Trump transition was ‘far and away’ most difficult in CIA history, internal report claims

Donald Trump CIA

THE PERIOD IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the electoral victory of Donald Trump in 2016 was “far and away the most difficult” transition between administrations in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This is the conclusion of a recently declassified CIA analysis of how American presidents-elect are briefed. The term ‘president-elect’ refers to individuals who have won the US presidential election, but have yet to assume the presidency. Presidents-elect are briefed by the CIA during the transition period, which typically lasts about 75 days, from early November until late in January of the following year.

The CIA analysis appears in the most recent edition of Getting to Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates and Presidents-Elect, 1952–2016. It is authored by John L. Helgerson, a 38-year veteran of the CIA, who retired in 2009 as the Agency’s Inspector General. The volume contains lessons learned by analysts who briefed presidents-elect in over sixty years. Chapter nine of the book, which contains an assessment of Trump as president-elect, was released [pdf] last week.

The chapter chronicles some of the challenges faced by the CIA in the days immediately after Trump’s electoral victory in 2016. Such challenges included CIA analysts having to wait for over a week for the Trump team to begin communicating them, its members “apparently having not expected to win the election”. Additionally, the Trump transition team had not thought of a way to safeguard printed documents shared with them by the CIA, which necessitated the Agency having to install a safe in the Trump transition team’s headquarters.

Eventually, president-elect Trump began receiving the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a highly sensitive classified document produced each morning for the eyes of the president, vice president and a limited number of senior administration officials. However, unlike his vice-president elect, Mike Pence, Trump did not read the PDB, and eventually told the CIA he wanted a less text-heavy approach to the document if he was going to read it. The CIA complied with the request, as it tries to adapt its briefing method to the intelligence consumers’ preferred mode.

Despite overcoming these early challenges, Helgerson notes that Trump’s transition period was for the US Intelligence Community (IC) “far and away the most difficult in its historical experience with briefing new presidents”. He compares it to the transition of another Republican president, Richard Nixon, who “effectively declined to work with the IC, electing, instead, to receive intelligence information through an intermediary, National Security Advisor-designate Henry Kissinger”.

Like Nixon, Trump was “suspicious and insecure about the intelligence process”, according to Helgerson. Unlike Nixon, however, Trump chose to continue to engage with the IC, and did not change his stance or demeanor during briefings, even during the lowest ebbs in his relationship with the CIA. However, he attacked the CIA publicly, and had “a uniquely rough way of dealing publicly with the IC”, Helgerson notes. Ultimately, the “system worked, but it struggled”, he concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 November 2021 | Permalink

7 Responses to Trump transition was ‘far and away’ most difficult in CIA history, internal report claims

  1. rehbergc says:

    I doubt Trump can tie his own shoes, much less understand an intelligence briefing. I’m surprised they didn’t have to adopt a comic book format.

  2. Jimmy Gilbert says:

    Not surprising, when taking into account the head of the CIA and FBI at the time, did all it did to get the Steel Dossier into the American’s minds, and over turn the will of the American voters… No fan of thin skin Trump, but what is known to have happen is noting less than treason and still, not one, has been held accountable…

  3. Keith Allen Wanamaker says:

    Unfortunately, this article is unabashedly political, and contributes nothing to our knowledge of international intelligence issues.

  4. Roger Bolton says:

    To “Keith Allen Wanamaker” – What exactly is so “unabashedly political” in this article? It simply states a fact, which is the CIA’s view of what it was like briefing Trump. It adds plenty to our understanding of how intelligence is communicated. I am speechless by your comment.

  5. Keith Allen Wanamaker says:

    The President’s reception of the PDB was always of keen interest in the IC, even down at the worker bee level…and procedures for establishing briefing mechanisms and preferences would be an ordinary subject of internal management. The publication of memoranda comparing administrations, particularly (as highlighted in the article), by political party, and their subsequent declassification, can only have been undertaken with political intent. The article is political because the document from which it is derived is political.

  6. 1984 says:

    let me guess Keith Allen Wanamker, you’re a trump voter?

  7. Keith Allen Wanamaker says:

    Never. But I am a former, career IC professional who believes the community should distance itself from partisan politics. The politicization of the IC is not a good thing.

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