Despite the best efforts of many in the GOP to disavow the Frankenstein their own hateful rhetoric reared, Donald Trump is now for all intents and purposes the Republican Party’s nominee for president. With the status of nominee comes greater responsibilities and privileges for candidates, not least of which is receiving intelligence briefings from the CIA and other agencies. It is a tradition begun by Harry Truman in the 1952 election that each major party’s nominee receives at least one thorough briefing of classified intelligence information before the election.
Besides ensuring that the next president does not enter office under-informed, the purpose of the briefings, according to former CIA director Michael Morell, is to “get [candidates] to understand that they have now stepped into a bigger world.” And that could be an issue for Donald Trump, who has run his campaign like a reality TV show, demonstrated a shocking ignorance of world affairs, and seems to have little to no filter on his speech. Indeed many in the intelligence community are fearing the consequences of providing Trump with such highly classified information.
Among them is Aki Peritz, a former CIA analyst who wrote an article in March about the dangers of sensitive national security secrets to a man who “famously has no filter” and gets much of his cachet from “telling it like it is.” “He’s never held public office before,” Prietz said in an interview with NPR today, “so if the United States starts giving Donald Trump classified briefings it could be a disaster.” Trump is so prone to bragging, and has such a child’s composure that it is not hard to see him being unable to resist the urge to share the classified information like a toddler who just has to show everyone the new toy only he has. Indeed, another intelligence official, who wished to remain anonymous because he is currently at the CIA, said that “It’s not an unreasonable concern that he’ll talk publicly about what’s supposed to stay in that room.”
A slip-up by Trump wouldn’t even have to be intentional to have tremendous consequences for the security of the nation, and many are worried that classified information could slip out in his disjointed, rambling, stream-of-consciousness like speech. As an anonymous former intelligence official put it, “My concern with Trump will be that he inadvertently leaks, because as he speaks extemporaneously, he’ll pull something out of his hat that he heard in a briefing and say it.” For someone who has promoted inane conspiracies, tweets an almost endless stream of sometimes almost-incomprehensible rantings, and lies almost constantly, this is not hard to imagine.
Moreover, the very concept of an intelligence briefing seems anathema to everything that Trump stands for and has built his campaign on. He is utterly disdainful of almost anything beyond America’s borders and has not only showed an incredible ignorance of the world but appears to be proud of that ignorance. As former CIA director Michael Hayden said, “It beggars the imagination; given that his public persona seems to reflect a lack of understanding or care about global issues, how do you arrange these presentations?” And we shouldn’t even count ourselves out of the woods if Trump manages to keep his mouth shut until the election. Given his sore-loser tendencies it is entirely conceivable that he would spill classified information in spite after his inevitable loss in November. In any event, the coming months will be delicate times for national secrets.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.