President Donald is going to be a headache for the intelligence community. He can't keep his own secrets safe, so how can they trust him?

The spies will be feeling a chill after a month of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

That includes New Zealand’s spies, now in surprisingly familiar territory as concern about Trump’s behaviour spreads across the intelligence community.

Trump’s erratic behaviour will have changed much of how the intelligence community operates, for those working in human intelligence and those in electronic eavesdropping.

The change will also be driven by the ease with which evidence of Trump’s behaviour is leaked from the White House.

There were concerns enough after the emergence of the dossier which alleged to summarise his relationship with Russia. Now, his own national security adviser Michael Flynn has been forced to resign due to confirmation – from the intelligence services' phone tapping – that he had been talking to Russia's ambassador to the US about American sanctions. Further, The New York Times is reporting that members of Trump's campaign team had been in regular contact with Russian intelligence agents.

The suggestion Russia might have a hold over Trump was said to have prompted US intelligence staff to tell Israel it should avoid sharing sensitive information with the incoming President’s aides.

There was concern about the threat of exposure through Russia having “levers of pressure”.

Now there is going to be added concern at the temperamental style of governance Trump seems to be adopting and the examples of that which are being leaked.

For the intelligence community, this adds up to an environment which is less reliable and less stable than it has been for generations.

The possibility that lines of communication are at risk will make human intelligence sources nervous.

These are the eyes on the ground – the people whose goodwill, greed, self-compromise or some other reason has turned them into assets that produce information for the US and its closest intelligence-sharing allies, such as New Zealand.

They will become less willing. The White House leaks show the person at the top of the food chain – Trump – is unable to protect his own information to save himself from embarrassment. That’s not going to give any comfort to an intelligence source.

The chilling of information will extend to the furthest reaches of the information chain. Those sources in communities across the globe, government staff of non-friendly and friendly nations, NGO staff who see things and pass it on – all will wonder how secure they are as the source.

There will also be questions about what their information will be used for. Trump’s bluster against North Korea, cosiness with Russia and brinkmanship with China will terrify regular contributors.

Those questions will also be asked by the holders of the information – the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The product they provide to the President on a daily basis requires calm and careful assessment – the contributions which go to the White House are now going to be measured in an entirely different way.

The intelligence community itself becomes defensive. Its assets now work for a president prone, it seems, to acting on a whim. It will perceive a need to protect the institution, the information it holds and the sources which provide it.

It will also become empowered. The alternate reality being constructed in Washington is vulnerable to intelligence and how it is used. The difficulties of Mike Flynn are proof of the power of the agencies.

Both national and internationally, the intelligence agencies have an overarching intent which is shaped by presidential terms but longer-lived. The Five Eyes grouping (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States) will feel a need to ensure the information collected and held is used to further that long-term plan. That’s not guaranteed with some of the erratic behaviour coming out of the White House.

There will be an exertion of diplomacy to paper over the careful withdrawal of shared intelligence. It’s not as blunt as an edict but those distributing intelligence among friends will be extra-judicious at what they choose to share.

Our spies have been here before. When our political leaders took New Zealand into nuclear-free territory, it led to a diplomatic and military rift with the United States.

We maintained close links but it was cold at times. The US felt further away than it had done. It wasn’t warm, not like the Great Get-Together these past eight years.
During the cold times, an exertion of diplomacy by intelligence chiefs maintained bonds.

At the centre of this imminent chill is Trump’s White House. It has been reported Trump often skips the morning intelligence briefing, delegating the task to an aide who puts together a one-page bullet-point summary.

So that’s where we are at – a president who has created an environment which will provide lesser quality intelligence than that which his predecessors relied on but also a president not to bothered about not having it.

Comments (12)

by Dennis Horne on February 16, 2017
Dennis Horne

Humpty Drumpfy had a great fall. Soon, anyway. No wall required.

by Peggy Klimenko on February 17, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

"...alleged to summarise his relationship with Russia. Now, his own national security adviser Michael Flynn has been forced to resign due to confirmation – from the intelligence services' phone tapping – that he had been talking to Russia's ambassador to the US about American sanctions."

