Intelligence Officials Call Out Trump’s “Willful Ignorance” as Endangering National Security

Published on February 3, 2019 by Athena Pallas

Senior intelligence briefers, among the small set of people that prepare and provide intelligence briefings to President Trump, are warning that Trump’s “willful ignorance” of their analyses represents a true danger to national security. According to a new report from TIME Magazine, these intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicate Trump also has a terrible problem with his attention span, so that they have had to resort to tactics such as repeating his name and title frequently, using visual aids, and shortening briefing points to just a couple sentences in an effort to try to get Trump to pay attention. Those tactics sound a lot like the kind of tactics you’d use to get the attention of a toddler so they’d look the right way during a photo – it is embarrassing, if not exactly surprising, that those tactics need to be used on the current President of the United States. Yet even those tactics are not enough.

Beyond the issue of Trump’s inattentiveness is his angry response when intelligence information contradicts his beliefs or stated positions. Two of the intelligence officers who spoke to TIME said they had even been warned not to give Trump intelligence information that contradicts any of his publicly stated positions. In that news there is of course the implied glaring problem that Trump wants to mold facts into fiction in order to support his positions, rather than use the facts to inform, refine, and change his position as those facts would indicate. This report from TIME certainly is supported by Trump’s reaction this weak to testimony from the highest ranking U.S. intelligence officials, including CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who publicly contradicted Trump’s positions on Iran, ISIS, and North Korea. Trump, rather than absorbing that intelligence analysis, rejected it completely, saying the intelligence officials were “passive and naive” and “should go back to school”. According to TIME Magazine:

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s renewed attacks on the U.S. intelligence community this week, senior intelligence briefers are breaking two years of silence to warn that the President is endangering American security with what they say is a stubborn disregard for their assessments. Citing multiple in-person episodes, these intelligence officials say Trump displays what one called “willful ignorance” when presented with analyses generated by America’s $81 billion-a-year intelligence services. The officials, who include analysts who prepare Trump’s briefs and the briefers themselves, describe futile attempts to keep his attention by using visual aids, confining some briefing points to two or three sentences, and repeating his name and title as frequently as possible. What is most troubling, say these officials and others in government and on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on the episodes, are Trump’s angry reactions when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds. Two intelligence officers even reported that they have been warned to avoid giving the President intelligence assessments that contradict stances he has taken in public.

The intelligence briefings are supposed to help inform the president’s decisions. Trump is given factual information, but if he doesn’t like what he hears or if it disagrees with beliefs or policies he already has, he simply denies the facts. As a result, many of these decisions, including key foreign policy decisions, are being made by Trump in direct contradiction of intelligence information given him. Acting on the fiction Trump would like to be true, rather than acting on facts, is of course extraordinarily dangerous, foolhardy, and counterproductive. A person who cannot or will not face facts should not be president.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.