As more details surfaced this week about the extent of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, its winner Donald Trump shocked intelligence leaders from both parties with his announcement that he only receives briefings once a week. “I’m, like, a smart person,” Trump declared last Sunday, “I don’t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
After Trump brushed off as “ridiculous” what former acting CIA director Michael Morrell called “the political equivalent of 9/11,” a stunned Michael Hayden responded “to have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions—wow.” For his part, former Obama CIA chief Leon Panetta warned Trump that in the event of a future attack by any enemy of the United States “the responsibility for that attack would fall on the president.”
Especially if the greatest threat to U.S. national security comes from the president himself. To sum up the clear and present danger Trump poses, what follows is a Presidential Daily Brief (or PDB) for Dec. 18, 2016. This PDB is one incoming National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn will never share with his boss. To paraphrase one of Flynn’s predecessors, it should be titled “Trump Determined to Strike in U.S.”
OVERVIEW: TRUMP DETERMINED TO STRIKE IN U.S.
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Donald Trump since at least 2011 has wanted to conduct attacks in the U.S. Trump implied in media interviews between 2011 and 2016 that the current president was not born in the United States, and that his adherents would follow his example to “bring the fight to America.”
After a U.S. humor strike on his media base in America on April 30, 2011, Trump told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a [REDACTED] service.
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from opposition leaders such as [REDACTED] saying that Trump knew in advance of Russian plans for cyberattacks on the Democratic Party intended to gain the release of Clinton campaign emails.
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings of the public good and the public Treasury. These include plans to undermine core U.S. democratic institutions including voting rights, press freedom, and religious liberty, as well as the privatization of fundamental government services in ways likely to jeopardize Americans’ standard of living. The Trump jihad against the pillars of Americans foreign policy—summarized as “appease Russia, provoke China, and attack Iran”—poses a double threat to U.S. national security and its allies in both Europe and the Pacific.
GLOBAL THREAT ASSESSMENTS
NATO Alliance, Russian Sanctions Being Put at Risk. In the wake of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and incursion into Ukraine, the Obama administration responded with the deployment of U.S. forces in frontline NATO states and economic sanctions targeting Moscow’s energy sector. But the president-elect’s selection of pro-Putin figures Flynn and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to his national security team reflect Trump’s likely desire to unwind the sanctions regime. Combined with Russian/OPEC production cuts pushing global oil prices higher, the failure of U.S. sanctions will only serve to refill Putin’s coffers even as he applies greater pressure on former Soviet territories and Warsaw Pact members. With U.S. troops now engaged in exercises with NATO partners in Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland, President Trump will be putting the lives of American servicemen and women at risk if he follows through on his past threats to the alliance.
Unnecessary Provocations Hike Tensions with China. As with Russia, the United States faces a panoply of security issues with China. Tensions over the Spratly Islands and Beijing’s build up in the South China Sea were high enough before the 2016 election, making continued cooperation on containing North Korea, climate change policy, future arms control agreements on cyberwar, next-generation nuclear weapons, and an arms race in space delicate and challenging. But Trump’s tough talk (“I don’t want China dictating to me”) on trade and especially Taiwan not only stops bilateral progress—it threatens to reopen old wounds. The intentional ambiguity of the U.S. “One China” policy has allowed Washington and Beijing to avert a conflict over Taiwan’s status, tensions over which prompted American presidents to dispatch the Seventh Fleet to the Straits in 1955, 1958, and 1996. But as the Rand Corporation and others have warned, Chinese advances in submarine warfare, stealth aircraft, and especially long-range anti-ship missiles mean the U.S. could now lose in a confrontation over Taiwan.
Abrogating Nuclear Agreement Could Lead to War with Iran. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump derided the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran as “worst deal in the world.” But despite warnings from the current CIA director, European allies, and even American companies like Boeing about the dangers in undermining the deal with Tehran, President-elect Trump is facing pressure to do so from Republican hawks in Congress, hardliners in his new national security team, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Without the deal, Trump will be unable to reassemble Obama’s sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table even as the U.S. and its allies would lose the ability to monitor Tehran’s nuclear program. Even if Israel acted alone in launching unilateral strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, the blowback would almost certainly trigger a costly regional war targeting U.S. assets for retaliation in the region, in Europe, and potentially at home.
U.S. May Reach Point of No Return on Global Climate Change. In the fall of 2014, the Pentagon released a report warning that “climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages.” But in June 2016 when the Defense Department unveiled a “new game plan that assigns specific top officials the jobs of figuring out how climate change should shape everything from weapons acquisition to personnel training,” House Republicans voted to block spending on it. But with his mixed signals on whether he will withdraw from Paris climate accords, his past comments about global climate change as a hoax perpetrated by China about which “nobody really knows,” and the growing number of climate change deniers providing him counsel, President Donald Trump could well put the United States—and the entire planet—in a “danger zone.”
