Intelligence Community Leaks

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Imagine, Donald Trump has been in office for a single month, and his presidency has already faced numerous crises. Supported by only 14 cabinet-level nominees, with 515 left to be confirmed by the Senate, it’s apparent why his office hasn’t received much praise. Yet, the most significant problem is not the lack of appointed officials; rather, the White House has been plagued by the defiant intelligence community.

Termed the “deep state” by journalist Marc Ambinder — famous for his coverage of national security — career intelligence officials are undermining the Trump presidency. Working within the highest echelon of the State Department, CIA, FBI, and NSA, members of the deep state are entrusted with crucial secrets. However, since President Trump assumed office, there has been a litany of leaks to major outlets. As Ambinder told NPR earlier this week, “[Trump is] essentially alleging that the national security state, this meta-state that exists…in secret – used its collective power in order to bring down a duly chosen national security adviser because they disagreed with him…” The frequency of these leaks urges a recap of the events that have transpired thus far, in chronological order:

1. Topline: The CIA is weighing a reinstatement of black site prisons.

The first leak was reported by The New York Times, which received an initial draft of an executive order proposing a revival of terrorist holding sites. The draft was circulated to numerous national security officials. Although The New York Times did not name the source, “three administration officials” were reportedly behind the release of the memo. The White House subsequently responded, stating the document was “not a White House document.”

2. Topline: President Trump’s call with Mexican President is released to the public.

On February 2, The Associated Press and Washington Post each released confidential excerpts of a call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. According to anonymous U.S. security officials, Trump curtly informed president Peña Nieto that the U.S. would stop “bad hombres down there” with military force unless the Mexican government acted. Later that day, The Washington Post reported that Trump had an angry interaction with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which caused their phone call to end abruptly.

3. Topline: The end of Mike Flynn’s career as national security adviser.

Earlier last week, The Washington Post was the first to report the story of Mike Flynn, who spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about U.S. sanctions on Russia. Flynn had adamantly denied the discussion happening prior to the release, deceiving even Vice President Mike Pence, who defended him during a press conference. The New York Times supported this narrative, citing current and former officials as the sources of the leak. This story has been particularly burdensome for the White House, which has struggled to explain Flynn’s sudden resignation. President Trump later tweeted that the “real story here” is the “many leaks coming out of Washington.”

4. Topline: The intelligence community is actively withholding information from Trump.

On February 16, the Wall Street Journal received a confidential report that senior U.S. intelligence officials are actively withholding sensitive information from President Trump, citing their concern that information could be compromised. The official White House response to the situation was a statement saying that “there is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”

5. Topline: The Trump administration might use the National Guard to roundup undocumented immigrants.

Only a day after the Wall Street Journal’s report, The Associated Press published an 11-page memo that suggests 100,000 National Guard troops could be directed to roundup immigrants from 11 separate states. The AP said the document was written by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and was circulated around the Department of Homeland Security. The White House quickly retorted that the paper was “not a White House document,” hoping that the public would believe the memo was a product of the fake news cycle. 

Although conservatives have largely condemned these leaks, it’s difficult to ignore the gravity of these reports. Indeed, our nation is at a crucial crossroads ethically; is it better for the intelligence community to remain quiet, or for whistleblowers to reveal corruption? Ultimately, these leaks have led to the resignation of a national security adviser, forcing the government to out an aide for improper conduct. Conversely, there is also the necessity for the intelligence community to remain silent, working quietly in the shadows.

Regardless of one’s standing on the leaks, it’s curious to think about the intelligence community’s grip on Americans. While Mike Flynn shouldn’t have spoken with the Russian Ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration, why does an official even have access to this conversation? Furthermore, how many agents have access to this information, and to what extent are other conversations available? Indeed there is seemingly no limit to the intelligence community’s knowledge of private interactions. Therefore, it’s important to realize that while intelligence leaks allow the “deep state” to keep a check on Trump, there’s another discussion to be had — one regarding constitutional rights and the illusion of privacy.

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