The most unique security threat that US intelligence has encountered in modern times.
By Gabrielle Jones: Political Columnist
Donald Trump no longer has the ceremony that title of ‘President’ bestowed on him for the past four years.
He is now a private citizen of the United States, albeit a former-president, although he does not look poised to tread the common path of international diplomacy or political consultation that most former presidents have taken.
It is common that when former presidents step out of the hurricane of domestic and international politics, they are subject to a more personal analysis, with much of this is to do with how they spend their time post-presidency. As private citizens, they are free to go after their own endeavours, such as Bill Clinton’s internationally known charitable foundation ‘The Clinton Foundation’. Often they dip back into politics. Famously, Richard Nixon’s admissions of remorse and work as a foreign policy consultant were well received as a form of penance. Actively working to improve the national interest of the United States, cast even the most degenerate president in a rose tinted hue. Up until now the role of a former president had not been a controversial topic, it had certainly never been considered a threatening position.
As we have come to expect, Donald Trump is shaping up to be a unique case. His personal life, idiosyncrasies, and the climate of political unrest have forged him into the most dangerous private citizen in the United States. Never before has a former ‘commander-in-chief’ simultaneously been such a latent threat to national security.
Within the federal institutions of intelligence and defence, this perception of Trump has already crystallised. Government officials have begun to voice their concern that Trump may potentially expose national security secrets, whether this be intentionally or unintentionally.
There are the key warning signs; his historic distaste for the federal government, erratic and delusional personality, and his crippling personal debt. Trump is the perfect storm for what current government officials are calling a ‘classic counterintelligence risk’.
Throughout his tenure, Trump attended countless national security briefings, containing vital information about US intelligence gathering, the procedures for launching nuclear weapons, and future weapon developments. Former Presidents retain access to national security secrets of their own administration, and it has been custom that the sitting President will brief former Presidents of such crucial issues, often asking for advice.
Hostile foreign governments would clamour to know this kind of information, paying out large sums of money for secrets that could give strategic advantage over US intelligence. The palpable fear from government officials is that Trump could expose these secrets for pragmatic and ideological reasons.
Donald Trump has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of debt that is coming due in the next few years, believed to be in the region of $400 million, of which he has guaranteed himself. His most famous assets, the Trump hotels, will be suffering as the pandemic has ravaged the hospitality industry. Videos taken of empty lobbies from inside Trump’s Washington D.C hotel suggest that even the self-proclaimed ‘business tycoon’, has not been immune from economic hardships.
To make matters worse, former business partners and banks are scrambling to get away from any association with Trump, fearing the political backlash of an association with the pariah former president. The exodus began with the false accusations that the November election was fraudulent, and the insurrection on January 6th cemented the feeling that the Trump name was now a detrimental asset.
From big lending banks such as Deutsche Bank and Signature Banks, to the PGA, Macy’s, and ESPN have all deserted the former president, a shrinking market to do business is surely not the reaction that winning the Presidency would eventually have on his financial prospects.
With these economic dire straits in mind, could it be feasible to think that the former commander-in-chief could consider exposing national security details in exchange to offset outstanding payments or financial favours?
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Trump is the perfect storm for what current government officials are calling a ‘classic counterintelligence risk’.
Former CIA officer Larry Pfeiffer validates this concern, citing that people in large amounts of debt are a prime concern to security agencies. A significant proportion of individuals that have committed espionage against the United States have done so due to financial vulnerabilities. ‘People that are in dire situations make dire decisions’, argues Pfeiffer.
Trump has long and deep business ties in Saudi Arabia, several business ventures in China, and overall in 2016 disclosed having dealings with 25 nations. Recently, in an interview with The Guardian, a former KGB spy revealed that Russia has been cultivating Trump as an asset for years to manipulate anti-western Russian propaganda. If hostile foreign government intelligence bureaus were waiting to strike when Trump was at his most susceptible, now would seem ideal.
Another former CIA officer David Priess stated that this amount of debt alone, would prevent passing a government security clearance. Now, medical experts are building on this analysis, insisting that we must recognise that Trump shows signs of dubious mental health.
In 2020 the World Mental Health Coalition (WMHC) pleaded with Congress to subject the President to a mental health evaluation as a matter of national urgency, or invoke the 25th Amendment. At the time, the WMHC argued that Trump’s constant dissemination of false information regarding the coronavirus pandemic displayed a detachment from reality so significant, that if he were the president of any major institution, the board of directors would have long intervened to remove him from his position of power.
Since that article’s publication, Trump has furthered his campaign of false information by denouncing the election and inciting an insurrection, it is no surprise that health officials, such as forensic psychiatrist Brandy X. Lee has suggested that he shows classic signs of mental debility that find him unable to make rational decisions.
This is not the first time Donald Trump’s mental well-being has been called into question. For example, exclusively eating McDonald’s out of fear of being poisoned, erratic twitter outbursts in the middle of the night – sometimes firing government officials, and a narcissistic obsession to appear successful have all been queried as signs of the former President’s declining mental well being.
Former White House aide Anthony Scaramucci voiced his concerns in January 2020 that Trump’s lack of mental acuity was being flagrantly ignored, these concerns are now being seriously echoed by medical officials. It is true that all other government officials holding powerful office have to undertake a mental health test before assuming office, clearing them of any national security risk. It is certainly unclear whether Trump now would pass this test, either way it is now too late.
When both of these factors are compounded by an ideological hatred of the Washington ‘swamp’ and the institutions of government, it is clear to see the perfect storm swirling.
Playing with US national security secrets may look pragmatically appealing, while satiating a bitter desire for revenge against the Washington elite who ‘stole’ his election. Propelled into reality by an innate desire to brag about his superior knowledge and obliviousness to consequences, there is the utterly unique situation where US national security hangs on a contingency.