An unintelligent way to view intelligence

There is an old saying “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. It means that if you want to exert influence and win people over it is better to use nice rather than nasty means.

US President Trump has clearly never read this saying (from what I hear he doesn’t read, period, and that in and of itself is scary). His tweets last week over the most recent US intelligence community’s assessment of threats made it quite evident what he thought of those who disagreed with him. And what exactly did American spies write that so pissed off the President? Well:

  • they assessed that North Korea was still keen to build nuclear weapons: Trump says North Korean dictator told him he wasn’t and that was ok with the Donald;
  • they assessed that Iran was not currently pursuing a similar program: Trump says that the mullahs are; and
  • they assessed that Islamic State (IS) still poses a significant terrorism threat: Trump tweeted a while ago that the group was defeated.

Now I would rather not make this into yet another anti-Trump article as there are far too many of those, rightly or wrongly. But there is something else that needs to be raised in conjunction with the current US President’s relationship with the American intelligence community. According to a new article in Time, Trump displays ‘willful ignorance’ when presented with intelligence assessments. ‘Briefers’ – those chosen to present daily synopses of the most important developments – have found it hard to keep Trump’s attention, even if they use pictures, short sentences and call him by name and title as often as possible, and they have been advised not to give him intelligence on anything that contradicts something he has said publicly (such as the three items cited above).

This is nothing short of disastrous. That a sitting president has no time for intelligence or anything that tells him he may be wrong is almost beyond belief and unheard of in my experience. For the record I knew one of Obama’s briefers and cannot imagine what she is thinking of all this.

No, intelligence is not always right: the Iraq War debacle is one good example of failure, though I suspect there was a lot of political pressure to come up with data to support the foregone decision to go to war. But intelligence professionals endeavour to get it right to the best of their abilities. They collect, process, assess, analyse and distribute what they know in accordance with priorities and new crises. They seek to corroborate what they have from multiple sources wherever possible and to determine reliability of those sources. They take their job seriously and their contribution to decision-making is often crucial.

I had the honour of working for and alongside some remarkable Canadians and others that called the intelligence world their career, their vocation and their passion. They deserve respect and to be listened to, not to be dismissed.

In this situation in the US there is one group of professionals who are capable of doing their job and one man who is neither professional nor capable. I will leave it up to you to pick which is which.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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