We know that Donald Trump doesn’t much like to read news reports — he much prefers to watch sports, cable news and reality television while stuffing his face in his 5th Avenue Penthouse — but a former secretary of defense says the president-elect’s decision not to read daily intelligence briefings could prove fatal.
Trump told Fox News Sunday that he isn’t interested in what the nation’s military and civilian intelligence agencies have to offer on a daily basis. That daily intelligence briefing, which includes among troves of classified information a synopsis of U.S. intelligence on foreign wars, domestic terrorist threats and unfolding international relations developments, has been a morning coffee staple for every president since ink could be printed on paper.
Instead, the president-elect wants intelligence officials to just “let us know…if something should change.”
Leon Panetta, who directed the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Defense Department under President Barack Obama, says the decision to tune out puts our president-to-be in a rather precarious position as commander-in-chief.
“If we endure another attack and the intelligence officials had indications or information regarding that attack and the president did not want to listen to that, for whatever reason, the responsibility for that attack would fall on the president,” Panetta told a conference early this week hosted by Dubai’s government, according to a Reuters reporter who was there.
The problem with having intelligence officials wait until “something should change” to brief the president is that intelligence, as both a product of surveillance and a general concept, tends to be cumulative. Little bits add up every day to create a complete and constantly changing picture of the world at any given moment. In other words, it’s ALWAYS CHANGING.
Of course, Trump wouldn’t be the first Republican president hung out to dry on his daily reading assignments. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, it was discovered that national intelligence agencies had amassed evidence of a mounting domestic terrorist attack and presented it to President George W. Bush in one notorious daily briefing.
On Aug. 4, 2001, Bush received a document with the title “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” That report was publicized during congressional hearings on the attack, two years later. The Bush White House also claims it instructed the FBI to step up investigation of terrorist suspects, but no evidence was ever presented that such a crackdown had occurred.
The Bin Laden briefing made it to Bush’s desk, but for several years the Bush White House insisted that the reports were “historical in nature.” The Associated Press later learned that intelligence agents had uncorroborated information dating back to 1998 about a plan to use explosives and hijacked airplanes to launch an attack inside the United States.
Donald Trump should be familiar with this story. On the campaign trail last October, he spouted out a claim that then CIA Director George Tenet told Bush the attacks were coming.
Of course, that isn’t exactly how things went down in 2001, and PolitiFact rated Trump’s cooked up statement a lie.
Apparently both Republican presidents so far this century struggle with amnesia.