Attacks on deep state will weaken intelligence agencies (Angela Kendall-Taylor)
News Journal (“special to USA Today”) – Broadly speaking, Ms. Kendall-Taylor is a member of the US “intelligence community” (IC). Currently director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, she previously served with the National Intelligence Council (which reports to the director of national intelligence) and at the CIA.
The thrust of this column is to criticize the president’s handling of Ukraine policy while defending the “whistleblower” whose complaint led to the initiation of the current House impeachment inquiry. It is noted that “Republicans backed up by a barrage of presidential tweets and retweets [have] scored Democrats for not calling the whistleblower to testify,” while House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has “vowed to protect the whistleblower’s identity and warned Republicans not to name the person in the hearings.”
Trump et al. are characterized as seeking to “distract attention from the allegations against the president” by questioning the whistleblower’s motives and raising the specter of a “so-called deep state conspiracy.” Having worked on Russia and Ukraine issues for nearly a decade, Taylor characterizes “the president’s accusations” as “wrong” and “dangerous.”
The CIA is “an intensely apolitical organization.” Its intelligence analysts are trained to check “[their] politics at the door.” Like all other analysts, Taylor participated in four months of intensive training when she joined the agency and took courses throughout her career to sharpen her “analytic tradecraft.” True, the IC has made mistakes in the past, such as concluding that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but “it is a learning organization” that strives to improve its methods and thereby “ensure the safety of all Americans.” Ergo, “the whistleblower is well versed in producing objective judgments.”
The apolitical nature of the IC is reinforced by the structure of the national decision-making process. Intelligence functions are separated from policy – analysts don’t advocate a particular course of action – their role is to “provide strategic warning and equip policy makers with information needed to make decisions that will best serve the American people.” And like military and foreign service officers, analysts don’t serve at the pleasure of a particular president but rather work “through different administrations and in the interests of every American.” Ergo, “the whistleblower identified a threat to national security and did the job the way all analysts are trained to do it.”
The administration’s allegations are “unfounded” and current efforts to discredit the whistleblower and the IC are dangerous. The effect is “to undermine the national security decision-making process” and “put America’s democracy at risk,” by suggesting that, unlike his predecessors, the [current] president “is not receptive to the information he receives from his intelligence agencies.”
The IC will “continue doing the hard and quiet work required of them,” of course, but “this administration’s lack of confidence in [it] has a chilling effect.” The result may be to dampen initiative and out-of-the-box thinking, which is paramount to keeping Americans safe. Thus, one of the key findings of the 9/11 Commission was that analysts “failed to envision the type of attack that occurred.” Ergo, it is “in the interest of every American that the White House create an environment that sets the [IC] up for success.” That includes the ability to retain top-tier talent and attract the next generation of analysts who will be needed to confront complex new challenges.
America’s adversaries, such as Russia, would like nothing better than “to weaken US institutions including through its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
Ultimately, the administration’s “reaction to the whistleblower and its efforts to discredit the [IC]” have threatened our democracy. The administration’s efforts to promote a false narrative about a deep state reflect tactics used by other leaders (which the writer has studied) who have dismantled democracy. Amplify threat perceptions, including false enemies within – justify tactics and actions portrayed as necessary to counter the threat – slowly dismantle constraints and expand the leader’s personal power. This isn’t just happening in the US, by the way, but represents a broader trend that is “unfolding globally.” Hungarian Prime Minister Orban – Turkish President Erdogan. [The leaders of China, Russia, Iran, etc. also come to mind, but are not mentioned.]
In sum, the administration’s response to the whistleblower poses significant risks. Americans cannot afford to take the resilience of our national security process or US democracy for granted. Ergo, “we must recognize the professionalism of the whistleblower and others who have come forward and not let the president’s attack distract from the damage being done to our democracy.”
Assessment of the whistleblower’s complaint must be put in context, as Ms. Kendall-Taylor fails to do. Note that (1) said complaint was preceded by a series of charges/investigations that have been going on since before Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, (2) various members of the intelligence and law enforcement communities have played a clearly political role in these challenges to the president’s legitimacy so there is no reason to assume the whistleblower must be “above reproach,” and (3) Rep. Adam Schiff provided assurances that the whistleblower would be called to testify, which raises the obvious question of why this door was suddenly slammed shut.
It seems odd that such a column was authored by a purportedly apolitical member of the intelligence community, let alone that readers should be invited to “follow her on Twitter.”