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Progressive Groups Invoke Trump In New Push For Surveillance Reform

October 4, 2017

Leading progressive organizations hope to turn the reform of government surveillance programs into a litmus test for 2020 presidential candidates.

In a letter to congressional Democrats, 34 groups, led by the digital rights-focused Demand Progress Action, demand new protections for civil liberties in the reauthorization of a key surveillance law. The groups favor allowing the expiration of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which enables the federal government to search the electronic communications of Americans without a warrant.

Given the political difficulty of such a goal, however, the groups are trying to leverage Democrats’ fear of overreach by President Donald Trump to unite the party behind a more limited, but nonetheless sweeping, set of reforms aimed at preventing surveillance of Americans without a warrant.

“The Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to criminalize people of color and activists,” the letter says. “No Democrat should support a law that grants Trump the ability to spy — without a court-issued warrant — on the more than 325 million people that live in this country.”

Section 702, which Congress added to FISA in 2008, allows the attorney general and director of national intelligence to order the surveillance of non-Americans “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States” for the collection of foreign intelligence information.

The provision is the legal basis for two digital data collection programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in June 2013. The NSA uses its Prism program to collect data from Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft that is sent to or from a foreigner targeted for national security or intelligence reasons, and its “upstream” collection picks up communications from the international fiber-optic cables that transport phone and internet data across borders.

The law limits data collection to foreigners not on United States soil, but it places no such limits on searching already-collected data. As a result, civil liberties groups say, the provision has been used to create a “back-door” search mechanism granting the government access to data involving U.S. citizens, green-card holders, and foreigners living in the U.S. who corresponded with a targeted foreigner.

Until April, the NSA’s Upstream program had been collecting data on Americans’ whose electronic communications contained the contact information of a targeted foreigner, even if a foreigner targeted for security or intelligence purposes was not involved in the correspondence. That tactic is known as “about” collection.

The NSA discontinued the practice after it could not find a way to maintain it and remain in compliance with FISA court rules permitting the Upstream program.

But were it not for Snowden’s leaks, civil liberties advocates noted, the “about” searching would never have been discovered and stopped. (Snowden argued on Twitter that the cessation of the practice would be “the most substantive of the post-2013 NSA reforms, if the principle is applied to all other programs.”)

Progressive organizations believe wariness of Attorney General Jeff Session and President Donald Trump could solidify Democratic support for major surveillance reform.
For Demand Progress Action ― and allies on the letter, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Color of Change, and Credo ― the exposure shows that FISA courts alone are not enough to ensure that the federal government respects the constitutional right to privacy enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Demand Progress Action’s policy arm documented numerous other violations of FISA rules in a September report, making the case that FISA courts have proven incapable of deterring intelligence agency abuses under Section 702.

Section 702 has “grown into a tool so powerful that it is changing the way innocent people speak and associate,” the letter says.

Left unchecked, the federal government, particularly under Trump’s leadership, is liable to abuse its powers in even more pernicious ways, the letter says. It points to intelligence agencies’ historic use of mass surveillance to engage in political persecution against Martin Luther King Jr. and other progressive leaders as an indication of what is possible.

“Surveillance has always been justified on the back of national security concerns, even though on many occasions it has been employed to counter progressive reform movements, and it invariably disproportionately targets communities of color and people working for social change,” the letter says.

The progressive organizations propose far-reaching reforms. They want Congress to write into the law the NSA’s cessation of “about” searches in which neither correspondent is a foreigner based in a different country. Further, they would have Congress explicitly forbid the federal government from accessing the data of U.S. citizens, green-card holders and foreigners living in the United States without a court-issued warrant.

Additionally, they are pressing Congress to force the NSA to disclose how much data it has collected on American citizens, green-card holders and foreigners on U.S. soil, and require the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to explain how it is interpreting Section 702.

The groups are also seeking to revise a procedure known as “parallel construction,” in which the government uses secretly collected information against defendants without disclosing to them or courts the origin of the evidence. The practice prevents Americans and foreigners living in the U.S. from challenging evidence prosecutors launder from national security-related searches and later share with other law enforcement authorities.

Finally, the progressive groups are trying to limit the re-authorization of the FISA Act to a single year “so that Congress and the public have the opportunity to re-examine how (and if) the Trump-run surveillance agencies operate under the framework it enshrines.”

