Trump’s Inner Circle: Here Come the Troglodytes
By Melvin Goodman
My favorite philosopher, Garrison Keillor, stated in a different era that “it will get worse before it gets worse.” Well, once again, here we are. President-elect Donald Trump’s naming of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser; Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R/AL) as attorney general; and Rep. Michael Pompeo (R/KS) as director of the Central Intelligence Agency suggests that the dangerous positions taken by Trump during the presidential campaign will be supported by his national security team. All three of these men have pandered to the Trump agenda and have taken particularly hardline views on matters dealing with immigration, the Muslim community, and the use of force. If Donald Trump actually decides to name a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of email at the Department of State, then he will have the support of these three men.
Lt. Gen. Flynn is in a position to do the most damage to the national security interests of the United States. He was forced into retirement from the military in 2014 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff needed to stop his politicization of intelligence as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and his brutal management style resembling that of Captain Queeq on the USS Caine. Flynn reorganized the DIA in order to combine the roles of the intelligence analysts and the operatives, which created a smoother path for politicizing intelligence. This is the same reform that CIA director John Brennan has introduced into the CIA, which has had its own problems with politicized intelligence over the past several decades. At DIA, Flynn was known for endorsing specious intelligence reports and circulating his support for these reports in what was known facetiously as “Flynn facts.” Currently there is an investigation of DIA for the tailoring of intelligence on the success of the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although the general has been praised for his work in the operational and tactical fields, there are no examples of the kind of strategic thinking or experience to believe that Flynn would be useful in coordinating the policy views of the entire national security bureaucracy or in providing objective and balanced intelligence to the president. Flynn has already changed his views to accommodate the interests of Trump. Once an opponent of torture and abuse, Flynn over the past year has become a supporter. His consulting company has lobbied on behalf of the authoritarian interests of Turkish President Erdogan, and Flynn himself has been a regular commentator on RT, Moscow’s English language propaganda voice. At the convention last summer, Flynn referred to Hillary Clinton as a member of the “enemy camp” and led the chants of “lock her up.”
Rep. Pompeo was an initial supporter of the Tea Party, and predictably took positions against abortion (even in cases of rape and incest); against the Affordable Care Act; and against any effort on the part of the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate greenhouse gases. He favors a return to unrestricted massive surveillance by the National Security Agency; a death sentence for Edward Snowden; and more vigorous use of enhanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. When his committee was confronted with pictures of hunger strikers at Guantanamo, Pompeo facetiously remarked that it “looked like that they had put on weight.”
Pompeo, like other members of the presidential transition staff, is a conspiracy thinker. He and Senator Tom Cotton (R/AR), who has been rumored as a possible choice as secretary of defense, were strong opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement and believe that there are secret side agreements that favor the interests of Tehran. He has charged that any Muslim citizen who doesn’t vigorously denounce acts of terror is actually complicit with the attacks.
Pompeo was a strong opponent of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s devastating report on CIA torture and abuse, and conducted a vigorous attack on Secretary of State Clinton’s role in the Benghazi tragedy. When his colleague, former representative Mike Rogers (R/MI) issued a report exonerating Clinton, Pompeo attached a polemical rebuttal.
Senator Sessions has been rewarded with the Department of Justice for being the first elected official to come out in support of Donald Trump. He is strongly opposed to any immigration reform, and has received a grade of “F” from various civil rights groups and the NAACP for his opposition to civil rights. In the 1980s, there was a successful bipartisan effort in the Senate to keep him from becoming a federal judge, with the decisive swing vote coming from Senator Howell Heflin (D/AL). Sessions once referred to the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American and communist” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”
The appointment of a neo-conservative national security team points the Trump administration in an extreme hardline direction. It is possible that the Director of National Intelligence will be weakened or even eliminated, and that the CIA will become even more involved in covert action, including regime change. The sudden resignation of General James Clapper as director of national intelligence certainly points in this direction.
President Barack Obama’s failure to limit the CIA’s paramilitary role and to seek accountability for the conduct of torture and abuse will allow president-elect Trump to get the CIA more heavily involved in paramilitary activities, which have damaged the reputation of the United States and the CIA in the past. The Iran-Contra scandal tarnished the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. CIA support for the Mujihadeen in the 1980s led to the emergence of al Qaeda and other fundamentalist terror organizations in the 1990s that we are still confronting.
Although President Obama had some success in bringing sunlight into the darkened corridors of the national security state, president-elect Trump’s appointment of these individuals suggests that the secret state will once again expand. A greater era of secrecy will be harmful to the interests of American citizens and even to our democracy.
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.