Please, No Intelligence Briefings For Trump

Huffpo’s Sam Stein published an article (“Clinton Campaign: Trump Needs To Guarantee He Won’t Leak Before Getting Briefed”) that began this way:

PHILADELPHIA ― The chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign urged U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday to get an ironclad agreement from Donald Trump that he would not leak information to the Russians before providing him with presidential candidate briefings.

“I think it’s an issue that … Jim Clapper’s going to have to come to grips with,” John Podesta said in an interview with The Huffington Post, referring to the director of national intelligence. “And I think they’ll have to find a way to negotiate with him and with his campaign to get … more than assurances ― sort of some proof that they can be able to hold on to that information.”

Podesta went on to say,

This isn’t a normal political story, and it’s not funny … And for Donald Trump to suggest that a foreign power should hack the candidate of the opposing power is beyond outrageous. I think it is really disqualifying.

If he thinks it is really disqualifying, then he should be arguing that Trump shouldn’t get any intelligence briefings at all. There should be no deal with him. What good would it do to get “assurances”from Trump?

The truth is that we can’t trust the unstable Trump with our secrets. And if that means neither of the candidates get briefings, so be it.

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  July 29, 2016

    I agree! No briefings for either one until one of them is elected. Whatever it takes to keep national secrets out of the hands of comrade Trump!

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  2. With respect, I can’t agree to withholding intelligence briefings from either candidate. Let me state the reasons:

    1. The U.S. security classification system is so abused and over-classified that most compromises would have little or no effect on the real world. Also, lots of information that is classified is actually available from news sources. If the state department were to investigate the NY Times for classified material, it would likely have to be shut down.
    2. The most damage that could be done by compromise would be to reveal the identities of agents or technical details of weapons systems. There would be little need to brief at the political level on these, nor political advantage in using them publicly. The broad capabilities of military systems are well known. For example, even North Korea was recently able to launch an SSBN from a submerged submarine. The missile failed but the launch was successful.
    3. Having knowledge of strategic political information is important to informing the candidates prior to the upcoming debates (assuming that there will be such – I haven’t heard.) Debates based on incomplete or dated information are a disservice to the public, seems to me. Secrecy is corrosive to a democracy. It breeds hubris and corruption.
    4. One could hope that the sobering effect of reality from briefings might tamp down Trump’s cavalier attitude about “sarcastic” remarks and their effect on other nations.

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    • Jim,

      1. We agree on the classification system.

      2. We agree on that the most damaging intelligence, in terms of immediate consequences, would be that involving the identities of agents and the technical details of weaponry.

      3. Of course the candidates who debate should have “knowledge of strategic political information.” But why do they need knowledge they can’t share during the debate? Most of the knowledge you are referencing is, as you suggest, available in publications. Not just newspapers, but in magazines and policy papers dedicated to national security and foreign policy. So, again, I don’t necessarily see the value of intelligence briefings, if they don’t contain information that would do damage to our national security and that is otherwise not available to someone who is genuinely interested.

      4. Here is where I, with all respect, totally disagree with you, Jim. Trump has shown us absolutely nothing that warrants the “hope” that any briefing, no matter what it is, will act to sober him up. This is what people don’t get about Trump: he isn’t acting. There really is something wrong with the way his mind processes information and evaluates it. This isn’t an ordinary candidate. He obviously isn’t psychologically fit to be president of the United States. So, he obviously shouldn’t get any meaningful intelligence briefings that he could blab to his friends or, God forbid, at a rally. And if the briefings are so harmless that such leaking wouldn’t mean much, then neither do those kind of briefings. 

      Finally, in terms of sobering him up, it is clear, as you pointed out, that there is enough information out there to really, truly sober him up. The fact that he hasn’t bothered to acquire any of it, even since he became the nominee, should tell you that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can sober him up. He is a perpetual drunk, when it comes to reality. 

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      • Maybe so, Duane. I have this nightmare: It’s January, 2017, day one of the Trump presidency. While the military aide is trying to explain to Trump how the “football” works, word comes that Russia has invaded Ukraine. The National Security Council convenes. Everyone looks at Trump expectantly.

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        • I know what you mean, Jim. But you know something? I have this feeling–I call it only a feeling at this point–that the Khans have brought enough Americans back to their senses that Trump will be rejected this fall. I just feel so much better about the election now, and so much better about our country. I admit I have been, like you, fearful of what could happen. I had begun to question whether
          America could be saved from the demagoguery we have seen for more than a year. And there are 100 days for events to shake my good feelings now. But at least for today I have hope.

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  August 1, 2016

    Duane and Jim,

    One quick point. If on “day one (or ……)” Russia invades Ukraine, well God help the world no matter who is in the White House. Worse yet, consider an invasion of Estonia, a NATO
    ally. No canned responses can dictate specific and detailed U. S. actions in such events.

    But on the matter of intelligence briefings for Presidential candidates and selected staff. such briefings should not be conducted to support a campaign. They should only be provided to the newly elected person and carefully selected (and screened) staff. The basis for such briefing should be on a strict “need to know” basis. Unless one is soon to take office there is no need to know period.

