US President Joe Biden yesterday was due to make his first visit to an agency of the US intelligence community, looking to emphasize his confidence in national security leaders after his predecessor’s incendiary battles against what he often derided as the “deep state.”
Biden was scheduled to visit the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the 17 US intelligence organizations.
The White House said in a statement that Biden intended to express “admiration for their work and underscore the importance for our national security of intelligence collection and analysis free from political interference.”
Former US president Donald Trump visited the CIA on his first full day in office, praising the agency, but also airing personal grievances. Standing in front of the CIA’s memorial wall with stars marking each of the officers who have died while serving, Trump settled scores with the media and repeated false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd.
The relationship between the intelligence community and Trump “went downhill from that very day,” said Glenn Gerstell, who then served as general counsel of the National Security Agency and stepped down last year.
Trump would go through four permanent or acting directors of national intelligence in four years and engaged in near-constant fights with the intelligence community.
In particular, he was angry about its assessment that Russia had interfered on his behalf in the 2016 US presidential campaign and its role in revealing that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden, an action that ultimately led to Trump’s first impeachment.
Trump eventually fired the inspector general at the national intelligence office — the internal watchdog that brought that pressure to light.
By contrast, Biden has repeatedly said that he would not exert political pressure on intelligence agencies, a message repeated by his top appointees.
He also came to office with a long history of working with intelligence officials as vice president and serving in the Senate.
Biden has already called on US National Intelligence Director Avril Haines with several politically sensitive requests. Perhaps the most prominent is an enhanced review of the origins of COVID-19 as concerns increase among scientists that the coronavirus could have originated in a Chinese laboratory.
Biden set a 90-day time frame and pledged to make the results of the review public.
Haines and CIA Director Bill Burns are also investigating a growing number of reported injuries and illnesses possibly linked to directed energy attacks in what’s known as “Havana syndrome.”
The CIA has appointed a new director of its task force investigating Havana syndrome cases, an undercover official who participated in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The intelligence agencies are also having to adapt to the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, with growing concerns that the Taliban could topple the US-backed government.
Haines and Burns have said that their review of the origins of COVID-19 could be inconclusive, probably disappointing lawmakers and observers who have pushed for more aggressive action against China.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said that Biden was not likely to make Trump “a central part of his message” during his visit.
“He’s someone who believes in the role of the intelligence community of civil servants,” Psaki said. “He believes they’re the backbone of our government and certainly he’ll make that clear.”
Harry Coker, a former National Security Agency and CIA senior official who advised the Biden transition team, said that he expected the president to discuss threats from China and his priorities for dealing with Beijing.
Coker also expected Biden to address sagging morale within the national intelligence office and make clear his interest in “wanting the truth whether anyone perceives it to be good or bad.”
Former officials said Biden’s choice of visiting the national intelligence director before the CIA was significant because it makes clear he wants Haines to be considered his principal intelligence adviser.
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