By Francis Willburough
Friction within the U.S. intelligence community is ripe. President to-be-inaugurated Donald J. Trump is repeatedly rebuffing assessments by the U.S. intelligence community and the importance of the services to the American people. Being critical by Trump is being one thing, being idiotic is another. Trump is predictable.
Every government with a sophisticated intelligence service such as the Chinese, the Russians, the French, or even the Pope’s intelligence service, must be smirking while reading the daily outbursts of frustrations by the U.S. intelligence and national security leadership. But an ambivalent relationship with business leaders and seasoned intelligence pro’s this is not uncommon in a regime change.
We just need to remember the sacking of the German head of the BND in dispute with his boss, Angela Merkel over flawed German policies in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis. Gerhard Schindler lost his job and Islamic State terror attacks increased. The Guardian was going so far to write,
“..the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, had suggested that the Snowden leaks had been directed by the Kremlin to drive a wedge between western Europe and the US…”
Trump’s resistance to U.S. intelligence suggests a purge of intelligence officials and their minions are in the making.
The warning signs are amble. Trump’s resistance to read (“I am too clever”), receive intelligence briefings (“I am too smart”), presumptuously not juicy enough, and the rejection of some of the internet hacking narratives, placing of tweeter innuendos are the tell-tale signs of an ambivalent relationship with the president-elect.
Donald Trump rejecting the notions the Russians attempted to influence the American elections are indicators of the limitation of the president-elect understanding of the dark arts of Russian intelligence. Laura Galante, director of intelligence analysis at cybersecurity firm FireEye, Inc. said,
“Weaponizing information is really about who gets to write the truth, who gets to write the narrative and who benefits from that narrative – and that is incredibly powerful,”
Donald Trump will have difficulties to dismiss the Russian operations named by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations called ‘Grizzle Steppe’. The FBI bulletin and recently released politicized report by the National Intelligence Council highlights the sophistication of the Russian operations.
Intelligence insiders argue this is nothing really new, but for the general public it is a good insight on how the information war is fought by Moscow. It is also a stark warning to the president-cum Donald J. Trump he is now in the big league and instead of worrying about the ratings of the Apprentice he better gets his act together.
Disinformation campaigns by the Russians or Chinese is not new either. The Russians have a long history in intelligence operations that impacts society. Oleg Kalugin decscribed,
“…active measures as being the “heart and soul of Soviet intelligence.” They were run by a special branch of the KGB’s foreign intelligence directorate, Service A, and involved a wide spectrum of political warfare activities..”
The KGB attempted blame AIDS on U.S. governmental “secret” experiments long before twitter existed are one of the many examples of Russian-Soviet disinformation campaigns. Active measures, as the Russians called ideological political operations, are well known within intelligence studies academia.
The Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) has continue to return to the roots of Soviet style intelligence. Just today, technology advances the Russian cause. And the U.S. and its allies better get their act together.
With U.S. and Russian politics are as convoluted as Homeland Newsweek reported,
Trump’s behavior, however, has at times concerned the Russians, leading them to revise their hacking and disinformation strategy.
For example, when Trump launched into an inexplicable attack on the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who died in combat, the Kremlin assumed the Republican nominee was showing himself psychologically unfit to be president and would be forced by his party to withdraw from the race.
As a result, Moscow put its hacking campaign temporarily on hold, ending the distribution of documents until Trump stabilized, both personally and in the polls, according to reports provided to Western intelligence.
Newsweek goes on further,
Trump and his campaign have also spread propaganda created as part of the Kremlin’s effort, relying on bogus information generated through traditional Russian disinformation techniques.
In one instance, a manipulated document was put out onto the internet anonymously by propagandists working with Russia; within hours, Trump was reciting that false information at a campaign rally.
The Trump campaign has also spread claims from Sputnik, another news outlet identified by American intelligence as part of the Russian disinformation campaign.
These developments concern the U.S. intelligence community. And members of the intelligence community are preparing for the purge. Many compare Trumps coming purge is not unlike to the period of the presidency of Bill Clinton which decimated U.S. human intelligence capabilities. Each time intelligence is politicized the Russians, Chinese and other adversaries emerge.
Many argue Clinton’s shortsightedness was the reason for the rise of Global jihad. Veterans of U.S. intelligence have also not forgiven the Clinton’s. If Trump is as clever as he claims, Trump should learn from these mistakes to avoid a brain-drain that came at great costs to the American people.
The Emperator Maximus, as Trump is cynically named by veterans intelligence officers, is causing self-inflicted damage, is leading to an exodus of institutional knowledge of intelligence operations against the enemies of the United States. Trump’s expected purges of a large cadre of intelligence professionals are watched by foreign intelligence services with gusto. Americans have little learned so far.
Scott Barry Kaufman wrote in the Scientific American,
I believe we need to look deeper at the underlying motivation behind virtually everything Trump does, from his choice of teammates to his tweets to his private and public statements.
In my estimation, Trump is driven by one thing and one thing only: the search for glory.
Everything stems from this one simple fact, and everything falls into place in a predicable fashion once we fully understand the operation of this fundamentally human drive.
Trump’s claims of unpredictability doesn’t make the president elect ‘smart’, it makes him predictable. It makes U.S. policies measurable; it makes Trump sound like another American business-buffoon, so many foreign governments met on a regular bases. Diplomats and spies will listen intensively but the outcomes are uncertain. Foreign diplomats are already taking a “wait-and-see” approach.
