Wondering What U.S. Spy Agencies Think of Donald Trump?
We found out … how to find out
by DAVID AXE & JOSEPH TREVITHICK
We don’t know for sure what the U.S. intelligence community collectively thinks of president-elect Donald Trump. But thanks to an invaluable federal law, we do know how to find out.
File a Freedom of Information Act Request with the National Security Agency. Ask for any mention of “Donald Trump” on the cross-agency Intellipedia.
We tried it. It works. Believe us, we’ll be repeating our request over and over and over again during Trump’s administration.
America’s spy agencies — there are 16 of them, including the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the intelligence organizations of the various military branches, among others — use a Wikipedia-style website to informally share information.
Intellipedia, which launched in 2005, actually has three sections — one each for top-secret, secret and sensitive-but-classified information. Any of the roughly 100,000 members of the intelligence community can edit Intellipedia. The site boasted an early success in 2007 when analysts quickly shared information on insurgents’ use of chlorine bombs in Iraq.
The wiki has come under criticism for being messy — a sort of information stream-of-consciousness rather than a collection of polished reports. “Intellipedia pages are living documents that may be originated by any user organization, and any user organization may contribute to or edit pages after their origination,” the NSA commented.
“Intellipedia pages should not be considered the final, coordinated position of the [intelligence community] on any particular subject,” the NSA added. “The views and opinions of authors do not necessarily state or reflect those of the U.S. government.”
But that’s exactly what proponents like about the site. “There’s much too much concentration on finished intelligence,” Greg Treverton, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, told Time in 2009. “Intelligence analysis should be a sense-making exercise, a process of working on problems and trying to get sharper at them. Intellipedia is ideal for that.”
Thus Intellipedia could offer a window into what some, or even many, of American spies and intel analysts think about their controversial new president, who — weeks before his inauguration — has brushed off formal intelligence briefings while blundering headlong into world crises.
On Dec. 2, 2016, for example, Trump spoke on the phone with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen — possibly the first time an American president or president-elect has directly spoken to a Taiwanese leader since 1979, when the United States broke off relations with the island country in order to formally recognize China, which considers Taiwan as a breakaway region.
In a bombshell story on Dec. 9, 2016, The Washington Post revealed that the CIA has evidence that Russia hacked the U.S. presidential election in order to help Trump get elected. Around the same time, Trump selected Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson — who is famously supporting of Vladimir Putin’s Russia — to be his secretary of state.
Trump is an obvious national-security risk. American spies and analysts surely know it. Apparently on Nov. 9, 2016 — the day after Trump won a majority of the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes — someone in the intelligence community created a Trump page on the unclassified part of Intellipedia.
We got our hands on a screenshot of that page, thanks to FOIA. It’s heavily redacted. We don’t know the creator’s identity or the identities of any subsequent editors. We do know that, in the page’s apparent first day of existence, readers and editors accessed it 95 times.
There’s also this warning. “Please review the Hatch Act before editing this page,” the Trump entry reads. The 1939 Hatch Act forbids federal employees from influencing a political campaign.
What’s most interesting to us is that the page exists. And the NSA is totally willing to let us see it, if only we ask. As Trump’s presidency gets underway and his scandals, gaffes and diplomatic screw-ups undoubtedly compound, America’s intelligence professionals will surely hop onto Intellipedia to update a running account of Trump’s misdeeds and their implications.