Trump tension with intel community worsens threats of Russia and China


This past week, United States intelligence officials testified to the Senate during the annual hearing on the global threat assessment. While the hearing revealed a number of concerning international developments pertaining to our American national security interests, none was more important than the demonstrated increase in cooperation between Russia and China. According to the National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats, the countries are now “more aligned than at any point” since the 1950s.

The severity of this problem cannot be overstated. It is detrimental not just to the United States, but to the entire world, with the potential for catastrophic consequences if Russia and China are not aggressively countered. Shortly after the hearing, President Trump lashed out at his intelligence agency chiefs, calling them “passive and naive” in a tweet. “Perhaps intelligence officials should go back to school,” he continued, clearly upset that his intelligence officials were testifying in diametric opposition to his characterization of Russian and Chinese relations.

Just 36 hours later, the president walked back these statements after an Oval Office meeting with the intelligence officials. In a tweet, he declared that they were all “on the same page,” but he did not admit to changing his opinion on risks posed by Russia and China, the Iran nuclear deal, or the Islamic State. His failure to recognize global threats, even at the behest of intelligence officials, has left our government nearly impotent in the effort to address our most crucial foreign policy needs.

Indeed, the report published by intelligence officials rang the alarm bell very loud and clear. Russia and China are cooperating, and their military, political, and cyber capabilities should not be underestimated. For the first time, the United States government has detailed that both Russia and China now have the “ability to launch cyberattacks that cause localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure, such as disruption of a natural gas pipeline” for days to even weeks in the United States.

While these intelligence assessments are intended to be worrying, as they inform the country of where it stands from a national security perspective, the backlash and concern that arose from the testimony was exponentially increased by how the president reacted. The fact that he publicly denied and attacked his own intelligence services is dangerous, unprecedented, and particularly concerning given the specific threats intelligence officials were pointing to. The territorial, political, and cyber threats posed to the world by Russia and China cannot be underplayed or underestimated.