There is a powerful Op-Ed piece over on The New York Times webpage this week by Michael Hayden, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, entitled The End of Intelligence. In it, he looks at how the “post-fact world” threatens us all. In an age in which fanatical activists (read, “Trumpians”) reject as “fake news” any data which conflicts with their closely held biases, we are all very much in peril.
Espionage and intelligence work, he explains, is based on looking for truth in a sea of lies. It has to rely on real, proven or at least provable facts, “Intelligence work — at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition — reflects … Enlightenment values: gathering, evaluating and analyzing information, and then disseminating conclusions for use, study or refutation.” If an intelligence agency is to be useful, it must at all costs avoid wishful thinking, or ideologically conditioned thinking.
But, under Trump, we have moved toward a near total rejection of truth. We now live in a world in which Trump’s fantasies and his need to play to the fears and furies of his “deplorable” base are more important than what is actually happening in the universe.
And this means that intelligence is now in serious trouble in America. Writes Hayden, “In this post-truth world, intelligence agencies are in the bunker with some unlikely mates: journalism, academia, the courts, law enforcement and science — all of which, like intelligence gathering, are evidence-based. Intelligence shares a broader duty with these other truth-tellers to preserve the commitment and ability of our society to base important decisions on our best judgment of what constitutes objective reality.”
The deadly peril of this life “in the bunker” is that a government which tries to abandon facts eventually finds them coming back to haunt it—the way that, for instance, Stalin put his nation at risk when he ignored intelligence reports and assumed that Hitler wouldn’t invade what was then the USSR. It is only a matter of time, then, before Trump meets his Hitler, or, maybe, given Putin, he already has.
All in all, Mr. Hayden’s article is important. It provides us with a warning of what could be to come if the post-truth society continues to dominate D.C.
The Little Professor