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Trump Should Not Adapt to the CIA, the CIA Must Adapt to Trump

Trump Should Not Adapt to the CIA, the CIA Must Adapt to Trump

A recent article by former NSA director Michael Hayden criticized the incoming Trump administration for antagonizing the intelligence community. Huh? Who works for whom here?

As a former intelligence officer, it pains me greatly to see the intelligence community unappreciated. The height and breadth of the knowledge, the reach and expertise is second to none. These are LITERALLY some of the smartest and most capable people on earth.

It is disheartening, to say the least, for an intelligence officer to believe America’s leaders are not paying attention to the information they risked their lives to acquire. In fact, I myself departed the CIA in 1996, believing President Bill Clinton had no appreciation for the hard work we were doing. 

This was correct of course, Clinton very rarely met with the CIA’s leaders and did not appreciate good intelligence. He ignored developments in certain places and allowed bad situations to fester. 

And the result was 9/11.

(Yes, think about it, 9/11 was planned during the Clinton administration and executed only months into the Bush administration. This was Bill Clinton’s disaster.)

However, while the level of expertise remains top notch, there is always top layer of bureaucracy in the CIA that deals with the political leadership. They are often the determining factor in the effectiveness of the entire community. If they fail, the CIA fails.

I happened to be fortunate that my first DCI was Bill Casey, whose relationship with Reagan was outstanding. The whole Agency felt good and was enthusiastic at that point. Casey and Reagan worked well together because they understood and trusted each other and had common goals for America. Thereafter we had a series of Directors where, in my opinion, only Robert Gates stood out as a good leader, the rest fell short. Webster was not dynamic enough. Woolsey came in as an agency critic. Deutch was just strange.

So new CIA director Mike Pompeo has to find a way to communicate with Donald Trump in a way that is useful to Trump and in a manner that will help Trump understand the issues without boring him to tears.

It is not enough to say, “This information is important” and proceed to turn on a firehose of details. To a president, everything is “important.” But not everything is interesting.

At one point it was my privilege to have access to the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB). It was at that time a slim document with single paragraph updates of 40 or 50 different topics. If you did not know their context, the updates were meaningless. Even with the privilege of access, I eventually stopped reading them.

President Trump will likely have no patience for this. Trump is a businessman, not a politician. He thinks differently, his methods are different, he is use to giving orders and holding people responsible, he has no time to waste.

He will expect the CIA to put the data into terms he is interested in and to be creative about laying out out possible courses of action, and frankly on a scale and with a latitude nobody is used to. The CIA will have to figure out how to apply “return on investment” (ROI) to political action. It won’t be easy, but it must be done (and should have been done long ago).

He will get entrepreneurial and “out of the box” ideas by the dozens and expect indepth analysis by the CIA. He may ask several different permutations of the same plan, and an ROI from each scenario. And out of a hundred scenarios he may or may not choose one or reject them all. This is how entrepreneurs think. 

In addition, Trump is a natural negotiator. If he asks for support and the briefings do not inform his negotiating positions and answer continuous “what if” questions, he won’t use it. And he won’t ask again.

Trump also appreciates smart people. He will want to meet the smart analysts and perhaps even the operators who are generating this information. He will do his own evaluation of them and may scarf them up into the White House if he is truly impressed (and CIA, this is a good thing for you, don’t squander the opportunity!!). If the CIA gets those people in front of Trump, then Trump will have confidence that the other 20,000 or so CIA employees really are what they are cracked up to be.

In short, the CIA must make their interactions with Trump into a “show” structure that is interesting, engaging, entertaining and profitable in terms of the ROI in America’s interests. In fact, they should send some case officers in to get feedback to refine how they relate to Mr. Trump and his administration (If you are not aware, case officers are the brilliant personalities and people readers whose job it is to convince people to spy for the U.S. You would have to meet one to realize how good these guys and gals are).

We will see how this develops, but it does not have to be hard. Trump’s team will tell them how to do this, the CIA just has to listen.

But it may cost them. If you concur with our opinion the Russia angle is fake news perpetrated by the Clinton campaign, then your conclusion must be that certain elements of the CIA have been politicized. For Trump to be able to trust the CIA, these elements must be removed.  Trump may want completely unbiased intelligence or he may want reports slanted in his favor as other presidents have done in the past. Like it or not bias happens. But Trump will not and should not tolerate bias against his policies.

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