During the 2016 presidential campaign, many observers worried about what Donald Trump might do with the U.S. intelligence apparatus. These organizations kill people, after all, with scary flying robots. They have the ability to spy on huge numbers of people all over the world. And they have a history of scandal. So it was reasonable to wonder: What happens when you put organizations such as the CIA and the NSA in the hands of a person as vindictive, petty, and contemptuous of law and his political enemies as Trump?
The answer, for a while at least, was a somewhat uneventful interlude. Trump had his eyes on other bureaucratic targets. The president rejected important intelligence conclusions, particularly vis-à-vis Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. And he reportedly had little patience for briefings and tended not to believe the community’s conclusions when they were inconvenient to him. But his abusive energy focused far less on the agencies that collect and analyze foreign intelligence than it did on the Justice Department and its investigative component, the FBI.
That changed this past week, when Trump moved decisively to politicize the intelligence community, beginning the process of transforming a group of agencies that produce apolitical analysis of regional and global trends and threats to the United States into a blunt tool of presidential power. The changes will make it easier for the president to lie about matters of the gravest consequence. The move is objectively alarming—and yet, for some reason, has not generated the alarm it is due. [Continue reading…]