The obsession with, and hysteria over, Russia and President Putin, among the neocons in the US and elsewhere in the world, is completely barking mad. Russia has been a democracy since the fall of communsim - although one would not think this to be so, were one to rely on reportage from major news outlets in the US, Europe and the UK.

See this: https://consortiumnews.com/2017/02/14/trump-caves-on-flynns-resignation/

"The change will also be driven by the ease with which evidence of Trump’s behaviour is leaked from the White House."

Surely you don't take this stuff at face value? Absent corroborating evidence, somebody might well be having a bit of fun with gullible journalists and commentators. Or has it come - again - from intelligence intercepts and eavesdropping, as did the information about Flynn?

It seems bizarre to me that US intelligence is intercepting phone calls and communications by the President and his Cabinet, and so early in his term. The more I hear about the Trump administration's pratfalls, the more sceptical I become about the provenance of the information beng reported and the motivation for the leaks.

by Andrew Geddis on February 17, 2017
Andrew Geddis

Russia has been a democracy since the fall of communsim - although one would not think this to be so, were one to rely on reportage from major news outlets in the US, Europe and the UK.


Sorry, Peggy, but this just isn't true. Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Civil Rights Defenders ... they all agree that Russia is an authoritarian regime that uses the facade of democracy to legitimate Putin's rule. 

Now, I guess these could all be stooge organisations serving the interests of Western power - but given their critical views on (say) US policies in the war on terror, etc, I simply don't believe that. 

by Peggy Klimenko on February 17, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Andrew, assertions that Russia's democracy is just a facade will come as a surprise to the citizens who are voters there. Voting for the Duma took place in September last year.

Putin enjoys considerable support, and plenty of vigorous opposition. That opposition is very vocal, but doesn't always seem to be very successful at winning seats, though. And not because the candidates' bodies are left on the steps of the Kremlin; rather because not enough citizens vote for them.

Russia is a conservative society, in which the Russian Orthodox church is still very important. The church remained at the heart of Russian society, right through the Soviet years. This is not dissimilar to the importance of religion in US society, which is also very conservative, liberal fringes aside. Conservatism can look like - and even be - authoritarian. Other conservative societies have similar characteristics; Ireland is a good example. Its government has had serious issues with corruption, and we all know about the prohibitions on abortion there. But last I looked, no organisation such as those you adduce has shouted about regime change in Ireland, as they do regarding Russia. Of course, Ireland doesn't have nukes. As far as I know...

With regard to Putin, note that the US expected Putin to be Yeltsin’s successor in every sense, and were apparently oblivious to the fact that Yeltsin’s removal and replacement was in effect a military coup. Yeltsin was a lush and, in concert with US neoliberals, oversaw the almost complete destruction of the Russian economy. He was allowed to retire in peace because the military and security services didn’t want a civil war to get rid of him, not if there was an easier way. Thus Putin: brought in to rescue the country. Nobody familiar with his public bio at the time would have pegged him as a saviour, but that’s what he was; probably precisely because he was so unassuming. He has turned out to be a formidable ruler. Hence his enduring popularity with much of the Russian populace. Read this piece for an analysis:
http://thesaker.is/the-usa-are-about-to-face-the-worst-crisis-of-their-history-and-how-putins-example-might-inspire-trump/

The Obama regime was particularly hysterical about Putin. Bit of a puzzle as to why, really, though maybe it was because Obama was weak and ineffectual; Putin is neither.

Amnesty International has white-anted its own credibility with its recent report on Syria. It was accepted uncritically here in NZ, but as soon as I heard the reportage, I was reminded of the stories of Iraqi soldiers bayoneting Kuwaiti babies or pinching their incubators - or whatever the hell it was they were said to have done - weapons of mass destruction, yellow cake, Valerie Plame, etc... In other words, unverified and further investigation reveals them to be fiction. See this:

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/02/11/amnesty-international-stokes-syria...

I'm not sure that Human Rights Watch has much more credibility than the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, which consists of some bloke in his bedroom in the UK: possibly Coventry, but I don't take him seriously enough to recall details of that sort.