Foreign intelligence services have completed the “Trump dossier” briefing their leaders on the characters, attitudes and knowledge over Trump. His Moscow trysts are routine materials for the Russian intelligence services. This will be updated and confirmed each time Trump and his policy stumblers discredits the U.S. security community.
At this time, the U.S. intelligence community will take a step back and wait. Frustrating the incoming president further with twitter being his version of the daily rant. Already a large group experiencing the “TTF”, the Trump Tweeter fatigue. The more Trump tweets than less the United States is taken seriously. It is great material for late night host TV ratings, and comedy.
But things will go wrong. And each time things will go wrong the president-cum-business tycoon will face the cynical hard-realists of the intelligence agencies who dedicated their entire careers on ensuring the protection of the American way that Donald J. Trump and his band of models, (alleged) sex-parties and Sun-king lifestyle enjoy.
The “We-have-told-you-so”, will be a constant within the halls of power in Washington, London, Moscow, Paris, Berlin, or the capitals of Asia and Africa. Intelligence is about predictability and long term views of the world.
And many forget, Russia today is not the Soviet Union, despite its Soviet noises the Kremlin makes. But, Russia today relies on what works. The Atlantic Council wrote, “Active Measures are back with a vengeance”. We agree. Welcome to Cold War 2.0.
Besides the foreign leaders challenging the hegemony of the United States, U.S. Democrats entering the warpath as equally aggressive as the Republicans after Barrack H. Obama was elected. U.S. intelligence and security services historically been caught by the political skulduggery repeatedly which has not served the American public. The new emperor will have his hands full.
Donald J. Trump’s simplicity is refreshing as it is frightening. Whereas no doubt, president-to-be-inaugurated Trump is a Machiavellian student of demagoguery, and without doubt successful in his business and political venture but his true tests are emerging fast.
Trump so far has provided little surprise to the foreign intelligence community. Whereas domestically, the Democrats administration of Barrack H. Obama has ended, his Sun queen Hillary has crashed and burned, the reign of the Clinton’s are over, for the moment, Trump, emperator maximus is giving constantly signals that he predictable as the sun sets in the west (or east).
This created a strategic problem for the incoming administration. A recent report by the National Defense University suggests. R.D. Hooker, Jr. ask,
Senior policymakers are often asked, “Does the United States have a grand strategy?”
Donald J. Trump reflects the know-it-all, of a fast talking business tycoon solving the world problems with a linear approach. Money, greed, corruption and deals. This is not strategy. This is Tactics (often badly constructed) at best. Clueless, most of the times.
The cornucopia of threats are expected to give the president-elect a large humble-pie that twitter is unlikely going to solve it. Paula J. Dobriansky wrote,
“No major power beyond the United States appears committed to the international order’s maintenance.”
The United States now is neither feared nor respected. Its enemies have been emboldened and are working together; the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran axis is the most significant example.
They seek not just to inflict a series of humiliating defeats on the United States, but also to discredit the entire American approach to global and domestic governance. And, unfortunately, they have attained some success in these efforts.
Trumps rhetoric makes the incoming president vulnerable to exploitation, influence, manipulation and disinformation, which Trump in his linear, narrow view unlikely going to comprehend.
Yet, balanced presidential language is needed and the question of credibility will be established if the administration is able to back up the saber rattling Trump has commenced.
His withdrawal from foreign policy will harm him domestically on both side of the aisle. And whereas American engagement is wanted, many foreign leaders will face uncertainty in the near future while dealing with a Trump administration.
Trump is going to have to fast track on his personal reading list. A recommendation to consider is the Marine Corps reading list of General (ret.) James Mattis would be a good start.
For the U.S. intelligence community the hard times are ahead. Attempts by Trump to make the system better will create internal strife’s, promotion of new guardians of the “Shield” and analysis, the center of unbiased facts, will be faced with the unbelievable resistance by business attitudes that the Trump brings to the job. The know-it-all, will be facing some of the equally linear thought processes of evidence versus speculation. Based on experience the analysts usually win the compelling arguments the now politician will have a hard time to digest.
Critical examination and change can be a good thing, if Emperator Trump is willing to listen. But so far Trump has shown little aptitude to comprehend the magnitude the imperial administration of Donald J. Trump is facing. This will lead to a paralysis of analysis, wrong decision making and blunders. Donald J. Trump is heading to a fast approaching geopolitical manure storm that will test his administration on Day 2.
Regardless of what the Trump administration thinks about the outgoing administration but the past eight years have endless attempts to target the U.S. homeland were prevented. This will be tested. Terror attacks against the new symbols of the Trust empire overseas should be expected.
A weakening of domestic and foreign intelligence capabilities will create the perception of the United States is vulnerable to attack. Islamic States, Al Qaeda, and every other back-water wanna-be power will challenge the American empire under Trump.
Changes in the security posture under the French president Hollande, under Germany’s A. Merkel and even in Indonesia under yet another populist president Jokowi, given a rise to terror and radicalization of society. Whereas Trump wants to appear with a New York tough guy act so far Trump has not produced the confidence needed.
His know-it-all-attitude is what will result in an risk adverse attitude within the intelligence community until the purges run their courses, blood spilled, and new Imperial masters of the intelligence have taken the reigns.
In the meantime, the Russians, Chinese and Turks closing ranks. And the Americans are not on the table. Not even in the Philippines.