The CIA's Dangerous Doublebind

Trump has our intelligence apparatus caught in a pincer.

Despite some calculated attempts to put daylight between himself and his boss's corrupt messaging, Bill Barr's Department of Justice is enforcing Donald Trump's political will, including going after the CIA for its conclusions regarding Russian interference.

The focus of the "investigation" isn't a series of overly chummy, ill-advised text messages but the routine bread-and-butter work of intelligence analysis. The CIA is being investigated for having come to the "wrong" conclusion. In a government that works from the top down for the promotion and protection of one man's ego, facts and findings that suggest anyone helped that man win his great electoral victory are politically incorrect to a dangerous degree.

I'd like to put this in context witht the appearance that current CIA director Gina Haspel is openly courting Donald's favor, as when she attended the State of the Union address (unusual for an intelligence chief) in a seat of honor (very unusual) and leapt to her feet in applause (completely unheard of).

While the queen of waterboarding isn't exactly an unnatural fit for a Trump ally, speculation is that Haspel is cozying up extra hard to the King in Orange in order have more room to maneuver, as he has been publicly at odds with the intelligence apparatus of the United States since he took office. Playing the role of loyal courtier helps her avoid his suspicion and ire and gives here an opportunity to influence him in more productive directions, is the theory.

If that's what she's doing, she should take a look at the long line of individuals and institutions who allowed themselves to become tied to Trump with the expectation that this would give them leverage to influence him. He is a man who views partnerships — any kind of association, really — as hostage situations, where he gets to make all the demands. 

The very human expectation is that when you do someone a favor, they owe you. Psychologically, though, the person who does the favor is more likely to do another one when asked, because the relationship has increased in value by the perceived future benefit of the owed favor. Even a completely one-sided relationship can feel "worth it" if the imagined payoff down the road is big enough, say because the person who owes you is supposed to be a wealthy tycoon who can offer you lots more business, or because he's the president of the United States.

Donald Trump knows how to leverage these kinds of lopsided relationships for all they're worth, extracting as much as possible out of them and giving back as little as necessary. Once someone is locked into an alliance with him, they inevitably find to their growing horror that he is not locked in with them.

Far be it from me to suggest we should have sympathy for the CIA, but to the extent that it has any reason to exist, intelligence analysis is exactly what it should be doing, and it should be doing it free from political pressures or personal agendas.

We should be aware of the growing politicization of the agency from both the top down and the bottom up. When the leadership is conspicuously applauding Trump's domestic agenda and the rank-and-file are learning hard lessons about which conclusions they are or are not allowed to draw, we can forget about any priorities made for national security or any pretense of national interest, at least outside the Dershowitzian definition of "anything that helps the president stay in power".

The fact that Haspel specifically applauded Donald's attacks on sanctuary cities is disquieting, as the CIA is not supposed to be involved in operations on US soil. Applause doesn't mean that she is, but if this is where her interests lie? Any restraint the CIA can free itself would be a real coup (and who likes a coup more than the CIA?) The CIA would be the perfect vessel for more electoral interference, as that’s practically their hobby. 

A realignment of the CIA into domestic dirty tricks enforcers could go hand in hand with the ongoing realignment of the CPB into a national paramilitary police force.

Dangerous times are here, and more dangerous ones are ahead. We will have to watch these developments very closely.

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