I mentioned HRW to a member of this household, who pointed out that it does "dumb things like presenting pictures of rebel shelling and calling them footage of 'Assad's barrel bombs'."  I think it may also have made much of the White Helmets. And we now know that all is not what it seems there.

I hadn't heard of either Freedom House or Civil Rights Defenders, and I'm not sure of their provenance and funding sources. Many such NGOs, particularly those which concern themselves with the status of human rights in Russia, turn out to be CIA-organised and funded.

Both Amnesty and HRW are very mild in their criticism of the United States, while engaging in a hysterical propaganda campaign against Russia and Syria. Yet the US has never been a shining example of liberal democracy untainted by any shenanigans, has it? Certainly not in my lifetime.

by Dennis Horne on February 17, 2017
Dennis Horne

Donald Trump is a joke. Closely monitored. Be gone by Christmas.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-netanyahu-israel-palest...

 

 

by Peggy Klimenko on February 17, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Andrew, with regard to the provenance of Freedom House, it is as I suspected. See this:

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/02/13/a-documentary-youll-likely-never-see/

 "Freedom House, another prominent NGO that receives substantial financing from the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), provided training to young activists who then rallied protesters in what became known as the Orange Revolution, one of the so-called “color revolutions” that the West’s mainstream media fell in love with. It forced an election rerun that Yushchenko won."

I'll lay bets that Civil Rights Defenders is another such. NED is CIA-funded,in case you weren't aware of it.

by Andrew Geddis on February 18, 2017
Andrew Geddis

@Peggy,

Putin enjoys considerable support, and plenty of vigorous opposition. That opposition is very vocal, but doesn't always seem to be very successful at winning seats, though. And not because the candidates' bodies are left on the steps of the Kremlin ...

It's amazing how popular you can be as a ruler when you exert dominance over the major news outlets of your society and use the power of the state to suppress your political opponents. By that standard, I guess Zimbabwe also is a thriving democracy. As for there being no "candidate's bodies left of the steps of the Kremlin", tell that to Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov - or, rather, his grieving family.

Other conservative societies have similar characteristics; Ireland is a good example. Its government has had serious issues with corruption, and we all know about the prohibitions on abortion there. But last I looked, no organisation such as those you adduce has shouted about regime change in Ireland ...

Probably because Ireland is a functioning democracy where the ruler doesn't have his opponents murdered! And the people are able to vote in gay marriage by popular referendum. And the people are free to hold demonstrations in the streets demanding change to abortion law without being attacked and arrested (like happens to gay rights campaigners in Moscow). So there's those differences.

With regard to Putin, note that the US expected Putin to be Yeltsin’s successor in every sense, and were apparently oblivious to the fact that Yeltsin’s removal and replacement was in effect a military coup.

But ... hang on. I thought you said Russia had been a democracy since the fall of communism? Now you're telling me that Putin came to power in what was "in effect a military coup"? But now he's a good democratic leader - or, rather, a "saviour" and "a formidable ruler" - freely chosen by his people? And we shouldn't believe all those nasty rumours about him and his actions because that's all the CIA out to get him - I mean, anyone could have been responsible for the killings of Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Natalia Estemirov!

I think you are suffering from a mix of Great Man Worship Syndrome and enemy-of-my-enemy-is-good thinking. I mean, of course the US (or, rather, factions within the US) is using the "threat" of Putin for its own ends. They always do. But to then pretend that Putin isn't an authoritarian thug who represents the antithesis of everything good liberal lefties should support is just delusional.

by Tim Watkin on February 18, 2017
Tim Watkin

That vigorous opposition is pretty clear that Russia isn't a democracy as well. Even Kasparov is giving up hope of Russia moving from a dictatorship to a democracy.

So all of the long-running, respected NGOs are corrupt and the guy who has his opponents killed, runs a country with no free press and invades other countries is just misunderstood. Riiiiight.

