Cal Thomas: Questioning intelligence

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 19th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. 

CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: Did President Trump bungle the moment in Helsinki this week by casting doubt on American intelligence findings that Russian agents meddled in the 2016 election?

Sure seems that way to me.

But several things need to be kept in mind.

BASHAM: Commentary now from WORLD Radio’s Cal Thomas.

THOMAS: Let’s not forget that Russia and the United States have been meddling with, or spying on, each other for decades.

That is hardly a secret.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says no votes were altered, and the Russians did not affect the election outcome.

But I’m frankly amused by this notion, largely the product of Democrats but also a few Republicans, that U.S. intelligence is beyond question.

Bear in mind that every intelligence agency in this country and Britain swore — some under oath — that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

That’s recent history, but it’s not the only time U.S. intelligence findings were not always accurate, or not worth taking at immediate face value.

Back in 1963, former President Harry Truman wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post. In it, Truman said that the Central Intelligence Agency, which he created, had changed. It had become, in Truman’s words, an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government.

As a result, Truman wrote, and I’ll quote him here: “I decided to set up a special organization charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without department ‘treatment’ or interpretations.

“I wanted and needed the information in its ‘natural raw’ state and in as comprehensive a volume as it was practical for me to make full use of it.”

End quote.

Even then there were concerns about the accuracy and credibility of intelligence material.

In 1975, a congressional committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church investigated abuses by the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and IRS.

These included allegations that the U.S. Army was spying on American civilians, and that the CIA had conducted assassination attempts against foreign leaders, and covert operations to subvert foreign governments.

Democrats took the lead in reforming intelligence agencies to make them more accountable to Congress. Of course, some conservative critics said they went too far, damaging legitimate intelligence-gathering operations.

Now, President Trump, I think, has an obligation here, and he certainly has the constitutional authority to fulfill it.

I think he ought to take the advice of William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal. McGurn says the president can diffuse much of the heat surrounding Russian election meddling by declassifying “all material subpoenaed by Congress regarding Russia and collusion and possible FBI or Justice Department abuses.”

President Trump might have done better in Helsinki if he’d made an announcement like that while standing next to Vladimir Putin.

But just as he walked back his unwise Helsinki statement, he can douse this current political fire by declassifying documents. I hope he will.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, looks over towards U.S. President Donald Trump, left, as Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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