Olivia Gazis, CBS News, March 28th 2019
Two former acting CIA directors have enlisted former intelligence analysts in compiling a “briefing book” on global security challenges and are sending copies to all declared 2020 presidential candidates – including President Trump.
The 37-page report is intended to serve as an unclassified, written version of a typically classified oral briefing offered to the presidential nominees of both parties. The authors, John McLoughlin and Michael Morell, who is also a CBS News Senior National Security Contributor, have led such briefings in the past.
“Given that the U.S. faces the most complex and difficult national security and foreign policy environment in decades and given the ongoing debates in the U.S. about the basic facts on key issues,” the former officials wrote, according to a copy of the report reviewed by CBS News, “we thought it would be useful to bring a version of the ‘nominee briefings’ to all the candidates running for president in 2020 as early in the process as possible.”
The document cites the “rise and abundance of fake news and foreign election interference” as a key reason for the authors offering “unbiased, nonpartisan information about the threats facing our nation.”
“It’s meant to be a balanced, objective, intelligence view of the world,” said Morell. “There are no policy recommendations in most of the briefs, which are done in the way an analyst would present his or her findings.”
The report, which currently includes 12 chapters, presents some of what is known to be intelligence community orthodoxy on challenges from the likes of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. It also squares with some recent presentations from intelligence officials within the Trump administration.
But some of the report’s observations are at odds with the president’s policy decisions and rhetoric. “[T]he threat from North Korea remains unchanged,” reads one chapter written by former senior CIA analyst Sue Mi Terry. “North Korean denuclearization remains unlikely, because Kim Jong-un continues to view nuclear and missile programs as essential to preserving the regime and expanding its power.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats shared a similar analytical judgment during this year’s Worldwide Threats hearing. Coats’ presentation stoked the president’s ire as he prepared for what was ultimately an inconclusive second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In a chapter on terrorism, former deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center Andy Liepman writes, “Down does not mean out. We need to appreciate that terrorist groups, while vulnerable to relatively quick setbacks, are capable of rapid regeneration.”
The president has repeatedly declared ISIS to be “100%” defeated and stated his intention to withdraw most U.S. military forces from Syria and Afghanistan. Though he initially set a timeline of 30 days for troops to leave Syria, the timing of any withdrawal, and type and number of residual troops that could stay deployed, remains unclear.
Mr. Trump has also withdrawn the United States from a decades-old nuclear arms treaty with Russia and a handful of other international or multilateral agreements. A chapter written by the former chief of the Nonproliferation Center and Arms Control Intelligence Staff stresses that the “unraveling of arms control and nonproliferation agreements and norms has made the United States and its allies less safe.”
Morell, who said the report was assembled “pro bono,” dismissed any notion that the document might be viewed as a product of the “Deep State,” a term the president has lobbed in accusatory fashion at unspecified elements of the intelligence community.
“There simply is no ‘Deep State’ in the intelligence community,” Morell said. “It doesn’t exist.”
Morell and McLaughlin expect to update the book with new chapters on the national security implications of climate change and on the technological and counterintelligence challenges posed by China in the near future.
Regarding the many national security challenges included in the book, Morell told CBS News three major takeaways emerged. “One, the world is an incredibly complicated place.”
“Two, and as a result, U.S. leadership is critically important. And three, the U.S. needs the broadest-possible coalition of allies and partners,” he said.
He insisted the document was created to be informative and was agenda-free, and that nobody involved was paid for their efforts.
“It’s not that it’s necessary,” Morell said, “it’s just a really good thing to do.”