Politics | Why does President Trump rail against the CIA and media?

Why does President Trump rail against the CIA and media?

Kadayam Subramanian January 30, 2017 5:56 AM (UTC+8)
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What kind of President would Donald Trump be for the United States? The answer has come in bits and pieces since Trump took over as President.

President Trump is no doubt concerned about immigration, the border wall with Mexico, US financial support to the UN, obsolescence of the NATO, improvement of ties with Russia, protectionism against China and a generally aggressive, if not roguish, posture towards the world in general.

Within a week of assuming office (January 20), President Trump had passed 12 different executive orders.

On January 27, Washington Post revealed that President Trump personally pressured the Park Service head to back up his extravagant claim on the size of the crowd that had been present at his inauguration.

On January 27, the President of Mexico decided to cancel his visit Washington to meet President Trump since he would not be dictated to pay for the border wall between Mexico and the US.

Most controversially, Trump observed on January 25  that torture was acceptable to him and cited the support of a top CIA official.

Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits torture.

Donald Trump’s presidency may thus turn out to be highly controversial. The views of Noam Chomksy, radical intellectual and activist on Trump are thus instructive, Chomsky has witnessed and critiqued  sixteen US Presidents in his life time.

In a recent conversation with Mehdi Hasan of the Al Jazeera TV network, Chomsky has observed: ‘Trump is off the spectrum; there’s never been anyone like him before. He has no background at all in any political activities. Never held office or been interested in office. He has no known political positions’.

‘He’s basically a’ showman’ said Chomsky. ‘Trump is an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac’ and a ‘greater evil’ than Hillary Clinton’.

Though analysts predicted that Hillary Clinton would win by a landslide, Trump emerged successful thanks to complex political reasons.

Chomsky told Mehdi Hasan that Trump is ‘basically a showman’ and the ‘only predictable thing about him is his unpredictability.’

During his electoral campaign and later Trump focused his attack mainly on the media and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

During his campaign for president, Trump attacked reporters as ‘dishonest’ ‘disgusting’and ‘scum’. At a press meet on January 12, he shouted at CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta for reporting that former President Obama had been briefed on the ‘lurid allegations’ about him in an intelligence dossier prepared by a former British spy (Lloyd, 2017). Trump alleged that the dossier had been leaked by the CIA to the media in an act that resembled Nazi tactics. 

Trump had previously ridiculed the CIA  for holding that Russian hackers had broken into data held by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and leaked a mass of material embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for President. Since they had earlier wrongly held Saddam Hussein for holding weapons of mass destruction, they could no longer be trusted.

Trust and impartiality are vital for the credibility of journalism. Similarly, secret intelligence reports furnished by the CIA to the President need to be seen as credible to be trusted. During his campaign, Trump had attacked the alleged shameful behavior of both the media and the CIA, which gave publicity to unverifiable salacious intelligence reports on him. Trump called the reports ‘fake news’.

The CIA could not be trusted because of its earlier errors of judgement such as reporting on Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Trump said during his campaign that he had no use for error-stricken intelligence reports. He might have had in mind US intelligence failure to detect the terrorist attackers of 9/11 and the 2013 massive leakage by Edward Snowden of intelligence documents the National Security Agency (NSA), which revealed that communications by US citizens were being monitored without their knowledge. These intelligence agencies are turned to because the citizens fear threats from Islamist terrorists. 

It is a fact that newspaper journalism in the US has been undermined by the rapid emergence recently of Internet technology, Facebook and Googles. A large majority of Americans view mainstream media with increasing skepticism. Trump is a regular and frequent user of Twitter technology to communicate his views.

Trump has ex pressed appreciation of Julian Assange for publishing the leaked DNC documents and emails.

Journalists like Glenn Greenwald have advocated the need for ‘strong highly factual, aggressive and adversarial journalism’ as the only suitable form fitting for societies in which the political power has comprehensively lost any claim to trust or respect.

The Internet mixes fact, conjecture,partisan spin and deliberately constructed fake news to gain attention and fortune.

The culture of leaking by individuals and agencies such as Edward Snowden (who stole 1.5 million files from the NSA), the WikiLeaks of Julian Assange and in 2016 the most dramatic leak of estimated 11-5 m files from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm, has emerged as a major challenge to the CIA and the media.

Glen Greenwald, lawyer and journalist has said that ‘strong, highly factual, aggressive and adversarial journalism’ is required today in societies in which political power has lost its claim to trust.

In this sense, the leaking movement is perceived to have made common cause with populist politicians. Donald Trump has praised Assange for publishing the leaded DNC documents. But what would he say about Chelsea Manning, a soldier who leaded sensitive military and diplomatic material to WikiLeaks in 2010, who has received a commuted sentence from his 35 years, from President Obama?

After the post-9/11 war on terror and the subsequent debate over methods of interrogation and surveillance by intelligence agencies, the US Intelligence Community USIC) today consists of 17 government agencies (The Economist, 2016) including especially the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) all overseen by the Director of National Intelligence who sets intelligence priorities and briefs the President daily.

The ‘intelligence-industrial complex’ is a huge network of agencies and private contractors. More than 1200 state organisations and nearly 2000 private companies,according to an estimate by Washington Post in 2010, work on diverse aspects of counter-terrorism, intelligence, homeland security and others. No individual, committee or agency can effectively monitor this majestic archipelago.

The National Security Adviser is a senior aide in the Executive Office of the President.

The need for security on the part of intelligence agencies conflicts with the openness of American democracy (Weiner, 2007). The issue has become increasingly intractable as has been evident in current controversies in the US.

Mass leaks and unpredictable whistle blowers have posed a huge challenge to the CIA and the media.

Tim Weiner, former Director of the CIA, has said that the CIA’s mission was to know the world; when it did not succeed in doing so, it set about changing the world. ‘Its failures have left us a ‘Legacy of Ashes’. the title of his 2007 book!

As the incoming commander-in-chief of the intelligence agencies, President Donald Trump has tended to see the CIA as hostile to his short term interests.

Maybe he is seeking his revenge!

References

Lloyd, John, 2017 ‘Secrets and Lies: Intelligence and the Media in the Trump Era’ Financial Times, London, January 19

Weiner, Tim, 2007, Legacy of Ashes: History of the CIA

The Economist, London, 2016 ‘Shaken and Stirred’, November 12     

Kadayam Subramanian
Kadayam Subramanian is former Director, Research and Policy Division, Union Home Ministry, Government of India, and former Director General of Police in Northeast India. He is the author, among others, of Political Violence and the Police in India, Sage, 2007, and State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India, Routledge, 2016
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