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The Damage to US Intelligence Is Already Done

Like his earlier attempt to install two stooges on the US Federal Reserve Board, President Donald Trump's selection of a spectacularly unqualified toady to serve as the next director of national intelligence represents a clear threat to America's interests. It is almost irrelevant that the nomination has been withdrawn.

ATLANTA – To understand what is happening in authoritarian regimes – be they in Moscow, Havana, Beijing, or Pyongyang – analysts always pay close attention to the rise and fall of intelligence chiefs. In the case of US President Donald Trump, who aspires to be a strongman, the aborted nomination of John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas, to succeed outgoing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is telling indeed.

Ratcliffe had no discernible qualifications for the job, other than a fawning loyalty to Trump. And though Trump has withdrawn the nomination, he did so not out of concern for US national security, but for fear that his candidate would not have been confirmed. The fact that Trump even considered such an unfit candidate for the job suggests how much he wants to bring the intelligence services to heel.

During the first two years of Trump’s presidency, the US intelligence community’s professional leadership kept its counsel, having concluded that silence was the best tactic for dealing with an untethered and antagonistic boss. But the Ratcliffe affair seems to augur a new challenge, not just for the US intelligence establishment, but also for US allies, who have long valued their access to a fact-driven, apolitical intelligence community in Washington, DC. With his willingness to install toadies in so many top national-security jobs, Trump has already struck a serious blow to the system of alliances that forms the basis of US power and influence in the world.

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