The idea that the intelligence community is at war with Trump is an interesting concept with a fair amount of evidence, and yet I know several people who would take me to task for even saying it exists. It’s “fake news,” some have told me. Others have said that the intelligence community is “far too professional” to get in a pissing match with the President-elect, which quite frankly, I find laughable. Let’s take a look at the information out there. This may seem slow going; there’s a lot of pieces–and this article can’t even cover them all.
Robb Calls the Ball
Way back in February, you’ll remember that John Robb called Trump’s campaign an open source insurgency–and it was. He won due to a variety of reasons, including shrewdly tapping into the anger and frustration already out there, and giving people somewhere to focus it. As Robb mentioned, he didn’t get bogged down in policy positions and little things that would divide the efforts, he simply boiled it down to “I will work for you, I will listen to your needs…and they will not because they never have.” Simple, and effective.
While people are still trying to get him to verbally lay out policies, however, he’s already said a great deal with his administration personnel choices. Over and over he’s chosen pro-surveillance people who think that if Americans have any privacy, the terrorists win or something. If you thought Obama was bad for privacy, just wait until Trump gets his system set up.
Now, the ‘obvious’ answer to this is “Well, that would make the intelligence community happy. Why would they be mad if Trump’s about to create more surveillance and more job security for them?” Occam’s Razor notwithstanding, we should never just take the obvious answer.
Thiel and the Big Data Machine
In 1998, a guy named Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal, a company that’s been named as being complicit with the federal government in terms of massive data collection of purchase information. Thiel later went on to start–with CIA funding–a company called Palantir, and he also serves as the longest-running director on the board of Facebook after Zuckerberg himself. So you’ve got a guy who, if you’ll forgive the expression, is balls-deep in surveillance of the American public; in fact, he’s now worth $1.2 billion or so, in part because of it.
The Constitution, such as it is, theoretically prohibits the government from collecting data on you without a warrant–of course, we all know that’s getting violated on a constant basis, but bear with me a moment. What service do these CIA-funded companies such as Palantir, provide to the government? They collect, catalog, profile, and package the data that the government technically cannot collect itself. Why do something when you can simply pay someone else to do it–especially if it’s not even your money getting spent? Palantir gets incredibly, ridiculously rich (over $80 million in revenue just from Big Daddy Gov in 2015), and the federal government gets all the dirty details that the Constitution says they aren’t supposed to have.
Don’t believe it? That’s fine; take a look at what Palantir is doing for the Customs and Border Patrol:
Known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, the system draws from a variety of federal, state, and local law enforcement databases that gather and analyze often-sensitive details about people, including biographical information, personal associations, travel itineraries, immigration records, and home and work addresses, as well as fingerprints, scars, tattoos, and other physical traits. […] This helps federal authorities determine a person’s eligibility to travel into — or even within — the United States…
That’s just the stuff they’re letting you see (and by the way, that’s not counting all the rest of the companies doing this as well–another topic for another day).
Thiel was tapped to be on the Trump transition team, and initially was being looked at for a White House position, which as of a few days ago he is now saying he would decline, possibly due to the massive conflicts of interest inherent in him taking a job in the administration. Now again, while you may say “okay well that’s good; they’re not bringing this guy on board,” you’d be missing the rest of the picture. Thiel will be far more powerful staying out of the administration.
So What’s the Point?
Here’s the big reveal: Trump is looking to privatize intelligence collection and “slim down” the CIA, putting the actual. power in the hands of people like Peter Thiel and companies like Palantir. They are better, faster, and way cheaper at playing the game than the intelligence community–and Trump is all about that.
John Robb called that too, back in December. Not many people listened–but they should have, because the writing was on the wall even then. Turning over intel collection and data analysis/profiling to private companies completely–or even mostly–would result in the CIA, NSA, and other agencies being relegated to the sidelines, and God knows the CIA has never been a fan of sitting on the bench.
Since Robb penned his prescient assertions, he’s been right about the big CIA leak that was coming; we just saw it last week. Some defend the intelligence community, basically saying that what we all saw isn’t real and we can’t possibly know the real story because it’s all so classified, but that assertion doesn’t work in the greater framework of what we know the CIA does, such as leaking information to influence electors. They also had one of their former directors endorse Hillary in an effort to keep Trump out and job security in (he even used the “Russian” buzzwords and talking points, right on cue).
Trump has flat out disagreed–publicly–with the CIA’s assertions about the Russians, which even Charles Schumer finds “really dumb,” because when “you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Interestingly enough, when asked what exactly the intelligence community could do, he said, “I don’t know.” Some may look at that as bluster unable to be backed up, but I tend to agree with Jacob Hornberger, who says that Schumer’s statement makes no sense unless he really just didn’t want to go into that.
In other words, don’t provoke the people with the dirt on everyone and the power, funding, and capability to do pretty much whatever they want without repercussion.
The “Scorned” Intelligence Community
Outgoing CIA director John Brennan just happened to be on Fox News Sunday, where he slammed Trump for good measure, and again on CNN’s State of the Union. (For fun, I’ll point out that Brennan made a point of saying that the CIA is staffed by an “unbelievable cadre of professionals,” which if you know anything about Statement Analysis, will make you chuckle and mutter “unbelievable is right” under your breath.) Former CIA officers are getting in the game too (partly because they never really get out), with punchy opinion pieces like “Here’s What Will Happen if Trump Doesn’t Stop Scorning the CIA.”
What do you see here in terms of pattern? They’re painting the CIA as the helpless, honorable-but-spurned lover of truth and justice, an agency filled with consummate professionals at the top of their game who believe in American awesomeness and just want to do right by the nation, but are being hamstrung by a mean, orange tycoon who Just Doesn’t Understand What We Are Trying To Do. Sound familiar (minus the orange parts)?
The CIA may be many things, but it is not helpless, and even a Trump non-fan like me can see that there’s a coordinated effort to paint a picture not entirely accurate. The CIA–and the greater intelligence community–doesn’t just want surveillance power. They also want autonomy without accountability–and in reality, isn’t that something we hear constantly in not so many words? You’ll never understand the situation because it’s classified; just know that we keep you safe and go on about your day.
There may not be trenches, grenades or drones in this conflict, but there is most definitely a conflict between Trump and the intel community. In fact, between the legislation introduced to abolish the ATF and the ongoing fight over who will control intelligence, 2017 is shaping up to be very interesting times…in a Chinese kind of way.
UPDATE: Robert Gore points out an article calling Schumer’s remarks a “dog whistle” telling the intel community to go ahead with whatever they want to do to Trump.