Trump and Intelligence Community | Charles Duelfer

Trump and Intelligence Community

Does the President need to know what is true or what everyone thinks is true?  

This question that did not first arise with Donald Trump’s election.  It is a function of the growing power of social media.  Political leaders have to make decisions and lead the American people. Facts may not be the most critical element.  Yet it still is important for leaders to know what they are (to the extent possible).  The intelligence community may have to rethink its service to their clients to include assessments on both–i.e what is true (as best they can tell) and what everyone thinks is true.

Consider the circumstance during 2011 when US policy decisions were being made about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Tahrir Square was filled with thousands of protestors.  In retrospect, the images of the opposition and social media trends were out of sync with the “reality” of views among the broader population.  Glibly stated, Mubarak was trending down on twitter so we dumped him?

This is simply meant to illustrate the need to know and evaluate both what is true and what everyone thinks is true.

Then next pernicious question is more difficult.  Intelligence organizations not other collect and analyze data, but have the ability when directed by the President, to shape events through covert action.  If the intelligence can collect and analyze what populations think is true, then can they shape that as well?  This is nothing new.  Fake news stories are not new.  They just spread faster now.  The cold war history is full of efforts to shape thinking on both sides.  One simple example.  Stories were promoted by Russia that the US created and spread AIDS in Africa–stories that are still widely believed in the region.

Social media offer an amped up opportunity to do the same things today.  Russian services have a long history in covert actions and it would be surprising that they would not use this to their advantage.  It seems they have tried to undermine the American image of its election process by hacking.

What will the US do in response?  There will be some big policy issues for the next administration on how to use the intelligence community in a world more defined by image than so-call reality.  The world the President needs to understand is not the simple factual, physical world that intelligence analysts have typically assumed.  Their objective reality, while pure and important, is not all the President needs to know or deal with.

And, Donald Trump is not wrong to be skeptical about the products of the intelligence community.  They make mistakes.  The Iraq WMD assessments were wrong. Political leaders made decisions based on broadly held and broadly wrong assessments of reality. It was, ironically a case where what “everyone” (or most people) thought was true was not true, but the intelligence community did know there was a difference.



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One Response to Trump and Intelligence Community

  1. Eric says:

    Dr. Duelfer,

    You’re incorrect that “the Iraq WMD assessments were wrong” in terms of the US presidential determination for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The controlling law, policy, and precedent for the OIF decision plainly show the determination for enforcement with the Saddam regime pivoted on whether Iraq proved it complied and disarmed as mandated, not whether the US proved Iraq was armed as estimated.

    I recommend to you (again), your fellow advocates for reviving responsible American leadership, and to the Trump administration, my OIF FAQ explanation that sets the record straight on the law and policy, fact justification of the Iraq intervention by synthesizing the mission’s primary source authorities.

    Contrary to your assertion that “the Iraq WMD assessments were wrong”, in terms of the US presidential determination, the actual “reality” is that UNSCOM to UNMOVIC to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) as well as non-armament fact findings, such as the Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) and UNCHR, “broadly” corroborate your assessment “that Iraq failed to comply with UNSCRs up to OIF” (ISG).

    The legally prescribed and practically necessary determinative measurement for Saddam’s WMD-related threat was not rooted in the intelligence estimates but rather the UNSCOM and UNMOVIC findings on Iraq’s “continued violations of its obligations” (UNSCR 1441), inasmuch the WMD-related intelligence estimates were not themselves rooted in the UNSCR 687 inspections.

    On law and fact, President Bush and the US (with Prime Minister Blair and the UK) demonstrably were right on Iraq. The OIF decision is a straightforward fact pattern with an exceptionally well developed, decade+ law, policy, precedent, fact record. Iraq’s categorical “material breach” (UNSCR 1441) of the Gulf War ceasefire is confirmed by you and other fact-finding authorities.

    Beyond the correct US presidential determination for OIF, the US-led, UN-mandated peace operations with Iraq were succeeding before President Obama’s deviation.

    At the dawn of the Arab Spring, the UN Security Council (on 15DEC10) and President Obama (on 19MAY11) benchmarked the historic opportunity to build a generational peace in the Middle East with the hard-won cornerstone where “In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy … poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress” (Obama).

    However, the window to build a generational peace evident in 2010-2011 required American leadership to stay the course with Iraq and the Bush Freedom Agenda.

    Instead, President Obama radically changed course with Iraq and dropped the Bush Freedom Agenda. Obama’s deviant rationale has been based on the demonstrably false notion which you promote, that with Iraq, “Political leaders made decisions based on … broadly wrong assessments of reality”.

    Your basic law-and-fact error, exploited by President Obama, has had a catastrophic ripple effect. OIF stigma – comprised largely of conjecture, distorted context, and readily debunked disinformation – has been the keystone premise for President Obama’s critical choices that sabotaged nascent post-Saddam Iraq and doomed the Syrian people by disqualifying American leadership of the free world at the very historical moment where the steadfast American leadership epitomized by President Bush with Iraq was most needed. Avid actors such as Iran and Russia have accepted Obama’s effective invitation to fill the vacuum and alter the international order in their expected illiberal manner.