There is a broad set of Democratic activists and voters who are very concerned about affording these sorts of powers to Trump.
David Segal, Demand Progress Action
Even under President Barack Obama, civil libertarians had limited success curtailing the authority of the NSA and other intelligence agencies, thanks to post-9/11 laws expanding their powers.

A June 2015 reform entitled the USA Freedom Act transferred the storage of phone data previously held by the NSA to phone companies and required the federal government to petition a federal court to search the cache.

But civil liberties groups, including Demand Progress Action, considered the measure a fig leaf for real reform, arguing that the NSA’s practice of searching personal data on tens of millions of Americans would continue through a different process.

In December 2012, prior to Snowden’s revelations, Congress quietly renewed the 2008 amendments to the FISA Act for five years.

Support for substantial reform of the FISA Act has grown stronger in libertarian wings of both parties, but political backing for the status quo has proven resilient. A bipartisan amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would have barred the NSA from using federal dollars to conduct back-door searches on Americans’ data passed the House twice in 2014 and 2015, before being stripped out in the Senate. In June 2016, following the massacre at the Orlando nightclub, the House defeated the amendment by a narrow margin.

Ahead of the December deadline for reauthorization of the FISA Act, the prospects for deep reforms of the kind advocated by organizations like Demand Progress Action and libertarian conservative outfits like FreedomWorks has grown more remote ― not least because of the Trump administration’s hostility to those efforts. A White House official said in March that the administration supports a “clean reauthorization” free from reforms aimed at buttressing privacy rights.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Chris Wray and NSA Director Michael Rogers are likely to make their views known in a classified briefing on Section 702 for members of Congress on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a group of hawkish Senate Republicans led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill in June that would permanently reauthorize Section 702.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress Action, said the group’s effort aims to consolidate Democratic support for reform.

“There is a broad set of Democratic activists and voters who are very concerned about affording these sorts of powers to Trump,” Segal said. “They’ll be watching how everybody votes on this issue with particular attention to people running for president ― Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Corey Booker and others ― when they consider who has the interests of communities that comprise the Democratic Party in mind.”

Democrats who may have been less sensitive to those concerns under the Obama administration might reconsider now that Trump is president, according to Segal.

“Because they trusted Obama, they helped erect surveillance structures that amount to a turnkey tyranny that Donald Trump can steward,” Segal said. “There’s now an understanding of the danger of having people like Trump and Jeff Sessions having control over these extraordinary powers.”

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What is the future of privacy, surveillance and policing technologies under Trump?

June 22, 2017

Last Updated Jun 22, 2017 11:13 AM EDT

For weeks, President Trump cried foul, repeating unverified claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower to spy on him, accusations that remain unsubstantiated.

But Mr. Trump, with the power of the presidency and executive branch as a whole at his fingertips, has said little of how he intends to approach the authority he now wields over the country’s surveillance policies. As developing policing technologies continue to outpace laws restricting their use, and as Mr. Trump and top members of his administration like Attorney General Jeff Sessions take a hard line against illegal immigration, terrorism and crime, experts in constitutional law and civil liberties fear the lack of an accompanying conversation on privacy protections could contribute to the erosion of Fourth Amendment rights.

“I think we will see a push from the Trump administration to expand surveillance powers, and that of course could directly implicate Fourth Amendment protections,” said Christopher Slobogin, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School who has studied and written on Fourth Amendment, privacy and surveillance issues for years.

“And they’re going to push I think also for greater militarization of the police, which could affect Fourth Amendment issues,” Slobogin added.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently taking the Department of Justice to court to determine when the government notifies people they are under surveillance.

In May 2015, before announcing his bid for the presidency, Mr. Trump said he supported legislation allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to hold bulk metadata, and later in the year reiterated he would tend to “err on the side of security.” On the campaign trail, and after taking office, Mr. Trump has emphasized the importance of bulking up police forces and eradicating terrorism. Sessions fought against reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2012, and against limits on the NSA’s spying powers.
“It’s not as though this didn’t exist before Trump, because it’s all in this terrorism — war on terrorism stuff,” said Robert Bloom, a professor at Boston College Law School who focuses on criminal procedure and civil rights law. “We’ve loosened up on protections of individuals. But now you’ve really got an abusive executive. A president and attorney general who don’t really give two whits about individual protection and about the Fourth Amendment.”

