“The current crop of national intelligence chiefs are careerists who have risen to the top through their willingness to conform to a system that is designed not to challenge conventional thinking”
Earlier this week, the collective leadership of the United States intelligence community briefed Congress on the Worldwide Threat Assessment Report. In doing so, they provided testimony that seemed to contradict virtually every aspect of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, including the decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, the threat posed by Iran, North Korean denuclearization, and improving relations with Russia.
The president, in typical fashion, lashed out, criticizing the intelligence community’s collective analysis, which predictably elicited criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. They accused him of undermining public confidence in the pronouncements of the intelligence agencies and damaging national security.
In this case, Trump is right and his detractors are wrong.
The current crop of national intelligence chiefs are cut from the same cloth as their predecessors. They are careerists who have risen to the top not through their analytical or operational talents, but through their willingness to conform to a system that is designed not to challenge conventional thinking—especially when such thinking sustains policies that have been given the imprimatur of the entrenched establishment.
Rare is the politician who is well enough versed in the minutia of history and foreign affairs to generate original thinking—or bold enough to challenge the status quo on the grounds that it isn’t working. Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush were among the original thinkers, leaders who opened relations with communist China and oversaw the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union, respectively. Among those who challenge the status quo is Donald Trump, a political maverick who, rightly or wrongly, has sought to challenge the conventional dogma in ways no previous politician ever has.
There is no better illustration of the intellectual corruption of the intelligence community than its performance in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The current dean of the intelligence establishment, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, illustrates perfectly the slavish impulse to conform. In his book Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence,