Not so long ago my wife and I, in a heated moment, canceled our subscriptions to the Washington Post and the New York Times on the same day. We stopped short of burning recent copies of both publications on a bonfire in our front yard, but were elated at ending our connection to America’s leading sources of government propaganda and outrageously fake news. We toasted our liberation with a nice glass of Oregon State pinot noir.
We had become increasingly annoyed over the constant defamation of Donald Trump as candidate and president-elect even before he was inaugurated and had a chance to do anything wrong. But the real reason for our removal of America’s self-styled papers of record was the horrible coverage of Russia in general and what was going on in Syria in particular. That both papers kept repeating how Moscow had interfered in the election and that Syria was using chemical weapons without providing any evidence in either case had proven to be our own red line in terms of what we would allow into our house.
Not having the papers readily available has meant that we have avoided a lot of sensational journalism explaining in some detail why the United States has both a right and an obligation to be interfering militarily in every corner of the world simultaneously, and we also missed some really crazy stuff. A Washington Post opinion piece that I completely missed when it first appeared on June 23, but which I have recently discovered, was entitled “This is what foreign spies see when they read President Trump’s tweets.”
As presumably few Americans can appreciate that Donald Trump’s tweets are actually classified documents and I was once upon a time a spy, I found the title intriguing, so I put on my tin hat and dove in. First of all, I took note of the author. She is Nada Bakos, self-described as a former “CIA analyst and targeting officer.” I didn’t know what a targeting officer was, but the article went on to explain it.
Per a page advertising her forthcoming book at Amazon, Nada worked as an “analyst on the team charged with analyzing the relationship between Iraq, al Qaida, and 9/11.” Redundancy aside, as there was no actual evidence linking together Iraq, al-Qaeda and 9/11, one wonders how Bakos reacted when CIA Director George Tenet and Vice President Dick Cheney came pounding on her door insisting that there had to be a relationship to justify war. Reportedly some CIA analysts refused to endorse the lie that Iraq was cooperating with al-Qaeda to bring about 9/11, so hopefully Bakos got it right and stood her ground.
Bakos subsequently became the chief “targeter” working on al-Qaeda notable Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who rose to the rank of First Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq before he died in a “targeted” killing by U.S. forces in 2006. Bakos’s book’s subtitle is “My life in the CIA, on the Hunt for the Godfather of ISIS,” which refers to her role in locating and killing al-Zarqawi. I would note in passing that al-Zarqawi was a genuine monster and richly deserved what he got.
In any event, the Amazon blurb goes on to note that “after 20 years in the intelligence field and corporate world, Ms. Bakos is currently focused on national security issues and regional stability around the world.” One might note in passing that “regional stability” is a feelgood U.S. government buzzword that means the same thing as “humanitarian intervention” or “responsibility to protect,” both of which are sound principles that are presumably enshrined somewhere in the U.S. Constitution. Or maybe not.
So what does Nada Bakos have to say about Trump’s tweets? Well, intelligence agencies around the world are apparently busy trying to analyze them because “they’re trying to determine what vulnerabilities the president of the United States might have. And he’s giving them a lot to work with. Trump’s Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency.”
Bakos twists herself into a pretzel in trying to emphasize the importance of an intelligence agency learning everything there is to know about a foreign head of state. She draws on her own experience, recounting how “At the CIA, I tracked and analyzed terrorists and other U.S. enemies, including North Korea. But we never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now—to get a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind. If we had, it would have given us significant advantages in our dealings with them.”
That’s where I began to lose it. I would first of all note that learning what one might about habits and attitudes of terrorist leaders in order to anticipate where they will go or what they would do so you can kill them is much different than assessing what the head of a legitimate government might say or do based on his or her personality. I seriously doubt that there are teams of intelligence analysts, as Bakos claims, sitting around worrying about the deeper meaning of Donald Trump’s tweets. There might be no deeper meaning at all, and it would seem to me that Trump is relatively transparent. Narcissistic, quick to take offense, impulsive, unwilling to consider “details”—he is a walking id. So what is there to figure out beyond that?
I suspect this article was written both to sell a book and to diminish Donald Trump from a new angle, one that might reasonably be described as bizarre. Whatever kernel of truth it might contain is overwhelmed by hyperbole. Bakos cites how the Saudi Arabians may have exploited their intelligence-derived assessment of Trump to publish favorable newspaper stories about him and line the highway from the airport with billboards praising the new American president. But, as flattery will get you everywhere, such activity is not necessarily a brilliant insight into how to win over the new sheriff in town. It would not have taken a genius to figure out that Trump likes to be celebrated, and it is likely that the Saudis would have made a similar effort for any American president.
And I might add that judging from Bakos’s brief bio, she likely did her “analysis” and “targeting” from the comfort of an office at CIA headquarters. I wonder how much time she spent actually analyzing foreign leaders up close and personal. I know from my own experience that no one in Langley in my era would have wasted much time or effort on personality profiles. That was done at headquarters by guys and gals who holed up in the basement and went methodically through newspaper clippings. As a CIA case officer who lived overseas in four countries, my recollection is that no one ever had the least bit of interest in the quirks of foreign leaders. They were part of the background noise of operating overseas. While we would have been delighted to recruit a deputy prime minister both as a source of information and as an agent of influence, it was a very low priority to step back and worry about his personal foibles.
As I recall very clearly, the Department of State generally had the “leader profile” bases well covered both in terms of foreign-government intentions and the proclivities of the key players in the host governments. U.S. Foreign Service officers actually met with senior government officials, attended their receptions, had lunch with them, and went to their parties. The FSOs were very well trained in making assessments and writing them up for policymakers in Washington. It was their job and they were quite good at it.
So, no, I am not buying that Donald Trump’s twittering makes the United States more vulnerable from a national security point of view, with teams of hostile intelligence officers somehow and somewhere using computers to perform “content analysis on the president’s tweets in the aggregate,” as Bakos puts it. I do believe, however, that there is a major covert industry nationwide that is seeking to do whatever it can to delegitimize Trump and Bakos’ silly article is just one more example of what is being purveyed in the mainstream media to that end. The jury should still be out on what kind of president we actually have, and Trump is certainly not helping his case through his unwillingness to play the game and act presidential. But the assertion that his use of Twitter is somehow making the country less safe is complete nonsense.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.