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29/11/2021 | Trump transition was ¨far and away¨ most difficult in CIA history, internal report claims

Joseph Fitsanakis

THE PERIOD IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the electoral victory of Donald Trump in 2016 was “far and away the most difficult” transition between administrations in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

 

This is the conclusion of a recently declassified CIA analysis of how American presidents-elect are briefed. The term ‘president-elect’ refers to individuals who have won the US presidential election, but have yet to assume the presidency. Presidents-elect are briefed by the CIA during the transition period, which typically lasts about 75 days, from early November until late in January of the following year.

The CIA analysis appears in the most recent edition of Getting to Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates and Presidents-Elect, 1952–2016. It is authored by John L. Helgerson, a 38-year veteran of the CIA, who retired in 2009 as the Agency’s Inspector General. The volume contains lessons learned by analysts who briefed presidents-elect in over sixty years. Chapter nine of the book, which contains an assessment of Trump as president-elect, was released [pdf] last week.

The chapter chronicles some of the challenges faced by the CIA in the days immediately after Trump’s electoral victory in 2016. Such challenges included CIA analysts having to wait for over a week for the Trump team to begin communicating them, its members “apparently having not expected to win the election”. Additionally, the Trump transition team had not thought of a way to safeguard printed documents shared with them by the CIA, which necessitated the Agency having to install a safe in the Trump transition team’s headquarters.

Eventually, president-elect Trump began receiving the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a highly sensitive classified document produced each morning for the eyes of the president, vice president and a limited number of senior administration officials. However, unlike his vice-president elect, Mike Pence, Trump did not read the PDB, and eventually told the CIA he wanted a less text-heavy approach to the document if he was going to read it. The CIA complied with the request, as it tries to adapt its briefing method to the intelligence consumers’ preferred mode.

Despite overcoming these early challenges, Helgerson notes that Trump’s transition period was for the US Intelligence Community (IC) “far and away the most difficult in its historical experience with briefing new presidents”. He compares it to the transition of another Republican president, Richard Nixon, who “effectively declined to work with the IC, electing, instead, to receive intelligence information through an intermediary, National Security Advisor-designate Henry Kissinger”.

Like Nixon, Trump was “suspicious and insecure about the intelligence process”, according to Helgerson. Unlike Nixon, however, Trump chose to continue to engage with the IC, and did not change his stance or demeanor during briefings, even during the lowest ebbs in his relationship with the CIA. However, he attacked the CIA publicly, and had “a uniquely rough way of dealing publicly with the IC”, Helgerson notes. Ultimately, the “system worked, but it struggled”, he concludes.

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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