    The 1990-2011 Iraq intervention, especially OIF and its peace operations, is paradigmatic as it embodied the principles of American leadership of the free world. As long as the stigmatization of the Iraq intervention prevails in domestic and international politics, your current advocacy for reviving responsible American leadership with Iraq, Iran, Syria, and indeed the rest of the world, will continue to be disqualified at the premise level of politics and policy.

    The viability of your advocacy fundamentally depends upon you first de-stigmatizing the Iraq intervention. Before you can advocate on current events effectively, you must establish at the premise level of the politics that in principle and policy, President Bush and America were fundamentally right and by the same token, President Obama has been fundamentally wrong to deviate from President Bush with Iraq and the Freedom Agenda.

    The following points are included in my OIF FAQ explanation. But as an introduction to setting the record straight on OIF’s justification, note:

    Iraq’s guilt of UNSCR 687-proscribed armament was established by UNSCOM and decided by the UN Security Council. Upon the UNSCOM-established fact of Iraqi WMD, “the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security” (UNSCR 1441) was presumed until Iraq proved it complied and disarmed as mandated. In other words, noncompliant Iraq was ipso facto a proscriptively armed threat irrespective of the intelligence estimates. The operative enforcement procedure for the Gulf War ceasefire, including the UNSCR 687 disarmament process, was built upon the burden of proof on Iraq. There was no operative burden of proof on the US, UK, and UN.

    Therefore, the principal trigger for Operation Iraqi Freedom was not and could not be the intelligence estimates. By procedure, casus belli was primarily established by the 06MAR03 UNMOVIC report confirming Iraq’s “continued violations of its obligations” in “material breach” (UNSCR 1441) of the Gulf War ceasefire with the same operative enforcement procedure by which the 15DEC98 UNSCOM report triggered Operation Desert Fox in 1998.

    The “assessments of reality” that established casus belli with Iraq from UNSCR 660 (1990) onward were the prescribed measurements of Iraq’s compliance with the UNSCR 660 series, in particular Iraq’s obligations under the Gulf War ceasefire pursuant to UNSCRs 687 and 688 and related resolutions.

    The controlling law, policy, and precedent that defined the operative enforcement procedure plainly show that the moment that UNSCR 687 inspectors re-entered Iraq pursuant to UNSCR 1441, the intelligence estimates could not trigger enforcement to “bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations” (Public Law 105-235). Rather, the US-led, UN-mandated ceasefire enforcement with Iraq always pivoted on the prescribed measurement of Iraq’s compliance with the “measures” mandated to satisfy “the need to be assured of Iraq’s peaceful intentions [and] … to secure peace and security in the area” (UNSCR 687).

    Based on the determinative “assessments of reality” for the OIF decision, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair clearly were correct according to the operative context – eg, “The Security Council resolutions will be enforced — the just demands of peace and security will be met — or action will be unavoidable” (Bush at UNGA, 12SEP02), “Resolution 1441 gave Iraq one last chance, one last chance to come into compliance or to face serious consequences” (Powell at UNSC, 05FEB03), “ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq” (Public Law 107-243), and “ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991) and other relevant resolutions” (UNSCR 1441).

    Contrary to your unfounded assertion that the OIF decision was based on “broadly wrong assessments of reality”, the Saddam regime was evidentially in categorical breach of the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441) for the Gulf War ceasefire in Iraq’s “final opportunity to comply” (UNSCR 1441), especially with the disarmament mandates of UNSCR 687, terrorism mandates of UNSCR 687, and human rights mandates of UNSCR 688. [FYI, it’s evident the pre-war assessments significantly under-estimated the Saddam regime’s human rights abuses in breach of UNSCR 688 and “regional and global terrorism”, including Saddam’s “considerable operational overlap” (IPP) with the al Qaeda network, in breach of UNSCR 687, which were also enforcement triggers.]

    At the decision point for OIF upon UNMOVIC’s 06MAR03 report, Saddam was far beyond the ‘red line’ with no intention of fully and immediately complying with the Gulf War ceasefire as was required to switch off the threat of regime change that enforced Iraq’s “final opportunity to comply” (UNSCR 1441) . As you found, “the Iraqis never intended to meet the spirit of the UNSC’s resolutions” (ISG) per paragraphs 8 to 13 of UNSCR 687, let alone the spectrum of ceasefire mandates, especially on terrorism per UNSCR 687 and human rights per UNSCR 688.

    … The assessment of reality is you are responsible for the current events and degraded US foreign policy that you protest.

    You’ve used your preeminent reputation to validate the plainly false narrative of OIF that America’s rivals – Russia and France chief among them – have employed to stigmatize the Iraq intervention and thereby disqualify the American leadership needed for current events.

    For your current advocacy to be effective, it requires the re-normalization of the particular “strong horse” American leadership of the free world that manifested with OIF. Which first requires your mea culpa while you disabuse the myth, “Political leaders made decisions [for the Iraq intervention] based on … broadly wrong assessments of reality”.

    Once you’ve set the record straight on OIF’s law-and-fact justification at the premise level of our politics to de-stigmatize the Iraq intervention in order to re-qualify the OIF-embodied principles of American leadership in our policy, then – and only then – can your current advocacy hope to become viable.

    Re-framing the discourse by establishing that President Bush and the US (with Prime Minister Blair and the UK) were right on Iraq – and by the same token that OIF critics, including yourself and President Obama, have been wrong – lays the foundation needed for the only real path for your current advocacy to succeed.

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