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Ex-US spies warn of danger of conflict between Trump and intel chiefs

WASHINGTON: The critical relationship between US President Donald Trump and the US intelligence community is irreparably broken, with high risks for the country in a crisis, former senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers said on Wednesday.

One week after Mr Trump blasted his spy chiefs as "naive" and told them to "go back to school" for challenging his views on Iran and North Korea, the CIA officers said the rift between the two sides has become extremely dangerous.

"When you have that open warfare, it can affect intelligence judgments and policy judgments," said Mr George Beebe, former director of Russia analysis at the CIA.

When the intelligence community needs to deliver a warning to the president, he said, you now have a situation where "the first thought going through his mind is, 'they are playing some game to try to make some trouble for me'".

"If the intelligence community warns, but its audience for that warning won't hear it, dismisses it, the result is not different than if there were no warning at all," he said.

Mr Beebe and other former CIA officers were speaking at a discussion at the Centre for the National Interest, a Washington think-tank, following the newest public rupture between Mr Trump and his intelligence chiefs.

Their annual Worldwide Threat Assessment presented to Congress on Jan 29 contradicted Mr Trump's claims that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group has been defeated, that North Korea will forego its nuclear weapons and that Teheran is actively seeking nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump blasted back that they were wrong, before summoning director of national intelligence Dan Coats and CIA director Gina Haspel to his office over the issue.

"The intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong," he tweeted.

"Perhaps intelligence should go back to school."

Mr Trump has been at odds with the intelligence community since its public report after his November 2016 victory that Russia had meddled in the election on his behalf.

He branded the report "politicised" and "fake news" and accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's insistence that there was no meddling.

'DEBILITATING'

Former CIA assistant director Mark Lowenthal said: "We have never had a president stand up with a foreign leader, let alone a Russian leader and say, 'I believe him, I don't believe US intelligence.'"

He said Mr Trump's distrust has been "very debilitating" for intelligence analysts.

Mr Paul Pillar, a Georgetown University professor who spent 28 years in the CIA, stressed that setting US policy is the president's prerogative.

But, he said, Mr Trump needs the intelligence community's input into his policy.

"The biggest concern seems to be Trump's overall resistance to ingesting new information... and thereby overcoming his ignorance about many world events," said Mr Pillar.

"He has not been tested with a true international crisis.

"This is another thing to worry about - that the intelligence input would be discredited, it would be seen with suspicious eyes, and that would impede an effective and safe response to whatever the crisis is." - AFP

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