Former CIA Officer On Trump's Battle With Intelligence Community

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Former Central Intelligence Agency top counterterrorism official Glenn Carle speaks during his presentation with the title ’Interrogation Policy and Human Rights’ at the Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary, Oct., 25, 2012. (Zoltan Mathe/AP/MTI)
Former Central Intelligence Agency top counterterrorism official Glenn Carle speaks during his presentation with the title ’Interrogation Policy and Human Rights’ at the Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary, Oct., 25, 2012. (Zoltan Mathe/AP/MTI)

"Uncharted territory" — that's how the dispute between President-elect Donald Trump and the CIA is being characterized in the press and by some members of the intelligence community.

The argument refers to Trump's dismissal of reports of a CIA assessment that Russia interfered in the election in order to sway it in Trump's favor.

One of the strongest reactions to Trump's rejection came this morning from General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and the NSA. He spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin on Morning Edition, and said, "This is just a dismissal of what the agency has said without an investigation of its data or its analysis. That's scary. That the fact-based guys get shoved out of the room before there is any argument, frankly... because what they're concluding seems unpleasant."

If there is indeed a rift between the president-elect and the intelligence community, how serious is it?


Glenn Carle, intelligence officer for 23 years in the CIA, where he served on four continents. His book is "The Interrogator: An Education."

Interview Highlights

On how serious the rift is between PEOTUS and the intelligence community

"There's a rift flowing all across the headlines, the page and everyone's consciousness. It's tremendous. But it actually is only a secondary issue compared to the larger issue of the competence, or lack thereof, of the president-elect with regard to national security and international affairs. It’s stunning, and an existential moment for the United States, much less the CIA, absolutely."

On General Hayden's comments that Trump's team is not fact-based

"One may make mistakes and get the facts wrong. Everyone gets 100 things wrong a day and it's the only unusual person who actually can acknowledge that, but that's the truth. It’s a sign of courage and self awareness to do so. And it gives you the chance of getting things right in the future.

"But if you simply dismiss things and assert facts that you wish and deny anything that seems to challenge your own view or your own self-aggrandizement, then you’re dealing in what has been called an alternate reality. But that’s too nice a term. Then you’re simply lying and not living on the Earth as we know it. It’s a shocking development for the leader of the United States."

On if Trump's actions are unprecedented territory

"Absolutely. My personal experience goes back to President Reagan. But that means I overlapped with colleagues whose direct experiences go back to the Eisenhower administration, frankly. And there’s never been a circumstance like this.

"President [George W.] Bush did not accept many of the conclusions, or like the conclusions, or the views of the intelligence community with respect to Iraq or weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism. But an argument is one thing.

"President Clinton had hostile relations in his first administration with Director [James] Woolsey. That’s OK actually to have substantive differences. But when you deny even to consider the facts and if any statement is made on any subject at any time with which you think somehow challenges what you view as your own self-wealth or position then you're dealing in someone who is almost clinically incapable of dealing with the world that we all live in. It’s absolutely stunning. There's never been anything like this."

"It's horrifying moment. Others have said that the U.S. is facing — and I completely agree and I myself have said separately — that the U.S. is facing the greatest crisis to its institution since 1861. Not since the Vietnam War, not since World War II, since 1861 when the country broke in two. That is because our institutions, our procedures, the checks and balances, separation of powers, and the social compact as well as social reality and facts on which we all have to decide what positions we take and agree to disagree, all are placed in question for the glory of one person's sense of self."

On the president's relationship with the intelligence community

"Let's look at the Pacific and the statements has made with regard to China. One can argue in favor or against the TPP, the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, but by simply repudiating it and alienating one of the two great powers certainly in the Asian hemisphere but also on Earth now, China, one sets a clash up that possibly could be avoided.

"It also means that we've withdrawn essentially from shaping the trade regimes, economic policies, the strategic policies, the alignments, the alliances that have determined the security structure of Asia, which includes the United States, for the last 70 years. And that's done before the president-elect takes office. That's just on one issue in one area. I could go on for probably five hours.

