President-elect Donald Trump should focus on building trust with the country’s intelligence professionals, but so far he seems to be sending mixed signals on his future relationship, at times criticizing their past failures and questioning their current capabilities. There has even been talk of the Trump administration streamlining our intelligence bureaucracy, which may be needed.
Part of Mr. Trump’s role as commander in chief will be to boost the morale of these uniquely skilled intelligence officers, especially those risking their lives in the field. Mr. Trump should focus on building strong ties to the intelligence community and leading efforts to strengthen our national cybersecurity. Much of America’s security relies on the work of the intelligence community, and we need to provide a united front to stop cybersecurity threats.
Following Thursday’s Senate Arms Services Committee hearing with Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and National Security Adviser Adm. Michael Rogers, it’s clear that tension still exists between the intelligence community and Mr. Trump. “I’ve received many expressions of concern from foreign counterparts about the disparagement of the U.S. intelligence community or, I should say, what has been interpreted as disparagement of the U.S. intelligence community,” Mr. Clapper said at one point.
Mr. Trump was criticized for tweeting before the hearing that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange did not receive his information damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton from the Russians, which had some in the foreign policy establishment concerned that he was favoring Mr. Assange over his own intelligence professionals. Mr. Trump responded with a tweet that he was a “big fan” of the intelligence community. This back-and-forth is precisely why direct conversations are needed to clear the air and ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.
All eyes will be on Mr. Trump following his briefing by top intelligence officials Friday. Mr. Trump should be open to listening to the experts and making his judgment based on the information provided. There should be concern over Russian hacking, but what is of greater concern is the inaction by the Obama administration to respond to the cybersecurity threats by foreign governments and entities, repeatedly waiting until after the fact to retaliate. It is no wonder that questions are being raised on the timing of the Obama administration’s decision to release the assessment report.
Mr. Trump sees the political writing on the wall, where there is a sense that the information on the Russian hacking was used for political purposes by the Obama administration. The release of the assessment report came right before the Electoral College voted on Dec. 19, amid suggestions that Mr. Obama, fellow Democrats and some in the intelligence community were bent on delegitimizing the president-elect’s victory. It’s no wonder Mr. Trump has been critical of how the whole episode has been handled.
It has been a strange debate, with Mr. Trump making it very clear he thought the Russians did not affect the election’s outcome.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain was right to convene Thursday’s hearing. Voters can reach their own conclusions when the declassified report is released on Monday, but the lingering question will be whether Russian interference truly cost Mrs. Clinton the election. I don’t believe it did, but Democrats will make it one of their official talking points and blame the Russians for stealing the election, especially in the next few weeks before the inauguration.
Mr. Clapper described the Russians’ “multifaceted campaign” to use social media and fake news to push a particular narrative against Mrs. Clinton but added that we “can’t gauge the impact of the Russian interference on the elections.”
But “the totality of that effort, not only as [director of national intelligence], but as a citizen, is a grave concern,” he added.
Yes, Mr. Clapper is correct to criticize the Russians — but let’s not forget that the Obama administration should shoulder a lot of the blame for failing to stop them.
Clearly, cybersecurity must be a top national security priority. Is the intelligence community perfect? No, as Mr. Clapper himself acknowledged, but we need our intelligence professionals to be able to do their jobs. Mr. Trump should take the lead in making this happen.
• Mercedes Schlapp is a Fox News contributor, co-founder of Cove Strategies and former White House director of specialty media under President George W. Bush.