Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI official, tells me, “The president is engaging in willful ignorance and placing our nation’s security in peril.” He continues, “Claiming North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat or that the Saudi crown prince is not accountable for a murder may bolster Trump’s false narrative, but in the end, it erodes our standing in the world, gives license to our enemies and diminishes our intelligence professionals.”
Former FBI special agent Clint Watts agrees. “It’s dangerous for the country, because the president is making decisions with insufficient understanding of situations. Whether it’s Russia, Saudi Arabia, China or North Korea, he’s being outplayed in fights he picks because he doesn’t do his homework,” he says. "President Trump lives in a world of his own choosing that is devoid of reality. He has the best intelligence community in the world and it’s not helping inform any of our policies.” He adds, “It’s also demoralizing for those risking their lives at times to get threat intelligence.”
What can be done? “Those dedicated experts must continue to speak truth and attempt to influence those who can influence the president,” says Figliuzzi. Former acting CIA director John McLaughlin endorses that view. “In times like these, the best thing for intelligence officers to do is to just keep doing their jobs — striving to be models of objectivity and truth-telling at a time when such qualities are so elusive elsewhere,” he says.
At the very least, they should refuse to do what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did in carrying up to Capitol Hill the president’s blatantly false statements about evidence of Mohammed bin Salman’s culpability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. They sacrificed their own credibility and ultimately could not persuade lawmakers to disregard what they heard and what common sense dictated about the crown prince’s role in the murder.
I suppose at some point, officials (past and present) may be compelled to step forward publicly to warn the country if the problem worsens. If Trump turns his fantasies into orders, imperiling our security and the safety of our civilian and military personnel, we get into 25th Amendment territory. What, for example, would have occurred if Trump’s hysterical focus on the caravan resulted in not just a useless border operation but an invasion of or military attack on an ally? At that point, we’d be in the midst of a true constitutional crisis.
“The gap that is truly developing between the president and the U.S. intelligence community is one between reality, as it exists in the empirical data and logic that dominates the intelligence warriors' world, and the fever-dream fantasy that guides the fabulist world of Donald Trump’s imagination,” warns Malcolm Nance, a former intelligence officer. “At some point, the reality gap between Donald Trump‘s personal psychosis that imagines all sorts of mythic threats that are generated from his ‘gut’ will constitute the true national security threat to the nation.” He further observes that “the day-to-day intelligence analysis and reporting won’t stop, because our intelligence professionals will always protect the nation first. But ignored warnings and alarms of our real enemies' intentions will cause this nation to run hard aground.”
In putting the country in this predicament, Republicans and Trump’s enablers in the White House and Cabinet bear a great deal of responsibility. The Faustian bargain they made — support and defend an unfit president to get tax cuts or judges or whatever — was a moral calamity. We should pray it does not become a national security one as well.