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Trump’s CIA relationship on same painful path as Nixon says new research in Foreign Affairs

President Trump’s rocky relationship with the CIA is following a remarkably similar trajectory to President Nixon’s difficult dealings with the agency, according to new research published in the April 24th edition of the highly prestigious journal Foreign Affairs.

The new paper “Trump and the CIA: Borrowing From Nixon’s Playbook” by University of Warwick Politics and International Studies intelligence researchers Professor Richard J. Aldrich and Dr Christopher Moran, draws a number of close comparisons between Trump and Nixon’s approaches to the CIA.

The University of Warwick researchers say that the similarities between Trump and Nixon in their outlook toward the CIA, enable some forecasts about how Trump’s relationship with the agency might evolve over the next few years.

Dr Chris Moran says:

“Some commentators have been quick to point out key similarities between Trump and Nixon—for example, their ability to nurse a grudge, their obsession with conspiracies, their hatred of the press, their professed “outsider” status, but few have yet probed the remarkable parallels in their relationship with America’s premier spy agency. There are a significant number of remarkable parallels that could provide significant insight”.

Professor Richard Aldrich said:

“Former U.S. President Richard Nixon did not mince his words when it came to the Central Intelligence Agency. He called it “disloyal,” “unproductive,” “over-staffed,” “not worth a damn,” and even asked, “What the hell do those clowns do out there in Langley?” The country’s combative new Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump has had similar words for the agency, branding U.S. intelligence officers as “disgraceful,” “politically motivated,” and “sick people” who spread fake news.

The paper notes other Trump/Nixon parallels in how they approached the CIA including :

  • “It is clear that Trump regards the CIA as a political enemy determined to undermine his credibility in the eyes of the American people. In his defence, during the election campaign, many senior intelligence officials publicly threw their weight behind his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and have since launched investigations into possible Russian ties to his campaign, his advisers, and his business interests.”……“This echoes Nixon. Operating in a world where all politics was personal, he held the CIA at least partly responsible for his narrow election defeat by John F. Kennedy in 1960, believing that scheming “Langley liberals” had deliberately failed to debunk Kennedy’s false claim that the United States trailed the Soviet Union in intercontinental ballistic missiles (the so-called missile gap).”

  • “A…..indication of just how little Trump values the CIA’s work was when, in a televised interview, he questioned the usefulness of receiving the President’s Daily Brief, suggesting that three times a week was sufficient for a “smart guy” like himself and that “his generals,” Vice President, and national security adviser would alert him if something required his attention……Throughout his presidency, Nixon regularly complained that CIA support was “sorely lacking” at critical moments. For example, when the agency failed to warn him that the Cambodian head of state had been deposed in a coup in 1970, he gave White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman an ear-bashing: “Get rid of the clowns. What use are they? They’ve got 40,000 people over there reading newspapers.” To underscore his displeasure, he returned to the CIA a thick package of unopened daily briefs. As with Trump, there is evidence that Nixon eventually blew off his daily intelligence briefings altogether. When Andrew Marshall, the resident National Security Council (NSC) adviser on intelligence matters, reviewed the daily briefs sent to Nixon during his first six months in office, he noticed that the president’s handwritten notes in the margins became fewer and fewer until they disappeared completely.”

The University of Warwick researchers say that by recognizing the similarities between Trump and Nixon in their outlook toward the CIA, it is possible to make some forecasts about how his relationship with the agency might evolve over the next few years.

Firstly they note that the Nixon comparison suggests that Trump will rely more on intelligence from key White House and NSC staff members rather than the CIA. Kissinger, not the Director of Central Intelligence, was Nixon’s main intelligence adviser, producing his personal.

equivalent of the President’s Daily Brief. Trump followed a similar initially giving Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, a full seat on the powerful “principals committee” of the NSC (Bannon has since left that role).

Trump’s preference, like Nixon, for running critical foreign policy decisions out of the Oval Office is further evidenced by the creation of the so-called Strategic Initiatives Group. In late-January 2017 , the press reported that Bannon had teamed up with Kushner to set up an internal think-tank within the White House to consider long-term strategic issues such as counterterrorism and relations with Russia and NATO which the Warwick resaerchers say is “muscling in on turf traditionally occupied by the State Department and CIA.”

Secondly there is a strong possibility that Trump will look to investigate and reform the intelligence community generally—and the CIA in particular. In December 1970, concerned about the agency’s loyalty and competence, Nixon ordered a root-and-branch review of the intelligence community, assigning the task to James Schlesinger. Schlesinger was resented at Langley for being a brash interloper and political fixer. On arrival, Schlesinger’s first words to the CIA were, “I’m here to make sure you don’t screw Richard Nixon.”

Just like Nixon, Trump has plans to reform, streamline, and even downsize the intelligence community. But unlike Nixon, his instrument is likely to be different as the community is now led by a director of national intelligence—a post created in late-2004 in response to verdicts from the 9/11 Commission about a lack of cooperation between the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. Last month, the Senate confirmed Daniel Coats, a former member of the intelligence oversight committee and ambassador to Germany, as the new DNI.

Thirdly and as the University of Warwick researchers say: “Perhaps the most alarming danger that looms ahead is politicized covert action. History shows us that some of the most bizarre CIA activities of the last century emanated not from Langley but from the West Wing. Both Nixon and Kissinger saw covert action not just as a tool to advance policy but as a means to settle personal scores. In 1971, Nixon overturned the government in Bolivia, a country where as Eisenhower’s Vice President in the 1950s he had been pelted with rocks by a leftist mob. Trump, who is not known for having a moderate temperament, could use the CIA to launch ad hominem operations. That is a terrifying prospect,”

However the researchers do hold out hope for change by learning lessons from Nixon, The researchers note that:

“Trump evidently admires Nixon. Indeed, among the personal effects he displays in the Oval Office is a framed letter from Nixon prophesying that, if the businessman ever run for office, he would be a “winner.”

“Trump….would be wise to heed the lessons of the disgraced 37th president…At a time of turbulence in international affairs, Trump and the CIA should be close allies. Increasingly, intelligence and special operations are the silver bullet that presidents turn to at times of difficulty. As long as Trump does not visit the headquarters too often to make political speeches, there is scope for convergence around a tougher line on terrorism. Trump has granted the CIA authority to conduct lethal drone strikes once again and, according to one news report, is rolling back the limits Obama imposed on the spy agency’s paramilitary operations. Hardliners at Langley are cheered by the appointment of the uncompromising Gina Haspel, who supported the agency’s George W. Bush-era “extraordinary rendition” program, as Pompeo’s new deputy.”

The original article can be found at this link though it requires registration to read it in full:

For further information please contact:

Professor Richard Aldrich or Dr Christopher Moran via:

Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy, University of Warwick
Tel UK 024 76523708 office 07767 655860 mobile
Tel overseas: +44 (0)24 76523708 office +44 (0)7767 655860 mobile/cell

PR551 2nd May 2017


For further information please contact:

Professor Richard Aldrich or Dr Christopher Moran via:

Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy, University of Warwick

T: 024 76523708

M: 07767 655860 mobile

E: p dot j dot dunn at warwick dot ac dot uk