But let's leave that debate so that David's post isn't hijacked... It's interesting to note that English and Turnbull were evasive about their intelligence relationship with the Trump regime in the US and, as the Herald's Claire Trevett has reported, Turnbull would not directly answer questions about his comfort with sharing Five Eyes intelligence with the US under this president. I wonder what policies are being discussed by the GCSB et al.

Certainly David has a point that our own people must be wary, given how wary the US agencies clearly are. And the genuine fear that intellgience could a) get back to authoritarian regimes such as Putin's and b) could be heavily politicised.

Trump has swung from belittling his own agencies to saying that no-one loves them more than him, and back again yesterday to aggressively criticising them. They, clearly, are going to keep leaking against him in this combative environment and he, in return, is promising to uncover the whistle-blowers/leakers (choose your own interpretation). Now the US intelligence agencies have done some questionable (sometimes murderous) things for various past administrations, but being at odds with their own White House. This really is remarkable.

 

by Peggy Klimenko on February 18, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Dennis Horne: "Humpty Drumpfy had a great fall. Soon, anyway. No wall required."

What's going to happen? Coalition of the Willing, riding in to bring about regime change, perhaps?

by Peggy Klimenko on February 19, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

"But let's leave that debate so that David's post isn't hijacked..."

Tim, it's ok for the debate to go where it will, following on from the original post. That's what happens on many other blogsites. It often makes for interesting reading; I usually learn something I didn't know previously.

Andrew: "It's amazing how popular you can be as a ruler when you exert dominance over the major news outlets of your society and use the power of the state to suppress your political opponents."

And - given the claimed suppression of political opposition and state dominance of news outlets - it's just astonishing how much vigorous debate there is over politics in Russia. Russian TV gives opponents of the government far more airtime than their share of the vote warrants. And people watch it: would that we had such programmes here! Moreover, it's astonishing how much we know about what's going on there, both the good and the bad; so different from the old Soviet days, when we knew bugger-all about what was really happening behind the iron curtain.

"Ireland is a functioning democracy.."

Which has continuing issues with corruption. And corruption will white-ant any government, hence international concern over it. It was certainly an issue of considerable moment to the citizens when we were there a few years ago. It appears that things haven't greatly improved. See this:

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/mapped-how-does-ireland-fare-in-the...

When we were there, the Bertie Ahern scandal was warming up.You may recall that he was the former Taoiseach; there was a great deal of coverage of the issue in the press: blunt criticism of Ahern. It's a shocking story. See this:

http://www.irishcentral.com/news/the-bertie-ahern-scandal-and-the-mahon-...

I love Ireland; like many people, I have extended family there. But god, I'd hate to be an Irish woman needing an abortion. An Irish woman full stop, given the way the church's tentacles reach into every facet of society there - or did when we were there. Oh yes, they have protests and demos in Dublin - gay marriage and the like -  but go away into the rurals and it's a moral horse of a completely different colour. In any event, I suspect that the gay marriage thing was to some extent a single finger to the church, coming as it did so close on the heels of the child abuse scandal.

Yes, the Russian government, along wih many of its citizens, takes a dim view of anything it sees as promoting homosexuality or a gay lifestyle. As I said earlier: conservative.

"I thought you said Russia had been a democracy since the fall of communism?Now you're telling me that Putin came to power in what was "in effect a military coup"? "

Looks like you aren't aware of the history; not surprising, since what happened wasn't reported in any detail in the west. Possibly not at all here.

In the late 90s, the Russian economy was a basket case: something had to be done, and swiftly. In August 1999, Putin had been appointed PM; in December of that year, Yeltsin abruptly resigned, naming Putin as acting President, pending elections. In March 2000, Putin was elected President, winning in the first round with just over 50% of the vote. Yes, the military and security services were involved in persuading Yeltsin to step aside; those were desperate times for the economy, and Putin needed to be tough, in order to save the people's assets from the oligarchs and foreign corporates looking to strip the value from those assets. Sounds a familiar story, doesn't it? The asset-stripping, I mean. So: nothing I've recounted is inconsistent with Russia's status as a democracy.

"...anyone could have been responsible for the killings of Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Natalia Estemirov!"

