Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trumpian goal for intelligence agencies: "reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview"

One thing you can count on these days in the era of Putin’s President is that no matter how bad you think the news is today, it will be worse tomorrow.

Now Trump is undermining his own nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who is awaiting confirmation by the Senate. It’s part of a larger scheme to reorganize the intelligence community in a way that would make it more favorable to Trump. Here are snippets from the NY Times report this morning, White House Plans to Have Trump Ally Review Intelligence Agencies.

President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.

The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump blamed leaks from the intelligence community for the departure of Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, whose resignation he requested.

There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. He is a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.

Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

That “position” may be the directorship of the CIA it is feared.

Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

… Mr. Trump has appointed Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, to run the C.I.A., and former Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, to be the director of national intelligence (he is still awaiting confirmation). Both were the preferred choices of the Republican congressional leadership and Vice President Mike Pence and had no close or longstanding ties to Mr. Trump. In fact, they each endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for president during the 2016 Republican primaries.

But the potential White House role for Mr. Feinberg follows intense speculation among intelligence professionals that Mr. Feinberg is in line for a powerful position within the intelligence community.

Even the prospect that Mr. Feinberg may lead a review for the White House has raised concerns in the intelligence community.

The nominee for DNI, Dan Coats, is properly outraged.

Mr. Coats is especially angry at what he sees as a move by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner to sideline him before he is even confirmed, according to current and former officials. He believes the review would impinge on a central part of his role as the director of national intelligence and fears that if Mr. Feinberg were working at the White House, he could quickly become a dominant voice on intelligence matters.

So who is Feinberg?

Through Cerberus, his private equity company, Mr. Feinberg has strong ties to the government contracting industry. Cerberus owns DynCorp International, which has had a wide array of large contracts providing security to the State Department and other agencies. DynCorp is now locked in a major legal dispute over the fate of a $10 billion State Department contract that it previously held to provide air support for counternarcotics operations overseas.

John F. Kelly, the new Homeland Security secretary, was paid $166,000 a year as a DynCorp adviser until he was named to the new administration.

Cerberus also owns Remington Outdoor, a major firearms manufacturer.

Think of the issues here this way. If you are a legislator you really do want an independent budget office giving you well-researched fiscal facts - even if they are bad news for your policies and ideology. Likewise, if you are president, you really do (or should) want an independent intelligence community giving you well-researched intelligence about your foreign adversaries. But Trump’s narcissism is preventing his seeking accurate information. Disinformed dishonesty will bring disaster.

The whole thing boils down to this Trumpian goal: “reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.” If you don’t like the facts, shoot the messenger and you won’t have to hear them. Trump is warring with the intelligence community in order to have facts that better fit his NPD-fueled world view.

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