defeat ISIS quickly.
Trump: No, I didn’t learn anything from that standpoint. What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly—when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason—what our experts said to do. . . . And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance. And I could tell you. I have pretty good [sic] with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.
It was pretty classic Trump. He’s communicating problems with the Obama administration but not being specific about it. In this case, at least, you can’t fault him for his vagueness since he shouldn’t reveal anything specific. He’s also showing deference to the expertise of others, which goes against type for him. And he’s doing it all in a way that makes it difficult to refute.
In that context, this story is pretty interesting.
The major aftershock from last night’s forum appears to be that intel officials are super-pissed off at Trump. https://t.co/Z0hJJSzEav
Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) September 8, 2016
The linked NBC News article is “What Really Happened at Donald Trump’s Intelligence Briefing,” and is authored by Ken Dilanian, Robert Windrem, and William Arkin.
Here’s the gist:
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials who asked that their names not be disclosed told NBC News that many members of the current intelligence community — leadership rank and file — were angered by Trump’s comments Wednesday night, and the possibility that he may have disclosed details of his intelligence briefing or attempted to politicize it.
To get back at Trump for “politicizing” the hearings, then, these totally apolitical intel officers proceed to … politicize the intel hearing. They leak (or invent, if you believe their victims) all sorts of damaging information about what took place in the hearing.
We’re told that two people who “spoke to people in the room” and another two with non-specific other “knowledge of the briefing” say that one of Trump’s advisors repeatedly interrupted the briefers and that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tried to calm him down.
Flynn says the leaked information is “total bullshit” and Christie says it’s “a complete work of fiction.”
I’m not an intel officer, but if you’re trying to suggest that someone is indiscreet about what took place in an intel hearing, and that such alleged indiscretion is bad, I don’t think the best way to do that is to remove any pretense of discretion by spilling all the beans about said hearing.
The article itself has some funny moments, including this claim:
However, a U.S. official pointed out that intelligence officers don’t give policy advice, so it would be inaccurate to say that Obama failed to follow the advice of the intelligence community…
That said, intelligence officials have asserted they warned the administration repeatedly about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria well before Obama ordered a bombing campaign. And as NBC News has reported, senior intelligence officials in 2012 proposed a covert operation to oust Bashar Assad in Syria, but Obama decided not to move forward with it.
Intelligence officers don’t give policy advice, except that they do give policy advice. Great chat!
This nugget is even better:
A second U.S. official said analysts are trained not to allow their body language to betray their thinking…
Former CIA and NSA director Mike Hayden, who opposes Trump, told NBC News that in almost four decades in intelligence “I have never seen anything like this before.”
“A political candidate has used professional intelligence officers briefing him in a totally non-political setting as props to buttress an argument for his political campaign,” said Hayden. “And his political point was actually imputed to them, not even something they allegedly said. The `I can read body language’ line was quite remarkable. … I am confident Director Clapper sent senior professionals to this meeting and so I am equally confident that no such body language ever existed. It’s simply not what we do.”
“No such body language ever existed”? Pretty cool that they were all magically taught and trained by experts the world over to not have body language. Yeah, that’s credible. Anyway, these brilliant officers are so good at their job that they’ve removed even a hint of body language, but not so good that they can keep their traps shut or keep from inventing disparaging information to share with a rando reporter? Also, maybe next time around do less of the extreme body language training and more of the training on how to stop ISIS and other terrorists. Just an idea.
Anyhow, the article claims that these intel officers’ gratuitous anti-Trump campaign is not political since “none were political appointees.” Of course, military officers at the level that give briefings and any civil service intel senior figure will be intrinsically political and will act accordingly.
I mean, a bureaucracy that throws a temper tantrum to affect a political race isn’t exactly making a case for being apolitical, obviously.
Listen, if it were true that these intel officers genuinely believed that Donald Trump’s completely vague discussion of intel briefings when repeatedly asked about intel briefings is some red line that couldn’t be crossed, they would have said “We strongly, forcefully, adamantly reject his characterization. Our intel professionals would never politicize the current administration’s decisions.” Or some such thing.
They would not get catty or invent tall tales about what went down in the meeting.
Particularly if you think that Donald Trump is some unique threat to the republic, as the media and other elites constantly claim he is, it’s incumbent upon you to be more discreet and more responsible than he is, not less.