Intelligence community rebukes Trump’s favorite talking points during Senate hearing
In open testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning, leaders of the intelligence community knocked down the president’s talking points about ISIS, the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea, and the value of NATO.
CIA Director Gina Haspel confirmed to Sen. Angus King (I-ME) that Iran is not currently violating the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Last May, President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that Iran had violated its terms and withdrew the United States from the agreement.
“At the moment, technically they are in compliance,” said Haspel, before adding that after the United States pulled out of the agreement, Iranian officials have openly talked about reneging on their side of the agreement. The agreement was cosigned by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States), Germany, and the European Union, and it curtailed Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for ending painful sanctions.
“Iranians are considering taking steps that would lessen their adherence to the JCPOA as they seek to pressure [the EU] to come through with the investment and trade benefits that Iran hoped to gain from the deal,” she said.
Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Gen. Robert Ashley also told the committee that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons because Kim Jong Un sees them as essential to protecting his regime.
“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” said Coats.
Trump, after a meeting with Kim in Singapore in 2018, claimed without evidence that the country was no longer a nuclear threat to the United States.
Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
Although that meeting resulted in no concrete steps or agreements between the countries, Trump is planning another meeting with Kim next month.
In his opening statements, Coats also laid out the U.S. Intelligence Community’s consensus view that ISIS has not been defeated, knocking down a popular Trump talking point. Trump announced in December that ISIS was defeated in Syria, although he cited no evidence, and said that this success justified pulling U.S. troops out of Syria.
“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat,” Coats said, “the group has returned to its guerilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters.”
Coats also emphasized the importance of NATO in countering China and Russia’s growing power and influence as U.S. adversaries. He claimed China and Russia are increasingly aligned and coordinating, an aspect of his opening statements King said was alarming and overlooked. Coats’ 2019 national intelligence strategy, issued the week before the hearing, emphasized that China and Russia would coordinate to expand their global influence as the West became more isolationist.
Trump has actively pushed isolationist foreign policies, and has railed against key U.S. alliances like NAFTA and NATO.
But Coats emphasized the strategic importance of coordinating with NATO allies in countering Russia’s influence efforts. NATO, Coats said, was needed to push back on autocratic tendencies within Europe, but it was also essential for NATO to counter Russia’s goal of destabilizing European unity and the U.S.-European alliance.
“Clearly Europe has seen Russian aggression in hybrid ways, [including] significant cyber incidents trying to influence not only their view of our alliance but their own view of their own alliance within Europe,” Coats said. Russia was “seeking to sow divisions between countries and between Europe and the U.S.”
“The question was raised by the [NATO] director,” he continued. “Did any of the 29 countries not see Russian influence… in the political processes of those countries? Not one country raised their hand. All 29 countries [in NATO] have seen some type of influence from the Russians.”
Trump has reportedly privately considered withdrawing from NATO.
The intelligence leaders, in their testimony, also offered a consensus view that Russia would meddle in the 2020 U.S. election; that the government shutdown was harmful to the intelligence community; and that climate change presents a significant security threat to the United States.