There is no doubt that even before Trump’s inauguration his administration appears to be on a collision course with the CIA if the recent spat with their outgoing director, John Brennan is anything to go by. Trump blamed the intelligence agencies for the release of unconfirmed reports about his alleged ties with Russia and that Moscow had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him. Trump took to twitter saying the following,
“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Brennan took offense telling Fox news, “What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany,” and went on to advise the incoming president to avoid “spontaneity” and “understand” the impact of his words saying, “Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests,” he argued. “And so therefore when he speaks or when he reacts, just make sure he understands that the implications and impact on the United States could be profound.”
These remarks added to the already simmering tensions between the president-elect and the intelligence community. Only a few days ago, Trump rejected the findings of a confidential intelligence report by the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA), which accused Russia of hacking Democratic Party emails to influence the US election. The report also claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin desired to assist Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. At his recent press briefing Trump suggested that the release of the Russian dossier would amount to a “tremendous blot” on the record of the US intelligence community.
However we should place this firmly in the context of Brennan’s recent remarks were he said, “I think there were very, very unrealistic expectations in Washington, including in some parts of the administration, that the Arab Spring was going to push out these authoritarian regimes and democracy is going to flourish because that’s what people want.”
This is clearly an utter whitewash of the realities of the Arab Spring which was all about regime change and had nothing to do with democratisation of this region. Afterall why did they allow the likes of Gaddafi to remain in power for over 40 years? However the acknowledgment by Brennan of failures of US foreign policy in the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria too, are indicative of an organisation in transition and perhaps turmoil.
By acknowledging the “mistakes” by Washington, Brennan indirectly is also acknowledging the mistakes of his own agency. Afterall Brennan said “The problem is that intelligence services exist and operate hand in hand with the political leadership, they are incorporated into the state apparatus and are politicised.” Brennan suggested that the viewpoints of those who had the greatest insight into operations were often drowned out in the information overload provided to the leadership. Some might cynically say that Brennan was trying to save face to further his own future career ambitions but it could also be viewed as an attempt to curry favour with the Trump administration and their tangential views on foreign policy, compared with the Obama administration.
Trump repeatedly said that the US should not instigate any regime changes and that the Middle East is not within the scope of American interests. He also emphasised that the top priority for the US should be the fight against international terrorism. Whilst one might argue that recent spat might suggest very much to the contrary, one could say that Brennan was looking to appeal to Trump’s better nature and ensure that his agency is more or less preserved in its current form.
It remains to be seen whether Trump will look to slash the overseas budgets for such agencies and whether or not the CIA is ready to embrace the changes or end up in a head on collision with Washington. No doubt there will be many rumours abound suggesting that Trump is playing with fire, but is unwise of us to look to history for such answers going forward. Afterall as the new paradigm or multipolar world beckons agencies such as the CIA are going to have to evolve or face a very uncertain future, especially given the Trump administration is most definitely going to make sweeping changes across the entire governmental and supporting agencies structure. With respect to the CIA, there is no doubt that within their ranks the personnel are changing and so is their rationale, but it is sufficient to avoid more than a war of words with the new administration?