As you'll be aware, with the exception of Estemirova, where the case is still open, I believe, the culprits have been jailed. That includes Nemtsov; who was not left on the steps of the Kremlin. It appears that their deaths were all politically-motivated; it's easy to say that the Kremlin was distally, if not proximally, responsible. But those found guilty had political motivations of various sorts, none of them apparently to do with protecting the government. You'll no doubt be aware of the continuing problems with jihadism in Chechnya, going back many years. Remember that Islamic terrorism first came into Russia from this area; security services have spent many years attempting to protect the Russian federation from it. Several of the dead had been working either with Chechens or in Chechnya itself.

"I think you are suffering from a mix of Great Man Worship Syndrome and enemy-of-my-enemy-is-good thinking."

You do realise that you've just called me the equivalent of a Putin fan-boy? That occasioned much hilarity in this household, not least because I'm both too old and too female to be so characterised! Do not conflate a countervailing argument with “my hero, right or wrong” adulation. That’s very far from being the case. That’s part of the reason for said hilarity: until fairly recently, I’d have agreed with the prevailing view about Putin. But a great deal of further reading – and increasing scepticism about the “just so” stories out of the West – have caused me to change my mind.

I'd add that what you've done here is just name-calling; when other people do it to me, I conclude that they've run out of arguments. I think it fair to conclude the same about you.

"I mean, of course the US (or, rather, factions within the US) is using the "threat" of Putin for its own ends."

They may do this, but it by no means follows that they ought to do it. And they need to be called out on it. There's a careless disregard of the potential for unintended consequences of that kind of hysterical propaganda.

Tim: "So all of the long-running, respected NGOs are corrupt...."

I'm surprised that you didn't know about the NGOs either set up or supported by the CIA; I assumed everyone knew about them. I've known for years; it may have been from Chomsky. In any event, that link I posted above talks about some of them.

I was reading something recently, in which an analyst describes Putin as being Westphalian in his approach to foreign policy. Many people worldwide would still be alive - and the West wouldn't be wrestling with its gigantic refugee problem - if only the US and the feebly twitching remains of the other Western imperial powers had also been Westphalian in the years since WW2. The relentless programme of neoliberal - and neocon - interventionism has been disastrous.

The US ought to do as Russia does: wait to be asked, before sending troops to other countries. And the US, EU and UK would do well to take a Westphalian approach to dealings with Russia: butt out. Leave the citizens of Russia to manage their own democracy, and stop talking up war. We and they will all be much better off.

And please: don't adduce Ukraine as an exemplar of Russian perfidy: you simply don't know what you're talking about. Read the link I posted above; watch the video.

by Katharine Moody on February 19, 2017
Katharine Moody

Very interesting observation that:

"So that’s where we are at – a president who has created an environment which will provide lesser quality intelligence than that which his predecessors relied on but also a president not to bothered about not having it."

I just keep asking myself, what use is this behemoth that the intelligence community has become - aside from, that is, exposing wrongdoings by the political elite in one's own territory (i.e., leaking what your own politicians are doing in defending the public interest as explained here by Glenn Greenwald);

https://theintercept.com/2017/02/14/the-leakers-who-exposed-gen-flynns-l...

Just as we went nuclear free sometime back, I wonder whether we ought to go intelligence free in the future, in other words, exit Five Eyes given the unequivocal evidence that we are part of a non-elected intelligence gathering community that collects/intercepts information on everything and everyone, friend and foe, That system these days seems like it sees its main function as one being of the checks and balances in it's own domestic political system. I think the intelligence agencies assuming that type of power to be a concern as it goes against the fundamental structure of the tripartite system of democratic governance. It also compromises the fourth estate, to my mind, with all the investigative reporting these days being so full of imparting information from "anonymous sources".  

How are the public to know what to believe when no one is standing up and taking responsibility for the information itself?  Whose "anonymous sources" are credible and shouldn't the fourth estate demand the physical evidence first before reporting?  

by KJT on April 15, 2017
KJT

"when you exert dominance over the major news outlets of your society and use the power of the state to suppress your political opponents. By that standard, I guess New Zealand is also is a thriving democracy".

Fixed it for you.

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