This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Kent Harrington, a former National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, Chief of Station in Asia, and Director of Public Affairs at the CIA.
Project Syndicate: Your latest PS commentary highlights US President Donald Trump’s willingness to compromise national security for his own political interests, exemplified by recent revelations that he attempted to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. As the 2020 election campaign heats up, what actions can US intelligence officials take, publicly or otherwise, to protect national security?
Kent Harrington: It is an oft-quoted truism that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Unfortunately for today’s intelligence officers, the twenty-first century addendum is, “at home as well as abroad.” Nothing could better represent the significance of this admonition than the actions of the CIA officer who blew the whistle on Trump. Indeed, those actions exemplified the values that the public servants of the intelligence community seek to reflect in their work.
For the intelligence community’s leadership, the first order of business is to acknowledge that the whistleblower was fulfilling a duty, and lend their support to the act. In fact, by reporting Trump’s abuse of office in his July telephone conversation with Zelensky, the analyst not only demonstrated courage and integrity; but also implicitly revealed the intellectual sophistication, skills, and insights that the people in the intelligence community bring to their jobs. The public rarely gets to see the quality of the work CIA analysts produce. Yet that is what makes the professionals in the intelligence community so valuable, and it is worthy of attention.
We’ll see where the House intelligence committee’s investigation into the whistleblower’s information takes the Congress and the country. But the letter alone is (or should be) an exemplar of what intelligence officers – indeed, all government officials – must do: to deal forthrightly, apolitically, conscientiously, and honestly with facts as they present themselves, wherever they’re found and wherever they may lead.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Harrington's picks:
From the PS Archive
Harrington points out that Trump is not the only right-wing populist leader to attack his own country’s spies. Read the commentary.
Harrington considers the long-term impact of Trump’s sharing of sensitive information with Russia. Read the commentary.
Around the web
Last year, Harrington warned that Trump’s focus on North Korea’s nuclear weapons – and his seeming willingness to use US forces as a bargaining chip – was missing the North’s real leverage: hundreds of thousands of soldiers and firepower within easy striking distance of Seoul. Read the commentary.
Following Trump’s revocation of a former CIA director's security clearance, Harrington discussed what could be done to constrain a US president keen to exploit the office’s powers and engage in political coercion. Listen to the podcast.
This summer, Harrington argued that precisely because Trump's authoritarian outbursts, parroted by party loyalists and amplified in right-wing echo chambers, have become epidemic, media outlets must not ignore them. Read the commentary.