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For Your Eyes Only: Cherry-Picking Intelligence in the Trump Era

Paul R. Pillar
Reuters

Paul R. Pillar

Security, Americas

Presidential administrations have a long record of selectively releasing classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies, but this time something is different.

For Your Eyes Only: Cherry-Picking Intelligence in the Trump Era

The selective release of classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies has long been a favorite way for administrations to make a public case amid doubt or controversy. Raw intelligence lends a cachet of seriousness and authenticity even if the intelligence in question did not drive or underlie any presidential decisions. The administration of the day—with the president having the ultimate power to determine what will be declassified and what won’t—can release whatever seems to support its case and withhold whatever tends to refute it. The intelligence agencies, even if they see a different and more complete picture than what is being portrayed publicly, are largely powerless to do anything to counteract such a ploy. For the agencies to make their own release of offsetting classified information would be seen as insubordination and would be contrary to the professional ethics associated with their mission.

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