Douglas London, a former CIA officer, expresses apprehension in a recent CNN opinion piece about the potential misuse of the CIA’s powers if Donald Trump were to win a second presidential term. London, with over 30 years in the CIA’s clandestine service and now a Georgetown University lecturer, raises concerns based on Trump’s previous statements and actions.
The core of London’s argument revolves around Trump’s capacity to exploit the CIA’s operational flexibility and secrecy for personal or political gains. He refers to a past incident where Trump suggested immunity from prosecution for directing a military operation against a political rival, setting a worrying precedent for the possible abuse of the CIA’s resources.
London notes that the CIA operates under guidelines primarily set by executive orders, which can be easily altered. This flexibility, while essential for the agency’s innovative and responsive nature, also poses risks if misused. He recalls how the CIA swiftly responded to critical situations like the 9/11 aftermath and the ISIS threat in 2014 but warns that this agility could be weaponized for political ends.
The article points out that despite Congressional oversight, the CIA operates with a degree of independence, as its interactions with the president are classified and protected by executive privilege. This, coupled with minimal pushback expected from GOP leaders, amplifies concerns about potential abuses under Trump, who has already received endorsements for his 2024 candidacy despite facing multiple indictments.
Highlighting past incidents where the CIA’s capabilities were used for political purposes, London urges caution. He references the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s and the Senate’s study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to illustrate how the agency has historically been manipulated for presidential interests.
London emphasizes the need for safeguards within the CIA, referencing Executive Order 12333 issued by Ronald Reagan and revised by George W. Bush, which established a framework for intelligence efforts while protecting privacy and civil liberties. However, he points out that these guidelines are still subject to the whims of the president, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the CIA.
The article concludes by suggesting that while transforming relevant executive orders into law might not be politically feasible, it is crucial to review the CIA’s powers, especially those relevant to domestic issues, privacy, and civil liberties, to prevent potential abuse.