Last year’s hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in January, was not well received by President Trump. At the session, Daniel Coats, then the director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Gina Haspel testified that the Islamic State remained a presence in Iraq and Syria, that North Korea was not likely to relinquish its nuclear weapons and that Iran was not yet seeking a nuclear weapon.
On each of these issues, the president differed. After the hearing, he exploded on Twitter, accusing the intelligence officials of being “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran.” He added, “They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but a source of potential danger and conflict.”
“Be careful of Iran,” Mr. Trump stewed. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
The stinging “back to school” line prompted intelligence community officials to suggest to the House and Senate that this year they testify only behind closed doors, according to a recent report in Politico. However, ducking the cameras would be counterproductive. No one needs to remind the intelligence community about the value of credibility. Theirs has been on a roller coaster for many years and is constantly tested anew. The open hearing on worldwide threats helps build credibility with judgments laid out for all to see, debate and hold accountable. If this exercise is hidden behind closed doors, intelligence community leaders will be missing out on a rare chance to explain their thinking — the product of a vast, collective enterprise involving thousands of people and far-reaching technology — and to make a deposit in the credibility bank.
Surely, the community’s annual public report on global threats is valuable reading. But the printed document can’t answer questions, which is why open testimony is necessary, followed by a classified session. Of course, it would be nice if Mr. Trump showed respect for this vital national asset. While he’s at it, he should also get around to nominating a director of national intelligence; Joseph Maguire has been acting in the position since last August. The job of overseeing 17 intelligence community organizations and a $54 billion intelligence enterprise ought to be important enough to warrant a nomination.