Donald Trump handed Attorney General William Barr a blank check to use any information from any intelligence agency to pursue his political opponents. That’s not just a step toward an authoritarian government; it’s the definition. And, as might be expected, it’s also the end of meaningful U.S. cooperation with intelligence agencies of other nations.
As reports, Trump didn’t just authorize Barr to declassify any document he wants; he specifically stuck his fingers into two eyes of the international intelligence cooperative. "I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine," Trump told reporters.
Trump is publicly announcing that his chief political officer is going to examine classified information from America’s allies, and use that information for political show trials. That’s a concern not just for what it says about the future of American justice, but also for what it says right now about America’s national security.
Australia, the U.K., and other allies have not made a public statement regarding Barr’s expanded authority to spill anything they hand over. But the threat to techniques, sources, and analysis is very real. Whether it concerns the movement of military forces, or the pursuit of international terrorists, Trump’s order to Barr disassembles intelligence agreements that took centuries to build and saw all involved not just survive war, but avoid it.
A big part of the reluctance that other countries have shown to criticize Trump’s action is their recognition that Trump is both dedicated to attacking his opponents and unpredictable in his actions. That’s caused foreign governments to draw a huge circle around anything related to the Russia investigation, Trump’s investigation of the investigation, or the inevitable investigation of that investigation, and stand far back.
But just because they’re not talking in public doesn’t mean they’re still sharing information.
With Brexit and elections dominating the news in the U.K., very little attention has been given to Trump’s actions across the pond—which has made it easy for the government of the outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May to stay silent. After all, it’s soon to be someone else’s problem. If that someone else turns out to be Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson, the use of intelligence agencies to make a case against political opponents could even become a mutual affair, so … staying quiet is the order of the day.
But Trump may force May to make some kind of statement. Speaking with reporters about his upcoming trip to the U.K., Trump said, “There's word and rumor that the FBI and others were involved, CIA were involved, with the UK, having to do with the Russian hoax. And I may very well talk to her about that, yes." Even if she never has to face another vote, May is likely to feel some pressure to continue supporting British intelligence. Still, the U.K., with Brexit on the horizon, is desperate to preserve connections to the U.S., and May just may let Trump be Trump, with no comment.
Don’t expect that silence to last. Trump’s fact-free rants about “spying,” Barr’s repeating of the same term, and the upending of American intelligence that’s been underway since Trump took office are driving a wedge between the United States and its allies, both in open military alliances such as NATO and in less visible agreements such as Five Eyes.
And the weakening of ties on both fronts represents a direct and serious danger to America.
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