    Yes candidates should debate and understand strategic issues. But the debates are needed to inform the American people what actions of a strategic nature would be proposed, but certainly not the details of specifically what action to take or when and where it would be taken.

    For some 23 years I had access to some of the biggest secrets possible related to American submarine operations during the Cold War. When Hunt for Red October was published the Navy went nuts, thinking that Tom Clancy had access to Top Secret (and beyond) intelligence information. Not so it turns out. He used open source information and had a great analytical mind to write his fictional tale.

    Was there great harm done to American military operations out on the tip of the spear during the Cold War from publishing that book? Not at all in my view. On the other hand consider the grave harm done by a spy named Pelton. The program he revealed to Soviets, wiretapping undersea cables, was about as secret as secret can be. Such info put men’s lives, men that I knew and had served with, in grave danger. No candidate for office should have access to such information.

    But a general debate about the use of submarines during the Cold War could and should have been part of the debate. Today the use of SEALS in an aggressive, forward deployed manner can easily be debated in public. But the details of when and where or “how much” should never be revealed unless there is a legitimate need to know at the operational level.

    I have read about 20 good books over the last 3 or so years critiquing how our military power was in fact used since 9/11. There is plenty of previously classified detail in those books to debate forever with no intel briefings needed for anyone. Here is one that deserves presidential campaign level debate, how ROE’s have restricted (or not) effective military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and now against ISIS. Again, no classified material is needed to form an opinion on such a matter. It is all over the open source literature and available to anyone with an interest in such a detail of military operations.

    Anson

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    • I agree with most of what you say here, Anson. My point to Jim was that there is an awful lot of information out in the public domain for any interested person to get informed enough to intelligently discuss the issues. That Donald Trump hasn’t taken the time to do so is telling. I don’t believe he’s capable of doing so even if he had the desire to do it. He’s just not built that way.

      As for debating The Rules of Engagement, I don’t see how presidential candidates can get into the weeds on that issue in a national debate. There are simply too many variables, and too many things to consider in each individual case, to apply a rigid principle.

      And do you honestly think Donald Trump could have an intelligent discussion about any of these issues?

      Duane

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  August 2, 2016

    Duane,

    No one running for President needs a highly classified intelligence briefing to see that China wants to claim the South China Sea as a Chinese territorial Sea or “waters”. Such a claim is clearly in violation of international law. It would be akin to Iran claiming the Straits of Hormuz as Iranian territorial waters with any and all shipping therein subject strictly to Iranian law and permission to travel through such waters.

    Unlike Iran, China is doing something to back up that claim with military power. The Chinese know full well that American naval power is their greatest threat against Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea. As a result using modern technology they are fortifying “islands”, uninhabited land in international waters ruled by no single country with enough modern weapons to prevent any American carrier battle group from entering the South China Sea.

    Ask either Trump or Clinton what the appropriate response from America should be. As well ask them what American response should take place if an American vessel, military or not was confronted with aggressive military power in such waters?

    Compare those responses to a similar question, what American action should be taken if an oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz came under Iranian military threat?

    Trump would probably shoot from the hip and respond with overwhelming military power. Clinton would probably, as she did during the Benghazi attack, go home and sleep on the matter claiming no responsibility as Secretary of State for the “security” in such matters.

    Scary, uninformed, hesitant to ever use force no matter what the provocation, bellicose, emotional and both individuals lacking any true strategic vision that has unequivocal bipartisan support, no matter what when such crises arise.

    That is exactly why Benghazi has long disturbed me. Our National Command Authority must have the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the American people in such matters. We achieved that unity throughout 50 years of the Cold War. But such is now a whimsical dream, confidence in American leadership, with no one on the horizon capable of gaining such unity.

    Scary thoughts.

    Anson

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    • You can say a lot about Hillary Clinton, Anson, but attacking her for going home and sleeping during the Benghazi attacks is, well, one of those lies that right-wingers—and Trump himself—have tried to perpetuate about her. Unless she had a habit of sleeping at 3:30pm—which is when the attack began Eastern Time—she couldn’t possibly have been asleep. And we know she was up past 11pm because she emailed Chelsea around that time. She claimed she was up all night, by the way.

      Further, after all the investigations Republicans have conducted, after all the money spent, not one—not one—have them found that she was directly responsible for what happened or could have done anything different that would have helped after the attack began.

      And as I have said before, you have a choice between the two, especially in terms of one of them “gaining such unity” as you say we need. Trump has, or should have, lost all credibility with the military after his latest attacks on the Khans and the sorry episode with the Purple Heart, not to mention is stunning ignorance of world affairs. Clinton is now getting more and more military brass to endorse her, or at least to condemn him in no uncertain terms.

      Again, you have a choice. You’re either for the Orange Man or you’re against him. Anything other than a vote for her is a vote for him and we both know that. I suspect, in the end, you will hold that skeptical nose of yours and do the right thing. 

      Duane

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