During the transition period between November and January, President-elect Donald Trump developed perhaps the most publicly antagonistic relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies of any incoming president in at least decades. He compared the intelligence agencies to Nazis, repeatedly disdained their reports as fake, and dismissed their assessments of foreign interference in the 2016 election. In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal last Monday, outgoing CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s allegations “repugnant.” Other intelligence officials have reportedly expressed a sense of dread about what’s to come.
Yet of all the U.S. government agencies likely to benefit, in terms of money and power, under the new administration, the winner may well be the CIA. Not the CIA’s leaders in Washington, to be sure. The incoming president seems eager to cut some of the Agency’s senior spies and analysts. Instead, power will flow to CIA operatives in the field---to those who help arm allied foreign military forces, manage drone strikes, command small battles, and kill enemy fighters in places from Somalia to Syria to West Africa to Afghanistan.
For more on how the CIA’s paramilitary operatives, and Special Forces, are actually likely to gain in the new administration, it’s vital to look back to the biggest covert operation in U.S. history, the subject of my new book on the U.S. war in Laos: A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA. In this past Sunday’s Washington Post, I have an adaptation of that book. You can read more here.