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January 31, 2019

King: Dismissing Intelligence Community “Denigrates the Work of Thousands of Loyal, Patriotic Americans”

In Senate floor speech, King pushes back on President’s dismissal of reports from top intelligence officials

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, highlighted the critically important contributions that the Intelligence Community makes to America’s national security in a nationally televised Senate floor speech. His remarks come after this week’s Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, where Senator King questioned the leaders of America’s Intelligence Community on the global threat landscape – including increased cooperation between China and Russia, Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government, Iran’s nuclear activities, and the potential use of “deep fake” technology to mislead the American public and distort the electoral process. Following that hearing, President Trump made several statements in which he essentially dismissed the findings of the Intelligence Community.

“Good intelligence is crucial to making good decisions,” said Senator King. “We live in an incredibly complex world… These are very difficult issues, but in order to make rational, thoughtful, important and very results-oriented decisions based upon these hearings, this information, we have to know the facts. We have to understand what the implications are, what the likely results are, but also more fundamentally just what's going on the ground. And if you look back over -- whether you look back 50 years, 100 years, 150 years, often our worst foreign policy misadventures have been based on one of two things – either bad intelligence or intelligence that was somehow skewed in order to meet the desires of the policymakers. If we don't have good intelligence, we can't make good decisions…

“Now, a lot of attention has been paid to the people who were testifying at that hearing. As I mentioned, the head of the F.B.I., C.I.A., the Director of National Intelligence, Defense Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. Those individuals were speaking on behalf of thousands of other people scattered around the world, often who risked their lives to gain the information that they were sharing with us that day. It wasn't Dan Coats' opinion or Gina Haspel's opinion or Paul Nakasone's opinion. They were distilling and presenting to us the intelligence and the information that had been developed by their good people over the course of the past month, week, years, to inform us and to inform the President of the best information available so that we can make the best decisions. What disturbed me, Mr. President, after the hearing was the reaction of the President of the United States. Instead of absorbing and listening to this information, he dismissed it. He not only dismissed the information, he dismissed the messengers and said they had to go back to school or they were being naive.

“Now, I don't want to be heard to say that the Intelligence Community always gets it right…But if one is going to dismiss their findings, it should be based upon some additional set of facts or information from some source. And…there were two things that bothered me about the president's reaction.  One was he essentially dismissed the facts in a whole series of cases. Iran, ISIS… North Korea, Russia. Basically he said I don't believe any of it. And the problem with that is it undermines the confidence that you have in the decision-making authority at the highest level if facts don't matter…

“Dan Coats at the beginning of the hearing gave the best synopsis I have ever heard of the mission of the intelligence agencies, of the mission of our Intelligence Community. Very simple. To seek the truth and to speak the truth. To seek the truth and to speak the truth. And that's exactly what they did at that hearing. They sought the truth through the auspices of these very professional, very thorough agencies scattered throughout the world, and then they spoke the truth by telling us what they had learned. The second problem I have with the president's reaction is a little more subtle. And this goes to the heart of the relationship between the Intelligence Community and policymakers. The subtle message that was being sent was: Don't tell the boss things he doesn't want to hear. Don't give it to us unvarnished. Style the information, slide the information, amend the information in order to meet what is perceived to be what the boss wants to hear. Whether the boss is this president, a past president, or a future president, that is disastrous. That's disastrous. The Intelligence Community has to deal in facts and information. Not policy. But if the message is sent down through the ranks, don't give me an assessment that disagrees with where I started… to simply say they're naive, they don't know what they're doing, they should go back to school, denigrates the work of thousands of loyal, patriotic Americans who are doing their level best to produce information upon which good decisions can be made.

“So, Mr. President, I stand today not to say that the Intelligence Community always gets it right but to say that the Intelligence Community at least should get an honest hearing and that the information they present is important to this country, it's important to the President, it's important to the Congress, and the day we start encouraging them to skew the information is a day the national security of this country is at risk.”

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as a thoughtful voice on national security and foreign policy issues in the Senate. In addition to his committee work, he serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.

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