The last week hearing in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Worldwide Threat Assessment report that had been prepared by the American intelligence community and published on January 26 showed a deep rift in views on the global situation of U.S. intelligence services and President Donald Trump.
The American intelligence leadership point by point refuted national security statements that Trump made after he came to power. For example, Donald Trump said that ISIL, a terrorist organization banned in Russia, was fully destroyed. Intelligence services said that this terrorist organization had thousands of militants and that it was preparing new attacks around the world. Despite Trump's statements that Iran has continued working on nuclear weapons, U.S. intelligence services believe that Tehran is committed to the nuclear deal.
The American president announced that North Korea was no more a nuclear threat. The intelligence community noted that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump doubted statements that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. American intelligence officials believe that Moscow was successful and that it may take even more sophisticated actions to intervene into the next election.
It is astonishing that no American intelligence senior official said a word about the need to build a wall on the border with Mexico during many-hour Senate debates on security threats. Trump called this the most urgent need in the security sphere for the United States that, by the way, led to the most protracted shutdown in the American history that lasted for 35 days.
There is one important point on which Donald Trump and the intelligence community see eye to eye on. They both consider China as a serious threat to the United States. However, there are still certain differences between the president and intelligence chiefs who are concerned about China's growing military might, whereas Trump centers on the trade policy. Nevertheless, there are far many differences than common points.
It is not accidental that former Acting Director of Central Intelligence Agency John McLaughlin, who currently makes frequent appearances on NBC information programs, said that the contrast between the president and his own intelligence agencies is "unprecedented in its scope." Donald Trump said that American intelligence agencies' evaluations of global threats to the United States are "naïve." "Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!" the American president traditionally wrote on his Twitter page.
It is not today that differences in opinions and even open confrontation between the incumbent American president and his intelligence agencies have appeared. They began when Donald Trump was running for presidency. He many times criticized American special services in his electoral speeches, alleging that they had unleashed the war in Iraq, had provided fake information about Saddam Hussein's having weapons of mass destruction, and had been guilty of killing the American ambassador to Libya. But it appeared back then that there was nothing personal about it but mere electoral slogans. Moreover, even American special services themselves did not contest some of Trump's statements. Facts are facts, and everyone was aware of intelligence failures. But one day things came to the point that speaking about the intelligence community, Trump questioned, "Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
The conflict was well expected after such statements, and in fact today no one is saying that there is no such conflict. Noteworthy, specials services are rather reserved organizations that live according to their own long-established laws and rules of conduct. The history of the United States shows that sometimes special services say what is wanted to be heard "atop." But sometimes opposite things can be witnessed: special services are trying to influence the opinion of the country's leadership. As a rule, previous American presidents adopted such "rules of the game."
But one day hot-blooded and unpredictable Donald Trump, who got used to a certain pattern of conduct over his long business career, came to power and immediately started to dismantle existing relationships with American special services. The intelligence community, to be honest, was not ready for such developments. One may assert that complicated relationship of the 45th president of the United States with intelligence officials is to a major extent mental. Ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said that intelligence "is the sovereign's most precious faculty." However, Trump doesn’t think so and intelligence returns the love.
Since the start of his presidency, Trump has publicly been saying that he declares a war on what is called the Deep State, or Derin Devlet. This phrase came to English from Turkish and was used to denote a parallel state comprised of officers of special services, army and police. Trump brought the notion to the American soil, and his actions regarding special services are aimed at protecting his administration from leaks and weakening the influence of the Democrats in general and the Clinton clan in particular. This is the purpose of Donald Trump's purges in the intelligence community that began shortly after he had been elected American president. He first sacked influential FBI Director James Comey, who tried to prove Russia's involvement in electing Trump as American president.
And things were getting worse. Trump broke the whole system of communication with the intelligence leadership. It was a long-established tradition that president of the United States receives CIA director and National Intelligence director, and sometimes FBI director and National Security Agency director joined them. Trump broke the tradition. He was ignoring reports of special services for first several months in office, saying that he didn't need them. However, later Trump began to pay attention to demanding intelligence officials – he received them twice or thrice a week. The American intelligence community was shocked by such Trump's conduct and even launched a media flash mob.
Donald Trump later deprived former CIA Director John Brennan and a number of former special services chief of access to secret information. Previously it was a usual thing for the intelligence community to have such access. Breaking the tradition Trump aroused harsh criticism on behalf of both incumbent and former American intelligence chiefs.
Trump's innuendos and threats to influential former special services officials are voiced against the backdrop of escalating relations between the president and incumbent National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats after the Russian-American summit in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. Immediately after the meeting of the two presidents in the Finnish capital in reply to Coats statement that "the Russian meddling" in the American presidential election was proved, Trump deliberately changed this statement at the press conference with Vladimir Putin, saying an absolutely opposite thing, thus showing no trust in American special services.
That Trump's statement in Helsinki about who he trusted more either Vladimir Putin or American special services brought about a storm of abuse on behalf of the American establishment. Though after the summit Trump became more cautious in criticizing his special services but still carried on. Trump's recent unflattering remarks regarding American special services over the Senate hearing and the published intelligence report prove this.
So, confrontation between Donald Trump and special services is likely to go on. However, a number of experts believe that differences with the intelligence community are unlikely to bring serious troubles to him. However, on the whole the American president is, certainly, interested in special services’ activity because without their information he cannot effectively work. The intelligence community to a certain extent is "a shield and sword," well, sometimes not that strong and sharp that he wanted.