President Trump Takes Aim At His Own Intelligence Team, Again NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with former White House Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke about the disparity between the president's rhetoric about global threats and that of top intelligence officials.
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President Trump Takes Aim At His Own Intelligence Team, Again

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President Trump Takes Aim At His Own Intelligence Team, Again

President Trump Takes Aim At His Own Intelligence Team, Again

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump took aim again today at one of his favorite targets - his own intelligence team. Quote, "the intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive," he tweeted. In a follow-up moments later, "perhaps intelligence should go back to school." The president was talking about Iran and what dangers that country may pose. And what provoked him was this - testimony yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee from the leaders of the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and this man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN COATS: I'm here today with these exceptional people who I had the privilege to work with in making sure that we can do everything we possibly can to bring the intelligence necessary to our policymakers, to this committee and others.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That would be Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. And despite his very pleasant-sounding tone there on subject after subject, from Iran to North Korea to ISIS, testimony from Coats and other U.S. intelligence leaders contradicted the president's stated views and policy. Let's bring into the conversation someone who has spent a lot of time navigating between presidents and the spy agencies that serve them, former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. Hey there.

RICHARD CLARKE: It's good to be with you.

KELLY: Good to have you with us. Now, we should acknowledge that remarkably, this is not new for President Trump to publicly insult his own intelligence chiefs. But what did you make of this back-and-forth yesterday and then again today?

CLARKE: Well, part of it, I thought was quite good. We have the director of national intelligence, who is a former Republican senator and who doesn't have a lot of background in intelligence. Some of us were concerned he wouldn't do a good job and he might politicize intelligence. In fact, he's done the exact opposite. He's protected the professional intelligence analytical community and given them the cover to stand up and do their job independent of policymakers and to write a good report, which they publicly released yesterday. So that's to the plus. To the negative is, of course, the president attacking his intelligence community publicly. Look. I've been on both sides of this. I've been an intelligence analyst, and I've been a policymaker.

KELLY: Yeah.

CLARKE: And there's a natural give and take between the two. And if the system works, one usually upsets the other. But to do it publicly just undercuts the entire intelligence community - the morale, their standing. There's no value to having a public feud.

KELLY: Of the numerous disconnects on Iran, on North Korea, on ISIS, was there one that leapt out at you?

CLARKE: Yeah. I would add the Russian election interference to that list - so Russian election interference, Iran, North Korea, ISIS. There's language in the report that obviously the administration wouldn't like. But on all of those issues except for North Korea, they're factual statements. They're not value judgments. Iran is in compliance with a nuclear agreement. Russia did interfere in the 2016 election. ISIS does still, quote, "command thousands of fighters and maintain over a dozen networks."

The only value judgment is when they say North Korea is unlikely, in the intelligence community's judgment, to give up the WMD. That's their judgment based on a lot of expertise and presumably intelligence. If the president disagrees with that, fine. But why do we have to have him do that publicly? I doubt he's actually read this report, by the way.

KELLY: One disconnect that struck me watching - unless I missed it, neither Coats nor anybody else up there testifying pointed to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border as a...

CLARKE: It's not in the report.

KELLY: ...National security threat.

CLARKE: No. The Mexican...

KELLY: How do we square that?

CLARKE: Well, because it's not a national security threat, and it's not a crisis. It's the dog that didn't bark here. It's not in the report because it's really not a crisis.

KELLY: Very quickly - you have direct experience of working for a president who chose a path of action at odds with what the intelligence might suggest. You were in the White House in the run-up to 9/11. Did you see parallels?

CLARKE: No, not really. What's disturbing here is there's attack across the board on the intelligence community, and he's really not using intelligence to shape policy.

KELLY: Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, we will leave it there. Thanks so much for taking the time.

CLARKE: Thank you.

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