COMMENTARY: Trump and CIA: Getting off to a shaky start

With two weeks left until inauguration day, President-elect Donald Trump’s comments pertaining to the Central Intelligence Agency appear to be a continuation of his campaign rhetoric, which was decidedly negative toward the agency and its recent performance. As quickly as Trump completes his inaugural oath, he will need the support, expertise, and loyalty of the intelligence community, but particularly the CIA.

President Trump will benefit from knowing all the weapons in the nation’s arsenal relating to American foreign policy. At the one end is diplomacy and at the other military force. In between are a host of tools, including intelligence, whether done through spying, field operations, inventions, or analysis. No chief executive should forsake any individual tool, as the circumstances may demand its use alone or in combination to other weapons.

The accusation that the CIA has been politicized is not new. Just look up 1975, 1981, 1989, 1993, and 2001 for similar views. Not coincidentally, those dates correspond to the first year of a new president’s term, when the previous record of the preeminent intelligence agency is most vulnerable.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

However, the difference in this century is that the criticism of politicization has not subsided in the post 9/11 period, as unfair blame for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and for faulty information on WMDs in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion led to the downgrading of the CIA’s clearinghouse function in favor of the Director of National Intelligence.

Among likely policies which the Trump administration will pursue in the foreign policy realm are those dealing with how to defeat ISIS, changing or negating the nuclear deal with Iran, strengthening ties with Israel, and improving relations with Russia at the expense of China.

On the last point, Trump should not use the CIA as a punching bag for disagreeing with evidence about Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election, as it was gathered by all 17 intelligence agencies in the federal government. In fact, the CIA recently augmented its cyber-security apparatus, which will be critical going forward.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump alluded to the possibility that he would reverse President Barack Obama’s prohibition against the use of torture for those detainees in U.S. custody. Not only would that be inconsistent with American values, but it would seemingly change the current path which the CIA is on, one which has taken it away from conducting paramilitary operations such as those which followed the 9/11 attacks.

Whereas the days of actively destabilizing governments, supporting coups, and conducting assassinations of foreign leaders are ostensibly in the rear-view mirror, the U.S. policy on drone use to kill suspected terrorists could expand during the Trump presidency.

The spy business is a nasty if necessary part of our nation’s national security. Given the stakes, it is crucial that the incoming administration maintain close ties to the intelligence community.

Ironically, there are presently more CIA defenders in Congress than there seem to be among the Trump transition team, which is not a positive omen for the next four years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University. He has taught and published extensively on American foreign, military and national security policy.

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