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The Hill: Politics must stop at the edge of intelligence for sake of security

Aug 15, 2019

When it comes to national security, good intelligence is the best defense. The key to good intelligence is facts, data, unvarnished analysis, and no politics. That this bears repeating in today, as we face threats from domestic terrorism to nuclear weapons, is alarming to us as the former chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Yet, we find ourselves mutually perplexed by what is taking place within the national dialogue on how the intelligence community is being treated, how its leadership is being judged, and the downright frightening trends we see. These are trends that, if left unchecked, will put us all in danger.

Let us say unequivocally and without hesitation that our intelligence professionals are brave and patriotic government servants. They work in the most dangerous places, tackling the hardest problems, often at great risk. At the CIA, even those who make the ultimate sacrifice become an unnamed star on a memorial wall and a blank space in the book of honor. Knowing this, they still willingly and eagerly put themselves in danger.

There are those at the top of the intelligence community today who understand this. CIA Director Gina Haspel and soon to be departing Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon embody its finest traditions of service and patriotism. They have dedicated their lives to protecting our republic, its values, and its citizens. Most importantly, these intelligence leaders have refused to become partisan footballs.

They know their job is to provide our national leadership with facts and analysis, unclouded by partisan ideology or the political winds of the day. Their job, in some ways, is the hardest. They must speak truth to power. If they allow their analysis to be manipulated by what they think political leaders want to hear or if they censor themselves to avoid countering the philosophies of political leaders, then their information is worthless. We have seen what happens when politics influences intelligence. Mistakes are made, lives are lost, and our national security is imperiled.

Why would a foreign source want to work with our intelligence officers if she knows or believes her information will not be taken seriously or valued? Or, worse, disclosed intentionally or unintentionally? Why would the intelligence services of our allies want to cooperate with us if they believe that their information or warnings will not be heeded?

By publicly denigrating the service of our intelligence professionals and questioning their loyalty and the quality of the product they produce, politics is being injected into intelligence. Playing political games with the leadership of the intelligence community is setting a dangerous precedent for the future, where this and successive administrations will only be told what they want to hear or what the intelligence community believes they want to hear. That is something we cannot afford.

Our adversaries are enjoying the disruption and schisms between the White House, Congress, and the intelligence community. Why not? The “main enemy” is fighting amongst itself over what should be an evident truth, but apparently is not anymore. Our intelligence professionals on the frontlines are carrying out their duties and will continue to do so. But assaults from the top, a perception that their work will not be valued or information heard, and seeing their leaders undermined for purely sycophantic political reasons will only degrade our national security.

Politics clearly no longer stops at the edge of water. We no longer keep our differences in the family. But when it comes to intelligence, our best defense against terrorism and the nonstop barrage of other threats we face as a nation, politics must certainly be checked at the door.

Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, served as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and holds the David Abshire chair at Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, served as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee during the same period and remains a current representative in Congress.