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Your View: Trump hurts U.S. intelligence services

This was written in response to the Mail Tribune's editorial published Wednesday, July 18.

I was a professional intelligence officer from February 1962 to August 1969. In those seven and a half years I specialized in the collection field that included electronic, photographic and human intelligence. I served during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Vietnam in 1965 and ’66 and the Pacific area after Vietnam until August 1969.

I acknowledge that was then and this is now. That said, there are a few points I believe have always been the cornerstone of United States professional intelligence services.

First, those of us that worked in the intelligence field were and are from all corners of the American fabric: black, white, brown, Democrat, Republican, religious, agnostic, atheist and, yes, immigrants. Regardless of our personal beliefs, we worked in unison for the best interests of our country.

Did we make mistakes? Clearly, yes. Intelligence is not an exact science. As an intelligence operative we are taught to accept our successes will likely never be known or acknowledged. One major success I was involved in was celebrated in a secure room with four of us quietly shaking hands and going back to work. Publicity is the enemy of intelligence collection. Those failures will make front-page news and have a chance of embarrassing the United States on a world stage.

My experience is that most intelligence failures are the result of “the powers that be” doing one of two things. First, when intelligence does not fit what the brass and/or political leaders believe, they will discount the intelligence. Second, the same powers will cherry-pick what supports their belief and indulge in self-delusion.

I suggest the Tet Offensive of 1968 in Vietnam was an example of No. 1 above. The massive intelligence data that pointed out the likelihood of something big in the works by the NVA and Vietcong did not fit our leaders cherished belief we were winning the war. So, it was discounted and discarded.

An example of No. 2 is found in the run-up to the Iraq war. The information that supported weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was taken as gospel and information that cast doubt on that was discounted and even careers were destroyed to keep the myth of WMD intact.

Note: Example No. 1 was under a Democratic administration and No. 2 a Republican one. It is a bipartisan issue.

The final burden we carry as intelligence professionals is that political leaders will not admit a mistake. When caught in a failure they blame the intelligence services for that mistake knowing that we cannot, and will not, risk our ongoing operations to prove ourselves correct. When conducting intelligence planning, paragraph one is always plausible denial. If this operation blows up, how can the U.S. government deny that we were involved? Once in a while we get caught with our hands in the cookie jar.

President Trump is violating all of the above and that is damaging our intelligence services here and abroad.

Larry Slessler lives in Medford.

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