DOMESTIC THREAT ASSESSMENTS
U.S Risks Becoming a “Parasite State.” American history is dotted by administrations, like those of Grant and Harding, which were disgraced by corruption. But with his complete opacity regarding his taxes, his investments, and the reach of his (and his family’s) businesses, left unchecked Donald Trump will turn the Oval Office into his own for-profit enterprise. Trump’s huge debts, including more than $350 million to Deutsche Bank now embroiled in a dispute with the Justice Department, present immediate conflicts of interest for an American President. His current and in-progress business deals in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and the Gulf States mean U.S. foreign policy can be used by—or against—President Trump, using his personal financial interests as leverage. As Trump’s Washington DC hotel and extensive licensing of his brand worldwide show, the president-elect will almost certainly violate both GSA guidelines and the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. By all appearances, neither the Republican Party nor Trump supporters seem too concerned about the decline of the U.S. into a parasite state led by its parasite-in-chief.
Public Goods, Services and Resources Sold Off to Private Bidders. Less than six weeks after his election, Donald Trump appears well on his way to selling Americans’ public services and shared birthrights to the highest bidder. With his statements and staffing, the president-elect seems eager to auction off vast tracts of public land (especially in the western United States) for private development of oil, coal, natural gas, and other mineral riches. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to run the Department of Education, sees her mission as one to “advance God’s kingdom,” primarily by redirecting taxpayer dollars away from public institutions and into vouchers for religious and charter schools. Despite the candidate’s repeated declarations to the contrary, Trump advisers and allies in Congress are calling for slashing funding for Social Security and Medicare, converting those programs for America’s seniors into windfalls for Wall Street firms and private insurers. Even the very popular and very effective Veterans Administration health care system is being targeted for privatization. In the dark nexus where plutocracy, kleptocracy, and kakistocracy meet, the American social contract will be shredded by a self-serving government of the rich, the corrupt, and the unqualified.
A Nation Gripped by a Public Health Crisis. The incoming POTUS and Republican leaders in Congress have vowed to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) that put an end to the most egregious practices of the private insurers while enabling some 25 million Americans to obtain health insurance. The human toll in financial ruin, untreated illness, and unnecessary death is predictable—and horrifying. Roughly 30 million people are forecast to lose their insurance coverage, with at least 20,000 needlessly dying as a result every year. And with 52 million Americans plagued by “pre-existing conditions,” the dismal days of insurers refusing or dropping coverage would return.
U.S. May Face a Debt Crisis, a Possible Sovereign Default and/or Economic Catastrophe. As President Obama and Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan have agreed, “we do not have a debt crisis right now.” But the new president and incoming Congress could quickly change that. President-elect Trump has promised a massive new tax cut for the wealthy, no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and significant increases to defense spending. As a result, Trump is on path to add $15 trillion in new red ink to the current $20 trillion national debt. Nevertheless, he has promised to eliminate all of it “I would say over a period of eight years.” All of which means President Trump will have to raise the debt ceiling repeatedly while cutting federal spending by an impossible 80 percent. The inescapable result is a sovereign default by the United States or a global economic cataclysm—or both.
America to Be Confronted by Rising Inequality and Declining Social Mobility. As CNN/Money and Politico recently reported, President Obama’s parting gift to Donald Trump is “a pretty solid economy.” That “Obama boom” means the 44th President of the United States is “handing his successor an economy that’s now the envy of the world.” Nevertheless, new research in December confirmed that the American Dream is still slipping away. Only half of Americans born in 1980 are now better off than their parents, compared to 92 percent of those born in 1940 and 79 percent of those born in 1950. And the chief culprit isn’t the slower economic growth of the 21st century, but its much greater income inequality. That dynamic will only get worse under President Trump. His tax proposals deliver almost half of their benefits to millionaires—just 0.8 percent of the population. And his proposed reductions in business and capital gains tax rates, along with the elimination of the estate tax, guarantee that Uncle Sam will reward the richest families in America—like Trump’s.
Americans’ Civil Liberties and Voting Rights Put in Jeopardy. During the 18-month run-up to Election Day, candidate Donald Trump made clear that the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution would be endangered under his leadership. Muslims would be banned from entering the United States while mosques would subject to surveillance. Racial profiling and “stop-and-frisk” practices by local police forces would be encouraged—and not halted—by the federal government. In addition to his Mexican border wall, Trump promised to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States within “18 months to two years.” Out-of-favor media outlets and their reporters were either excluded from Trump events or subject to taunting and threats of violence. Just days after declaring “millions” of illegal ballots cost him victory in the popular vote, Team Trump is now planning to tightly constrain the White House press corps while possibly eliminating press conferences altogether. And under the leadership of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, the Trump Justice Department would doubtless support draconian Republican vote suppression efforts throughout the country.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn famously defended President Bush’s regime of illegal domestic surveillance by the NSA by declaring, “None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead.” After Jan. 20, 2017, they may not matter much if you’re living under President Donald Trump.