Have intelligence agencies cut the Oval Office out of the loop? The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that agencies have withheld sensitive information from Donald Trump despite his status as head of state and government. The alleged move came over worries about Russian contacts with Trump’s team, as well as the war of words between Trump and the agencies involved:
The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him.
In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.
As the WSJ points out, however, shielding spycraft and sources from presidents is hardly unprecedented:
Intelligence officials have in the past not told a president or members of Congress about the ins and outs of how they ply their trade. At times, they have decided that secrecy is essential for protecting a source, and that all a president needs to know is what that source revealed and what the intelligence community thinks is important about it.
But in these previous cases in which information was withheld, the decision wasn’t motivated by a concern about a president’s trustworthiness or discretion, the current and former officials said.
So they’re doing the same thing as in the past, but … they just don’t like this president? Bottom line question: this any different than past presidencies, or is this the same policy being followed for different motives? It looks a lot more like the latter than the former:
The officials emphasized that they know of no instance in which crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted. Still, the misgivings that have emerged among intelligence officials point to the fissures spreading between the White House and the U.S. spy agencies.
Absent any concrete examples, this makes it look like the fissure-spreading is taking place on both sides of the crack. From the outside looking in, this appears to be a couple of anonymous sources from intelligence agencies recasting a normal practice into something more malevolent while painting themselves as the white knights in a micturition contest.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied that any changes have taken place with the protocol of presidential briefings:
Director of National Intelligence says reports that intelligence community is withholding information are not true, @AnthonyMasonCBS reports pic.twitter.com/5GcN133u50
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 16, 2017
The ODNI statement, released late Wednesday night, comes in response to a Wall Street Journal story reporting that intelligence officials have kept intelligence from Trump over concerns that that information might be leaked or otherwise compromised by a White House reportedly lacking in organization and besieged by internal conflict.
“Any suggestion that the U.S. Intelligence Community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the President and his national security team is not true,” the ODNI statement said.
The election has been over for some time, and Donald Trump is president. The intelligence community may not like the outcome, but they still have to cooperate with civilian authority chosen in the election. And it sounds like they do, but some are unhappy about it and willing to point it out to reporters. Buckle up, people — we’re in for a bumpy ride.
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