The White House and Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” But guaranteeing that right has become increasingly complicated in the digital age. One longstanding legal theory dating to the 1970s, known as the Third Party Doctrine, asserts that once a person gives personal information to a third party, for instance, to a cell service provider, he or she loses the expectation of privacy, and the information can be given to other entities without the person’s explicit permission — without violating the Fourth Amendment.

The Obama administration placed some limitations on surveillance technology, but mostly through policy. The Obama administration required the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to obtain warrants for the use of their 400 Stingrays or cell site simulators, devices that mimic cell phone towers, so all phones within a range connect to it instead of their cell phone provider’s nearest tower, and the devices collect cell phone data. The IRS also acquired the technology in recent years.

“But that’s the kind of thing that Jeff Sessions could do away with with the stroke of a pen,” said Alvaro Bedoya, founding executive director for the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center.
Law enforcement agencies say Stingray technology helps them catch suspected criminals — and it does. But privacy advocates fear the technology’s ability to collect nearby cell phone owners’ data without their permission or knowledge — and often, without a warrant — compromises Fourth Amendment rights.

Federal authorities have said the devices they use are not configured to collect the content of communications, but the capabilities of the technology aren’t clear. That’s partly because federal authorities have shrouded cell site simulators in mystery, sometimes dropping cases against criminal suspects rather than reveal their policing methods and agreements with private cell site simulator companies that swear the government to product secrecy in contracts.

The ability to put the warrant requirement “through the shredder” at any moment is why policy is an insufficient safeguard, said Matthew Feeney, policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

“We’re relying heavily on government policy rather than law, and that I think is a problem,” Feeney said.

Many states also use automatic license plate readers, technology that can scan hundreds of plates per minute. In the 2008 election cycle, Virginia State Police used automatic license plate readers on attendees’ cars at political rallies for Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, the ACLU revealed. Alone, license plates may not amount to much information, but police have the ability to check those plates against other records, and — over time — can observe patterns about a driver’s habits, the ACLU argued.

Meanwhile, the federal government is quietly ramping up its surveillance approach at airports, using technology that was, “in most cases developed for the battlefield,” Bedoya said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection began testing facial recognition software — called Biometric Exit — at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., in 2015, and pilot programs are expanding to other large airports. The software — the concept of which was first required by Bill Clinton-era legislation in 1996 — is intended to check visa holders entering or leaving the country through facial matching systems. That scan can be checked against a person’s passport. As Mr. Trump looks to toughen immigration policies, it’s a timely tool.

But Bedoya worries the technology’s use won’t stop there.

“There aren’t many people talking about biometric exit, when it might fundamentally change the way we travel,” Bedoya said.

It’s unlikely the technology will only be used on foreign nationals, Bedoya said. Many airports mix international and domestic terminals, and it’s more practical and realistic to use the technology at the main Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, Bedoya said.

“That means you have a flow of both domestic and international travelers,” Bedoya said.

Once it’s in place, facial recognition software — like other kinds of policing technology — can be used to match other federal databases and tell a story.

“We shouldn’t forget that all of these tools can be put together,” Feeney said.

“Drones can be used to mount a license plate reader,” Feeney said. “Body cam footage could be linked to drone footage.”

Congress has made some efforts to strengthen privacy in recent months. In February, the House passed the Email Privacy Act, which would require a warrant for any access to stored digital communications. But the Senate has yet to take any action on it, and threats of terrorism may easily quash any momentum on similar legislation, Slobogin said.

“If we have an event like Manchester in the United States — or Manchester itself — that might push Congress in the other direction,” Slobogin said.

Absent much guidance from Congress in the way of laws, the courts are deciding the future of surveillance as it pertains to the Fourth Amendment, Slobogin said.

“Some of the lower courts have looked at warrants and searches and things of that nature, but the Supreme Court really hasn’t weighed in on those kinds of issues,” Bloom said.

Slowly, that’s changing, as cases work their way up to the highest court in the land.

This year, the Supreme Court will decide United States v. Carpenter, on whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell phone records revealing location and movements of a person over the course of months is constitutional.

“That is arguably going to be the most significant Fourth Amendment case in decades,” Feeney said.

The Third Party Doctrine theory “needs to be grappled with significantly,” and could be reviewed in that case, Bloom said.

