As a career Intelligence professional (somewhat dated, I’ve been out of the business longer than I was in the business), I’m finding Trump’s relationship with the Intelligence Community very interesting right now. He has deprecated their contributions and rejected the usefulness of their efforts. Many people have said that this is just one more example of his stupidity. I don’t think so. At least, not totally. I think what we are seeing is a good example of what might be called operator bias.
Operators are the people who get things done. It’s the operators in an organization who bring life to its reason for being. In the military, they are the war fighters, the ship drivers, and blue four. In business, they are the CEOs and COOs. Their job is to accomplish the mission, fly the frag, keep the doors open. They chafe at anything that might limit their ability to do this, no matter the firmness and reality of those limits. They are the ones who say never tell me the odds. The ones who say think like a manager rather than an engineer.
Trump is 100% a businessman, an operator. He’s always looking to apply his art to another deal. Anything that gets in the way of that deal is an obstacle, not an ally. And if it persists, it’s an enemy. Trump is hot on the deal of a lifetime, and he’s due to close on it on January 20th. So, how is he going to act when the Intelligence Community tries to queer the deal, as he sees it? He’ll do what any businessman does when faced with an inconvenient fact. He’ll belittle it, downplay it, distract you from thinking about it. He’ll ridicule the source. If forced, he might offer some sort of cosmetic band-aid.
“That high voltage line runs right through the back yard of that house we’re looking at.”
“I haven’t seen any two-headed cats wandering around.”
“That used car you’re selling seems to be leaking oil.”
“They do that when they’re brought in from a cold lot. It will seal right up once you run it.”
“I like this used car you’re selling, but it’s got 150,000 miles on it.”
“You shouldn’t be obsessed with mileage.”
Afterwards, a thinking-ahead businessman might take action to — well, not to fix the problem, but to keep it from being a problem for him by suppressing further news of it. To the extent he can, he might retaliate against those who might keep raising the issue.
But it’s not the job of Intelligence to suppress an issue. It’s not part of our ethos, it’s not in our DNA. An Intelligence analyst lives and breaths the concept of Timely Truth, Well Told. In Intelligence, the cardinal sin is to know something and not tell the operators who need to know it. Like logisticians, analysts deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. Intelligence, as they say, is our last defense against wishful thinking.
The Intelligence Community is actually pretty good about giving the President what he wants in the format he wants it in, from Reagan’s briefing book to Obama’s briefing Blackberry. If Trump wants his intel in 140-character bites, that’s what he’ll get.
The problem, as I see it, is that it doesn’t matter what the package looks like, Trump isn’t buying the product. He talks to his advisors, and he talks to foreign leaders and maybe he reads the New York Times (because that’s what New Yorkers do, even if they disagree with it) and then he heads off to make deals, and woe betide any Intelligence agency that gets in the way of the deal. And when something goes horribly wrong, as it well might, he’ll deny that it happened, deny that it happened that way, deny that it’s wrong, deny that it’s horribly wrong, and then — he’ll blame Intelligence.