What Happens When the President Ignores — and Even Belittles — His Own Intelligence Community?


Hayden, a self-described “internationalist,” opposes Trump’s trade, immigration and foreign policies. He also blasts Trump’s record of exaggeration, falsehood, misstatement and conspiratorial thinking. “All candidates shape their message,” he writes, “but Trump just seemed to say whatever came into his head.” Having led one agency where some operatives wore T-shirts saying “Deny everything, admit nothing,” Hayden is nonetheless impassioned about the importance of empirical data to decision-making.

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Hayden is an institutionalist. What concerns him is the degree to which policymakers operate according to established roles and norms. He sees the virtues of bureaucratic procedure. The “idea of this book,” he writes, “is not that civil war or societal collapse is necessarily imminent or inevitable here in America” — thank goodness — “but that the structures, processes, and attitudes we rely on to prevent those kinds of occurrences are under stress, and that many of the premises on which we have based our governance, policy and security are now challenged, eroded or simply gone.”

Whatever disagreements Hayden may have had with George W. Bush and Barack Obama — and he argues that several of Obama’s policies were ill conceived — Trump’s predecessors, he says, largely respected the independence and judgments of the bureaucracy. Trump does not. He not only accuses the F.B.I., Justice Department and other agencies of forming a “deep state,” but also seeks to challenge, disrupt and exert control over them. Trump does not think in institutional terms, but in personal ones.

These lines of criticism intersect over Russia. Hayden acknowledges that intelligence agencies were slow to pick up on the Russian challenge to United States elections: “Committed to a path of cyber dominance for ourselves, we seemed to lack the doctrinal vision to fully understand what the Russians were up to with their more full-spectrum information dominance.” That lack of vision was compounded by the reluctance of both the Obama and Trump administrations to counterattack. “Russia has been actively seeking to damage the fabric of American democracy,” Hayden writes, “and the Trump administration’s glandular aversion to even looking at this squarely, much less mounting a concerted response to it, is an appalling national security lapse.”

For a longtime spook, Hayden is a breezy and direct writer. He reduces complex issues of cyber and information warfare to essentials, and his polemic is leavened with humor and sympathy. He is at his best, though, when he shifts to a purely analytical tone. He coolly forecasts the direction of America under Trump, explains the intelligence that foreign governments are likely to collect from the president’s Twitter feed and describes the benefits Russia drew from the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Kremlin-connected Russian attorneys and senior Trump campaign officials.



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