The lack of legal protection against an expanding availability of policing technologies may not concern law-abiding citizens, but it should, Feeney said.

“At the moment, we seem to be mostly concerned about radical Islamic terrorism,” Feeney said.

“Maybe in 15 years it’s progressives, or libertarians, pro-life people or pro-choice people,” he added.

This, Feeney said, is the fundamental question people should ask themselves: “Would I be happy with the state of the Fourth Amendment if my enemy is in charge?”

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Trump Plans to Sign Repeal of Obama-Era Broadband Rules on Internet Privacy

April 3, 2017

President Donald Trump plans to sign a bill to repeal Obama-era broadband privacy rules.
Republicans in Congress revoked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) privacy rule against strong opposition from Democrats who regard the rule as essential for consumer privacy. Conservatives call the law duplicitous and unnecessary. Republicans and telecom industry groups argue that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), not the FCC, traditionally protected consumer privacy.

The privacy bill would repeal regulations adopted in October by the FCC under the Obama administration. The regulation required internet services providers (ISPs) to protect consumer data more stringently than content providers such as Google and Facebook. The FCC required internet providers to obtain consumer consent before using location data, financial information, health, information, and web history for advertising.

Breitbart News spoke with Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, about his organization’s opposition to the FCC’s broadband privacy rule. Kerpen told Breitbart News that the criticism against removing this regulation is unwarranted.

“This is a deliberate disinformation campaign from the usual suspects from the tech-left and the media, and they’re completely misrepresenting the issue, and the conservatives are falling for the fake news narrative,” he told Breitbart News. “Up until 2015, the FTC protected consumer privacy, and then the FCC Net Neutrality order eviscerated the consumer protections at the FTC by pre-empting FTC’s jurisdiction. The FCC then came around and hammered ISP’s with draconian regulations that do not apply to Google or Facebook.”

“This is especially concerning, considering they have considerably more access to your personal data than Comcast or Verizon,” Kerpen explained. “It’s insane that Google and Facebook have a near duopoly in the advertising game and they have less stringent rules in terms of what they can do with your private information.”
The president of the American Commitment said that Google is trying to rig the system against ISPs. “Google has this whole array of left-leaning groups defending their favorite regulations that put them in their favor,” he claimed. “If you recall Gigi Sohn, the counselor to former Chairman Tom Wheeler, resigned from the FCC and she’s now at the Open Society Institute, and she’s working with George Soros, and they’re pushing a lot of money to these narratives. There’s a reason that former Chairman Wheeler waited until the last possible minute to institute these regulations. They knew these were very easy headlines to write, such as ‘Republicans in Congress Undo Privacy Rules’ specifically to create this distortion campaign to make it harder to get rid of Net Neutrality.”

Kerpen added, “This whole fight against the ISPs is a sideshow, by far the biggest threat to consumer privacy is Google that has trackers on over 60 percent of all websites. Google owns YouTube, and they have trackers everywhere, and they’ve shifted the focus of the debate to issues that don’t regulate Google.”

Katie McAuliffe, executive director of Digital Liberty, told Breitbart News, “This is nothing more than another Obama-era regulation that needs to be removed.”

McAuliffe told Breitbart News that this broadband rule was another power grab by the Obama-era FCC. She said, “Obama’s FCC broadband rule was a power grab under the guise of privacy.”

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Trump order may give Pentagon bigger role in civilian cybersecurity

February 6, 2017

The Department of Homeland Security fears losing its primacy in civilian cybersecurity through an impending White House executive order, according to current and former officials, raising concerns about digital security in the Donald Trump era becoming a stalking horse for surveillance.

Trump had been expected on Tuesday afternoon to issue an executive order on cybersecurity, a long-forecast first venture into a subject central to rising public, security and international anxieties after mass hacks of big companies and the US government itself. But the White House abruptly told pool reporters that the signing was cancelled without explanation.

Draft versions of the order that have leaked have elevated the Pentagon to a co-equal role with DHS over cybersecurity, which would give the military, with its capabilities and interests in surveillance, a deeper role into civilian digital protection than ever before.

Officials suggested the order would be significantly different from the draft. But as of Monday night, senior DHS officials had yet to see a finalized order, the Guardian has learned, though drafts have circulated within the department.

