Trump and CIA, you need each other

Fmr. CIA Dir. on dangerous world Trump inherits
Fmr. CIA Dir. on dangerous world Trump inherits

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    Fmr. CIA Dir. on dangerous world Trump inherits

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Fmr. CIA Dir. on dangerous world Trump inherits 07:06

Story highlights

  • John Nixon: Russia's meddling in election proves the CIA and President-elect Trump will not be immune to partisan tension
  • From my experience, it would be in both of their interest to work together for the best of the country, Nixon writes

John Nixon was a CIA analyst from 1998 to 2011 and has taught leadership analysis for the agency at its Sherman Kent School; he is the author of the forthcoming book, "Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein" (Blue Rider Press). Unless otherwise noted, facts below reflect the research done for that book.

(CNN)Every four to eight years, the CIA engages in a dance of seduction as it greets a new President-elect. The agency uses the transition, that interregnum between the election and the inauguration, to get to know the new President and discern from all sources what are the best ways to serve the President's needs. The CIA is always eager to put its best foot forward by showing its willingness to support the new President and his team, convince the new chief executive that it is worth the money in terms of manpower and budget, and look for ways to ingratiate itself with the new national security crowd.

However, this year things seem different. Rather than extensive courting, the transition to a Trump presidency seems to have all the charm of a hostile takeover.
John Nixon
President-elect Trump and the CIA are not immune to the hyperpartisan political atmosphere that dominated the 2016 election. In theory, politics should stop at the agency's edge once the new President has been chosen by the American people. The agency should provide the incoming administration with just the facts without worrying about the politics of the moment. However, the 2016 presidential campaign placed the agency and its record of failure on the map with voters like never before. Trump has made controversial statements, both during the campaign and after his election win, that probably has the denizens of the seventh floor of Langley very nervous. Most recently: dismissing the CIA's claims of Russian intrusion into the presidential election and calling for expanding US nuclear weapons capability.
The public spat between Trump and the CIA is just another example of the politicization of intelligence, a process that harms our intelligence community while aiding our enemies.
Politicization of intelligence is not a new concept and probably has been going on for as long as leaders have been seeking secret information about adversaries and allies alike. During my years at the CIA, I came across numerous examples of administration meddling in intelligence and, basically, only listening to the things they wanted to hear.
The CIA that I knew was the one I was proud to join in 1998, when we were told to "dare to be wrong" and encouraged to push our analysis further to try to see more than one side of the equation. The agency that I left 13 years later was different: afraid to say anything for fear of being pilloried in the press. Most importantly, the CIA I joined praised expertise, something that became less important as the agency hunkered down and bent over backward to please the White House.
In my recent book, for example, I talk about the war in Iraq and how my conversations with Saddam Hussein in captivity laid waste to the administration's often repeated claims of Iraq being a growing threat to the United States. The result of those claims was a disastrous war that served as an incubator for instability, terrorism throughout the region, and the rise of Iran as a regional hegemon -- problems that we will be dealing with for many years to come.
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The key imperative to remember here is that, like it or not, both the President and the CIA need each other. President Trump will soon realize the agency can help him realize his as-yet unstated foreign policy goals -- if he lets it. In return, the President needs to support and protect members of the intelligence community as best he can from the partisan conflict raging daily on the airwaves and over the Internet. For the CIA to do its job, it must have the trust and confidence of its No. 1 customer, the President of the United States.
If I had one bit of advice I could give to the new President-elect, it would be this: Mr. Trump, it is a complex world out there that gets more complicated every day. If someone tells you there are easy solutions to tough questions, they're simply wrong. And take the intelligence briefings —they're a useful first step.