(CNN) — President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat to President-elect Joe Biden and grant him access to daily reports from the Presidency, or any other classified material, has serious national security implications that could hamper the incoming administration’s ability to deal with threats from day one.
While Biden has downplayed the need for classified reports for now, national security experts warn that continued obstruction by the Trump administration could have lasting consequences. And that could potentially leave America vulnerable during transition, a period in which adversaries have historically sought to escalate tensions.
Exodus in Defense
The situation is exacerbated by the recent exodus of several of the highest-ranking defense officials, many of whom were replaced by people perceived as loyal to the president. Since Monday, four high-ranking civil servants have been fired or resigned. The figure includes Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, his chief of staff, and top officials who oversee policy and intelligence.
At the same time, the National Intelligence Directorate refused to get involved with Biden’s team, cutting off what would normally be a crucial national security resource for the president-elect. All of this makes ensuring government continuity that much more difficult for the incoming Biden administration. And it could drive gaps in the way crucial intelligence is conveyed on everything from geographic hotspots and cybersecurity threats to the status of negotiations with the Taliban and North Korea.
“You want to know the state of affairs around the world, such as the state of negotiations, discussions about free trade agreements, possible hot spots, conversations with allies about how to deal with common threats, threats made by adversaries and behind-the-scenes mechanisms to counter those threats, “said David Priess, a former CIA and State Department intelligence official. Priess was charged with providing classified reports to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“Having a delayed or obstructed transition gets in the way of all that,” added Priess.
What senators say about it
Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford said Wednesday he will intervene if the Trump administration still won’t allow Biden to access intelligence reports by Friday.
“There is no loss that he gets the reports and can do that,” Lankford told KRMG radio station. And he pointed out that he is part of the Senate Oversight Committee and that he has already begun to participate in the matter.
When asked earlier this week whether Biden should be allowed to begin receiving daily reports from the Presidency, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters: “I don’t believe in any way prejudice the legal claims of the president that transition work begins just in case.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who as President for the time is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, he told CNN on Thursday that Biden should have access to classified reports to prepare for the transition.
“I think – especially on classified reports – the answer is yes,” Grassley said.
The background to the transition of George W. Bush
The need for an incoming administration to start work on national security issues is so important that classified intelligence reports begin months before the presidential election is decided. After the 2000 elections, when the outcome was in doubt for more than a month after the vote, the outgoing administration of President Bill Clinton began delivering intelligence reports to George W. Bush before he was officially declared the winner. (Vice President Al Gore already had access to those reports given his position.)
The Report The 9/11 Commission found that the dispute over the 2000 elections, which cut the normal transition period in half, “hampered the new administration in identifying, recruiting, authorizing, and obtaining confirmation from the Senate of key appointments. ‘
Panic button still not touched
As a candidate, during this year’s campaign Biden and his team received reports from General Strategy Intelligence. Also specific updates on threats to choice. All of that stopped once Biden won. Traditionally, the president-elect would immediately begin receiving the same classified reports as the president. At the moment, Biden and his transition team have not sounded alarms. But if the situation continues, experts say it could be problematic.
“I don’t think anyone is pressing the panic button yet,” said retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. Kirby is a military and diplomatic analyst at CNN, and was an undersecretary of state under President Obama. “But if we still have this conversation in the first week of January, then it is a much more precarious situation, particularly as the time approaches when new people come into office who have not seen the classified material.”
The FBI Warning
Trump himself benefited from a smooth transition from the Obama administration, which gave his transition team full access to classified information and daily reports from the Presidency. Trump often recounts Obama’s warning shortly after winning the 2016 election that the biggest problem facing the world at the time was North Korea.
While Biden has made it clear that his priority as president will be to address the coronavirus pandemic, external security threats abound.
Before the election, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security they had warned that foreign adversaries could exploit any uncertainty after November 3 to undermine the election results. Russia continues to carry out a broad cyber campaign between a variety of sectors and local governments. They, along with China, have targeted American medical facilities working on covid-19 vaccines.
Foreign threats abound
Last month, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warned that the world lives “in the shadow of a nuclear catastrophe” fueled by growing mistrust and tensions between nuclear powers. This comes amid escalating disputes between the Trump administration and China. As well as in the framework of the difficult relations between the United States and Russia.
India and Pakistan, which have nuclear weapons, are fighting over Kashmir. And India just had a border skirmish with China.
Talks to denuclearize North Korea failed. And Iran’s enriched uranium reserves continue to grow. They are now more than 12 times over the limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Venezuela’s current political and economic crisis has led to the worst humanitarian crisis in history in the Western Hemisphere, after the Trump administration’s efforts to instigate change in the country failed.
In addition, there are currently thousands of US troops deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. And incoming Defense officials need enough time to catch up on the various missions.
‘Staff chaos at the Pentagon’ is ‘worrisome’, says expert
And with ever-changing threats and vulnerabilities in the cyber arena, it is imperative that the incoming administration is well-prepared to meet that challenge.
“All the personnel chaos at the Pentagon, combined with the Trump team’s refusal to brief Biden, is concerning. Besides being a flagrant violation of the rules, “said John Glaser, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.
The real threat, to be frank, does not come from abroad. The much more present threat to Americans and their political and institutional traditions is the one they face at the national level, ”added Glaser, noting political disputes that have skewed productive political discourse. “That is a far greater threat than anything China, Russia, ISIS or al-Qaeda can do to us in the next administration.”
Vulnerability during transition
Experts note that with his decades of government service – much of which has been steeped in foreign policy – Biden is well positioned to take charge of issues across the board, even with little preparation. What is causing concern is an unforeseen crisis that occurs between now and the opening day.
When you’re president-elect, “it’s no longer theoretical,” says Robert Cardillo, a former intelligence informant and director of the agency under President Obama. It is said that he could occupy a high-level position in the Biden administration.
“You have to be ready for North Korea’s problem A or Iran’s problem B,” he added. “Something will come to a head this spring and you have to start thinking about what it is,” he added.
In addition to what happened at the Pentagon, possible dismissal at the CIA
The prospect of Trump abruptly firing CIA Director Gina Haspel without a smooth transition with the successor raises fears.
“What if China chooses that time to invade Taiwan and you don’t have a CIA director because they fired her?” Said a former high-ranking CIA official who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity. Would firing her be part of China’s calculation? That’s the reason you don’t do it, “he added.
“You want to wait until Biden says ‘this is the CIA director I’m appointing’ and this person and Haspel start talking,” he said.
Some former intelligence officials told CNN they are especially concerned about the kind of person Trump could replace Haspel with if he did in fact fire her during the transition.
“A highly partisan new CIA chief would be viewed with great suspicion in foreign capitals, rendering our liaison associations almost powerless until the next administration,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA agent who oversaw operations in Europe. and Russia before retiring last summer. “Simply put, that puts the United States at great risk,” he added.
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