But some internal sources said the cybersecurity decision-making process, though opaque to them, looks relatively sober compared to the mass turmoil resulting from Trump’s Friday immigration halt, which has roiled the department, aroused international fury at the White House and on Monday resulted in the late-night firing of the acting attorney general for her unwillingness to defend the order in court.

Some across the administration – none of whom would speak for the record or for the identification of their agencies, for fear of reprisal – believe the recent orders are moving the mammoth homeland security department, reluctantly created by George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks, into an immigration enforcement agency with vestigial roles in counterterrorism, cybersecurity and natural disaster response.

Others consider that fear overblown. They believe Trump is focusing the department first on central campaign promises – an immigration crackdown and a de facto Muslim ban – though not at permanent expense of the department’s other responsibilities.

But both camps attributed the confusion to a policymaking process directed by the White House and left to the cabinet departments to belatedly implement.

“None of these executive orders have been the product of an interagency process,” said a senior administration official.

Some DHS officials think private companies would prefer to deal with them rather than the military.

“Cybersecurity is about more than attacks and nation-states,” said Denelle Dixon, the chief lawyer for the Mozilla Foundation.

A former senior DHS official said the department’s apparent downgrading would lead to surveillance fears among companies concerned with customer privacy, as well as interrupting relationships built by the department’s undersecretary, Suzanne Spaulding; the deputy undersecretary, Phyllis Schneck; and the assistant secretary for cybersecurity, Andy Ozment, with Silicon Valley firms in the years after the disclosures of Edward Snowden.

“Those aren’t easy things to replicate, and those companies aren’t equipped to deal with the demand from the Pentagon,” the ex-official said.

Trump was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who has thrown his political lot in with the president and whom, on 12 January, Trump unveiled as an informal cybersecurity adviser. Various cybersecurity experts were also slated to discuss the issue with Trump on Tuesday afternoon.

According to a White House official, the order will instruct agency heads to be accountable for their data defenses, with the White House Office of Management and Budget in charge of assessing overall federal vulnerability.

A draft version of the order raised some alarms within DHS and former staff for placing the secretary of defense and the still-unconfirmed director of national intelligence as “co-chairs” of various expected reviews on cybersecurity alongside John Kelly, the new homeland security secretary.

Of particular concern is a “capabilities review” the draft report orders, to identify “an initial set of capabilities needing improvement to adequately protect US critical infrastructure”. Defense secretary Jim Mattis will chair that review, along with Kelly and Adm Mike Rogers, the commander of the surveillance-oriented NSA and its young military twin, US Cyber Command.

During the Obama administration, when cybersecurity was elevated as a concern, DHS was tasked with protecting civilian government data networks and liaising with the private sector, including vulnerable companies. Cyber Command was charged with defending military networks and attacking adversaries.

The NSA, whose tremendous cryptographic capabilities and technical expertise made it the incubator for Cyber Command, has been the elephant in the room, particularly after Snowden’s disclosures of mass surveillance alarmed tech giants. Legislative efforts to mandate private sector data-sharing with the government, routed through DHS, attracted a significant backlash over the degree of access the NSA would have to data it would otherwise have to acquire with a warrant.

An animating impulse behind the executive order is the escalating scale of data hacks that seem to surpass the current institutional structures for preventing or mitigating them.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment about the future of DHS within the new cybersecurity structure.

Dixon, the chief legal and business officer of the Mozilla Foundation, said it was difficult to evaluate Trump’s cybersecurity policy before its development and looked forward to indications that the subject “will be a priority” for the new administration.

“However, we are concerned with a shift in responsibility for cybersecurity from a civilian agency to the Department of Defense. We’ve talked about how protecting cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we believe that now more than ever. There is a need for governments, tech companies and users to work together on encryption, fixing security vulnerabilities and responsible surveillance,” Dixon told the Guardian.

“Encryption, secure communications, government surveillance, lawful hacking and even online privacy and data protection, at the end of the day, are fundamentally about securing data and protecting users. It’s about the importance and challenges of the day to day necessities of making systems secure and trustworthy for the internet as a global public resource.”

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What’s the next big threat to US intelligence? Donald Trump

January 16, 2017

Donald Trump has been on Twitter again this morning, this time in reaction to an admonishment made on Sunday by outgoing CIA director John Brennan criticising the president-elect for comparing the US intelligence community with Nazi Germany and urging him to rein in “talking and tweeting” that could impact on national security. Trump responded by slamming the credibility of US intelligence on key national security issues and attacking Brennan personally. “Was this the leaker of Fake News?” Trump tweeted.

