Donald Trump’s National Security Choices Are Not the ‘A’ Team in Intelligence Circles
John Kiriakou is a former CIA agent who exposed the agency’s torture program.
Donald Trump’s efforts to build a national security team have ricocheted between abject chaos and extreme conservative ideology. There’s no reason for progressives to be optimistic about retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser or Rep. Michael Pompeo, R-Kan., as CIA director. Trump’s national security transition advisers have proven so far to hold extreme anti-democratic and anti-Muslim views. It’s not going to get any better.
The real question is whether Trump’s appointees will refuse to reinstate former President George W. Bush’s illegal and immoral torture program or whether they’ll carry out the president-elect’s campaign promises to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.”
We know already that Trump’s choices do not constitute the “A” team in intelligence circles. Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under George W. Bush, wrote in The Washington Post that although he had been a part of the “Never Trump” movement, he had urged fellow Republicans to accept jobs in the new administration’s national security structure because the president-elect needed all the help he could get. But after an exchange with a close friend on the transition team, Cohen tweeted, “After exchange w/ Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming “you LOST!” Will be ugly.
— Eliot A Cohen (@EliotACohen) November 15, 2016
It is ugly, indeed. Almost no figures being mentioned publicly—with the exception of ideologues—are willing to serve in senior intelligence positions. Virtually anybody who is qualified is already out of contention, having fallen afoul of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and transition team “enforcer.”
Flynn is a retired army lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama. He served only two years in the latter job, reportedly forced out after clashing with superiors over his “chaotic management style.” He later complained in the press that the United States was less safe from “Islamic terrorism” in 2014 than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, and he said he had been removed from the DIA job because of his unwillingness to toe the Obama administration’s line that “al-Qaida was close to defeat.” Flynn was an early Trump backer and was part of a right-wing, anti-Muslim drumbeat that had Trump’s ear throughout the campaign. Ironically, he also is a registered lobbyist for the government of Turkey.
The president-elect’s nomination of Pompeo to lead the CIA is even more troubling. It is a message to the American people that Trump was telling the truth when he said that he would appoint people who support the CIA torture program. Indeed, Pompeo has called CIA torturers “patriots” and has called for the execution of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. There’s no reason to think that Pompeo, a member of the Tea Party caucus in Congress, will change his mind in the near term.
It is possible that things will get even worse than the prospect of Flynn and Pompeo. Trump has discussed a job for Jose Rodriguez, former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2002-2004 and CIA deputy director for operations from 2004-2010. Rodriguez not only was the father of the torture program, but he also destroyed the tapes documenting actual torture sessions. Although Rodriguez said he didn’t necessarily want to be CIA director, he added he would consider a job if offered one, and he hoped the new president would bring back the torture program.
“We have to be able to capture terrorists. We have to be able to interrogate them,” Rodriguez told the press after Trump’s election. “We don’t do that anymore.”
The problem now is that it may be terrorists who are going to run the U.S. intelligence community.