Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He sided with North Korea over the CIA.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kim Jong-nam, the estranged brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, had been a CIA informant. Kim Jong-un had Kim Jong-nam, who had fled North Korea years before, assassinated with a chemical weapon in 2017.

Asked for comment today, Trump acknowledged that he'd seen the report, and then said this:

And I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un, and I think the relationship is very well. But I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA, with respect to his brother, or half-brother. And I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices. 
But I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un. I can’t show you the letter, obviously, but it was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter. I appreciate it.

It's not entirely clear that Trump knew before the WSJ article appeared that Kim Jong-nam had been a CIA source. Trump has been extremely careless in the past with classified information: he's threatened to expose intelligence operations to settle political scores, he's overruled his own staffers' refusal to grant security clearances to his adult children, and he's blurted out secrets in the presence of foreign leaders on more than one occasion. It's possible that the specific details of the United States' intelligence operations against North Korea have been kept out of Trump's briefings. (Trump routinely ignores those briefings, claiming to know more about intelligence operations than the people who conduct them.)

This is far from the first time that Trump has sided with hostile foreign governments over American intelligence officials. Ten days before taking office, Trump compared the intelligence community to Nazis for their efforts to protect the election from Russian interference. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Vladimir Putin in 2018 and said that he believed Putin's denials of having sabotaged the 2016 election, in spite of the unanimous verdict of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies to the contrary. He also publicly sided with the government of Saudi Arabia, which has influence over him, on the matter of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi after the CIA showed him proof of its involvement.

Trump followed up his pledge not to spy on a hostile nuclear-armed rogue state with more praise for Kim Jong-un:

And I’ll say it again: I think that North Korea has tremendous potential, and he’ll be there. I think that North Korea, under his leadership — but North Korea, because of what it represents — the people are great, the land is great, the location is incredible between Russia, China, and South Korea — I think North Korea has tremendous potential. And the one that feels that more than anybody is Kim Jong Un. He gets it. He totally gets it.

Trump knows better than most how useful an intelligence tool the family members of a world leader can be: his own adult children have been targeted by them.

Why should I care about this?

  • It should not be this easy to manipulate the President of the United States.
  • Defending the United States means gathering intelligence against nuclear-armed dictators, even ones Trump likes.