"What has happened to NATO already is shocking because of the president-elect's associations and defense of comments with regard to Russia because it is clear, independent of any intelligence assessment, that Russia's interest is to see NATO crumble. And by walking back from NATO unilaterally, in a supposed declaration of national independence or some crazy thing, we've already weakened NATO. These are two of the pillars of the international order, globally, that rely on the United States as its foundation and protector. And already they're shaken. It is a huge crisis."

On the purpose of the intelligence community

"The operative expression for the CIA is that our job is to speak truth to power. And we are set up to be irritants, not to go along and no one likes to hear that their hair isn't combed right or that they've invaded the wrong country or whatever we are supposed to say. But that is the job, is to speak independently, not in support of any policy, but attempt to present objective reality as best as we can find it.

"And if we can’t do that, then the president is left only with his opinion. And all senior leaders and certainly all presidents will be surrounded by 'yes' men, otherwise they won't be there. Therefore to counter that we have the intelligence community. And already we're essentially unable to function.

"If you can't talk to the president, how can you function? If the president is dismissing any product, any assessment that you make, as somehow partisan or unwelcome, and simply locked out, then you serve no purpose."

On Trump calling out CIA's past mistakes regarding weapons of mass destruction

"It's a good debating point to make. Details always mess up an easy one-liner. But in the famous WMD report itself, 47 times the intelligence community said, 'We do not know if the following is true.' Forty-seven times. Of the 535 members of Congress, something like 25 read it. But they all had opinions on it.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100, the CIA will on the whole get its assessments correct. It was true that WMD we got wrong by reporting accurately the information that we collected. Even Saddam Hussein's own subordinates believed that the programs were continuing which we accurately reported.

"But this is too much in the weeds. The main thing that's happening is a political maneuver to divert attention from Trump's comments and rejection of intelligence and professionalism onto a specific event that has nothing to do with him 10 years ago. That's sort of a cheap maneuver but a standard one and has really nothing to do with the issue at hand."

On his 2011 book, 'The Interrogator' and his confidence in the CIA now

"I particularly was focused on or concerned by how we had gone astray in the enhanced interrogation program. Deep down the book, sad and tragic as it is about a series of errors that we made, is a book of idealism — about how to be an honorable officer, a leader, a public servant. And how America can get it right if we live up to our ideals.

"So I wouldn't say it was a repudiation of the mission of the CIA or even its core functions and competence. But certainly on the enhanced interrogation program I remain gravely disturbed."

"Any human endeavor will be flawed and all social organizations consist of humans so there will be error, of course. President Lincoln was talking about a rival and an ally of his one time in 1861, he said, 'The man gets it wrong sometimes but his eyes are turned toward Zion. He's moving generally, trying to move in the right direction.' I think we do a little bit better than just going the right point in the compass, but you have ideals, principles, you set good standards, and then when you err you try to rectify your error and continue to move ahead.

"Do I have faith that the agency does those things and on the whole succeeds? I do."

On if Obama's investigation of Russian involvement should be declassified

"Yes, you can always, almost always declassify assessments and substance without revealing sources or methods. So the answer to that question is yes, it should be declassified. Do I have full confidence in the bipartisan, neutral, objective nature of a congressional oversight committee's investigation? No, I don't."

On if trust can be built between Trump and intelligence community

"The answer is no, because a tiger doesn’t change its stripes and a person doesn't change his personality and his basic worldview. And we have seen from the first day what the visceral psychological approach to interactions is of the president-elect and that won't change. He will remain egocentric, narcissistic, very defensive, and will deny, destroy and attack anything that challenges anything other than praise for him. That does not augur well at all for relations of the CIA with the executive in the Oval Office, or the functioning of the national security establishment.

"Mike Morell, former acting director [of the CIA], whom I overlapped with in my career, said that this is the equivalent of a 9/11 moment for the intelligence community. Others have called it the gravest crisis since World War II facing the republic. All of these statements are true.

"This is a huge issue that you have someone who lacks even a second grader's competence substantively and the stability of someone who would last probably four seconds in an assessment by the CIA before being rejected."

This article was originally published on December 13, 2016.

This segment aired on December 13, 2016.



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