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“AND ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This biblical verse is carved into the wall at CIA headquarters and stands as the agency’s motto. I joined the CIA, in part, because of my own deeply held convictions about truth, fairness and justice.
Intelligence is essential to our national security and to our very survival as a nation. American spies sacrifice in the shadows to report the truth to power. If US presidents and policymakers continue to ignore or politicise the CIA, the ‘American empire’ may be very short-lived.
The current president has pushed matters to dangerous extremes never before experienced with leaders of either party. It’s one thing to ignore solid intelligence and forge ahead with risky policies; presidents have every right to do so. It’s another thing entirely to take the word of Vladimir Putin over your own intelligence services on the issue of the risk of North Korean missiles to the United States — to publicly and personally denigrate the leadership of the American intelligence community, as Trump did in January, because their objective intelligence assessments happen to contradict almost every false belief he spouted, from Syria to Russia to North Korea.
Trump is apparently personally offended if the intelligence community fails to modify the truth to conform to his own twisted views of reality. Publicly referring to apolitical intelligence professionals handpicked for their jobs as “naïve” or “wrong” and saying they should “go back to school” is spectacularly reckless and dangerous behaviour by a willfully ignorant American president.
Even more troubling is Trump’s penchant for tribalism. In Yugoslavia, I witnessed firsthand how a shameless demagogue’s incitement of fear and hatred in otherwise “normal people” led to a bloody civil war and the literal destruction and breakup of an entire country. I was not surprised by the savagery later committed in Iraq, also in the name of tribalism. What I never expected to experience was the threat from tribalism in my own country, much less at the direction of the president of the United States.
If there’s a merciful God, the expression “President Trump” will be preceded by the word “former” soon. There’s a good chance he will have resigned, been impeached or been forcibly removed from office as unfit to lead pursuant to a 25th Amendment “constitutional mutiny” (my personal favourite). Because Trump’s malignant upside-down reality is completely antithetical to the sacred American notions of truth and freedom, many more of America’s spies will likely decide it is time for them as well to come in from the cold. His destructive, narcissistic and juvenile approach to foreign policy makes it more difficult today for our spies and diplomats to represent America and pursue American interests abroad than when we truly lived and breathed American exceptionalism.
Trump’s disgraceful display in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall the day after his inauguration, where he rambled on about himself and exaggerated the size of his inauguration crowd, was the final straw for many. In the days following, many CIA employees left flowers at the Memorial Wall in silent protest. Trump disgraced the CIA’s sacrosanct ground the same way he went on to disgrace the office of the White House. In my view, Trump’s words and actions seriously undermine America’s moral authority and our national security, and thus represent an existential threat to our nation.
Trump’s willingness to destroy our nation in order to protect himself is in keeping with his instinctual tendency to rule like history’s other illegitimate tinhorn despots. Still, I predict America’s battered institutions and the free press will withstand his reckless and relentless attacks. Trump will fail in his mission to pervert the truth, and that will make America free again.
(H K Roy is a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and author of the newly released
book, ‘American Spy’)
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