First, today’s intelligence leaders are all too aware that leaving in protest would open their positions to nominees more likely than they are to give in to pressure from the president. Recall the reported sighs of relief out of CIA headquarters when the president nominated career CIA employee Haspel to replace departing CIA chief Pompeo. Many were concerned about what would happen if the president picked someone to run the agency who was less inclined to appreciate and defend the integrity of the intelligence function. Remaining in place, even in difficult times, becomes easier when one believes that resigning could allow a less principled successor to inflict grave damage on the institution, perhaps even the country.
Second, intelligence officers have faced pushback on intelligence judgments, and even outright hostility to uncomfortable truths, many times before. Presidents and other senior government officials, in fact, have routinely challenged intelligence leaders and briefers (sometimes aggressively) based on inadequate sourcing, weak argumentation, or both. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those reactions: Each such experience with an intense policymaking customer hardens intelligence officers against the shock of subsequent pressure.