This spat is the latest in a series of hostile exchanges that reflect ever-worsening discord between the US president-elect and the American intelligence institutions. The implications are potentially severe, not only for the day-to-day operations of the US intelligence agencies but also for the very prospect of rational government, which relies on a functioning relationship between those whose job it is to understand the world and those who make decisions.

It’s safe to say that the US intelligence community’s handling of the Trump dossier did nothing to improve its relationship with the incoming commander-in-chief. The two-page summary of unverified reports suggesting “kompromat” on Trump, which landed on the desks of the president and president-elect, handed Trump and his team the opportunity to accuse them of being complicit in the spread of “fake news” and “phoney stuff”.

While these accusations are unfounded and over the top – the Trump dossier has nothing to do with the separate problem of fake news – the situation does highlight the critical need for intelligence professionals to adhere to the tradecraft standards that command the trust that decision-makers must place in them. The tradecraft that matters most these days for intelligence organisations (contrary to fake news peddlers) relates to the analysis and assessment of information, rather than its collection. In an age of information abundance, collecting information is arguably less challenging than the task of extracting value from it for decision-making purposes. Indeed, information becomes intelligence only after it has been analysed and assessed, and decision-makers require intelligent judgments.

While the professionalisation of intelligence in government circles has led to the development of cutting-edge analytical and assessment techniques, the corporate intelligence world tends to be less sophisticated, where the line between “intelligence” and “information” is more blurred. The privately produced source reports about Trump do not constitute intelligence product; they simply present information that might or might not be true. It remains surprising, therefore, that a two-page summary of this reporting, which fell well short of normal tradecraft standards, was included in high-level government briefings.

The fallout of the Trump dossier handling will present unprecedented challenges to US intelligence organisations, activities and knowledge. As former CIA acting director Mike Morell warned on CBS’s Face the Nation on 8 January, staff morale will undoubtedly suffer if President Trump turns out to be permanently uninterested in what they do. It is unlikely that he will seek to actively invest in the intelligence community or empower its leadership; there is already loose talk suggesting the administration aims to weaken the influence of the office of the director of national intelligence, who is supposed to serve as the principal adviser to the president on such matters, following the perceived mishandling of Russian hacking claims.

Even if Trump doesn’t restructure US intelligence organisations in any meaningful way, it remains highly doubtful that he will ever become a keen consumer of intelligence material. As per Morell’s warning, the existence of a commander-in-chief that doesn’t appear to value intelligence product or process could jeopardise the US’s ability to recruit sources, especially those motivated by a strong sense of patriotism and the desire to make a difference. A disengaged president would surely do little to incentivise agents to take risks to provide information if there is little prospect of that information ever influencing the thinking of high-level decision-makers serving in a Trump administration.

Perhaps most concerning, however, are questions surrounding the status and handling of intelligence as a type of knowledge, especially as it pertains to national security, foreign affairs and defence. “I know more about Islamic State than the generals do” is a statement typical of Trump, but the emergence of a thick “post-truth” atmosphere seeping through American (and British) political and media institutions risks stifling expert opinion where it is needed most.

In 1949, the great American academic and serviceman Sherman Kent introduced the concept of “strategic intelligence”. The core idea was that intelligence played a critical role in supporting rational government, by helping policymakers gain a “big picture” understanding of the world around them and make informed strategic decisions. It became the backbone of the western intelligence model, which serves as the blueprint for the US and other democratic countries worldwide.

Its fundamental purpose is to “provide truth to power”, promote evidence-based thinking, and present perspectives that might challenge the preconceptions of those in charge. It stands in stark contrast to politicised models, often found in totalitarian states, that feature organisations that struggle to resist the pressure to simply say what their political masters want to hear. History shows us that the relationship between intelligence and policy has rarely been straightforward, but it will struggle to provide any examples of previous US presidents-elect publicly denigrating the very institutions that US policymakers rely on for objective insight and evidence-based perspectives that might serve to challenge the ideological convictions of politicians.

The western intelligence model has survived in the US for almost 70 years. It may now be facing its sternest test yet.

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