This week saw the resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, in the wake of a scandal that connected Flynn to the Russian Government. More specifically, it involved Flynn’s interactions with the Russian Ambassador (Sergey Kislyak) that discussed the lifting of sanctions prior to Trump’s assumption of the Office of the President.
What is proving to be a sticking point for the Trump Administration is their blatant disregard, of then acting U.S. Attorney General, Sally Yates; who had allegedly informed the Administration that the FBI had uncovered information that Flynn posed a security risk by way of being compromised by Russian interests.
It strikes me that a number of people who voted for Trump weren’t his supporters, but were opponents to Hillary Clinton. This is a very fine distinction that may not seem like much in retrospect, but given recent events, a distinction worth noting. Many of these conservative opponents to Clinton gravitated towards to the infamous rhetoric bouncing back and forth over her usage of private email servers for official State Department business. Yet, many of those concerned with National Security and the protection of classified information should be more concerned with Trump’s own inability (or unwillingness) to adhere to common information security practices.
The Trump Administration must now deflect accusations of a potential cover-up; but what I find to be more interesting is that Flynn may have to face inquiries as to whether or not he was in violation of the Logan Act; a legal measure that outlines the illegality of private citizens engaging in unsanctioned diplomacy and committing to policy decisions independent of the government.
For the films buffs out there, you may recall Tom Hanks playing the eponymous role in Charlie Wilson’s War. In a conversation with Pakistani President Zia Ul-Haq over supplying arms and training to Afghan Rebels, Zia inquires if Congressman Wilson if he has the authority to make these arrangements; to which Hanks (as Wilson) replies: “No. I’m actually in Danger to breaking the Logan Act.” Zia expresses, not knowing of the Logan Act, and at the time I knew nothing of it either.
Republicans are more than happy to create excuses for Flynn, saying that he simply didn’t know what exactly was appropriate…being new to the job and all; but as a career intelligence professional Flynn should know better and ignorance is almost never a good excuse. While his tenure at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has had mixed reviews; his drive to produce intelligence that supported pre-supposed positions was and is inherently dangerous the United States. Intelligence collection and analysis is not an exact science…however, some of the rules of the scientific method apply here. If I demand that my analysts provide me with intelligence that will implicate one group of people (to support a particular political agenda), then that is the only information I will receive. I remove myself from reality and become blinded to other factors and information that would otherwise cause me to change my worldview or existing hypothesis. Such hawkish behavior is not needed in these troubled times and could lead our country to ruin!
Who will replace Flynn? The most recent reports had tagged retired Vice Admiral Harward to occupy the National Security Adviser Seat. He actually seemed to be generally well-received and from his own curriculum vitae appears to be uniquely qualified for the job in a way that Flynn was not. We, however, will never know. Since the former Navy SEAL reportedly turned down the job, describing the chaos of the current administration a S#@t Sandwich. This war-fighter seems to have, through an economy of words (vulgar though they may be), managed to effectively described the Trump Administration.
Michael Flynn, however, has not been the only instance of security compromises the White House has encountered and His most recent indiscretions have been his frequent visitations to Mar-a-Lago. Not only has he decided to consciously eschew his vow to be a hard-working President that would not vacation regularly.
“There’s so much to be done…So I don’t think we’ll be very big on vacations.”
Apparently the plush surroundings of the Oval Office are not opulent enough for a billionaire entrepreneur, and it is rather apparent that for a “Man of the People,” Trump much prefers the company of fellow one-percenters that can afford the exorbitant $200,000 membership fee.
I Digress…Supporters of Trump would argue that Trump is not vacationing…he is working very hard during these excursions. I’ll grant, that the job of governing is hard and takes a toll on any president (just look at any presidential Before and After picture). Yet, a public venue that has not been properly surveyed, prepared, and certified to handle high profile and secure information is not the place to host world leaders or address the emergent threats of North Korea. Trump has already set a very predictable pattern for himself and the adversaries of America are not ignorant of this fact. If you don’t think that Russia, China or any other high profile foreign intelligence agency is not seeding the ranks of Mar-a-Lago staff or membership with covert agents and/or intelligence collections devices you are sadly mistaken.
In addition to this careless approach to security, that values Trump’s own comfort over common sense, Trump’s personal usage of twitter should be disturbing to anyone within the Intelligence Profession. His tweets already show a lack of care and foresight. Tweeting before you think is generally a bad idea for the common citizen. Tweeting before you think as a President with access to classified information is dangerous for the nation. Despite my own misgivings of the moral character of the President, I don’t think he would knowingly disclose classified material. It is, however, very easy to glean high level information from even the most ubiquitous statement. Consider a hypothetical: Trump orders a military operation. In a moment of pride and self satisfaction, he triumphantly tweets about the pride he has in U.S. Soldiers or how he plans to take down terrorists on a particular day. It’s enough to endanger lives of our servicemen, our reputation and our relationships with any number of allies in the region. Additionally, when Trump continues to tweet from his personal twitter account, the waters become further muddied as to whether he his making “official” statements on U.S. Policy or personal statements. The sad fact of the matter is that the line between the @POTUS and @realDonaldTrump twitter feeds is blurry to the point of creating internal chaos within the White House staff.
This is why I stayed away from social media for ten years of my career, save Facebook, in the Army. Again, eyes and ears are everywhere, and only an incompetent intelligence agency would ignore any of the President’s social media streams.
The great irony is that President Trump has already expressed exasperation over leaks in his White House, when in fact his own bluster and need to self-promote his brand has caused a sizable amount of these leaks.
In an effort to answer his question as to why leaks are so abundant, I would posit that so long as he continues to tweet carelessly, so long as he continues to meet with high profile figures and discuss sensitive issues in unsecured locations and so long as he ignores whatever counsel he has to have been given from the intelligence community there will always be leaks. These leaks will either issue forth directly from his own online streaming consciousness or through members of his staff. Whether we like him or not (you’re reading this blog so I assume the answer is “not”), Trump is in a leadership position (I would not classify him as a leader though. Big distinction). As such, Trump is setting the tone for his staff and other government agencies and the message he is sending to those in government positions, agencies and the military is that it’s okay to take a careless and laissez faire attitude when handling sensitive information.
Recent events will likely damage our own intelligence collection efforts, especially where Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is concerned. Often times the classification of information is dependent on the source of the information used to create intelligence. This is to safeguard our technological collection capabilities as well as protect sources that routinely place themselves at risk by providing intelligence professionals with information. With such widespread leaks and Trump’s inability to filter himself on any platform, not only have intelligence professionals been reluctant to fully disclose all details of classified information to the President, but one can imagine that human intelligence sources will become far less forthcoming in providing information for fear of being exposed; a reaction that could have significantly detrimental effects on our strategic intelligence operations.
I was an intelligence professional for over ten years and I believe in the safeguarding of classified information. I generally feel that transparency in the realm of national security and intelligence operations is a bad thing. My own social and political values conflict with the President Trump, but even for Trump’s supporters this breach in information security is (or at least should be) something worth getting upset about.