WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday called top U.S. intelligence chiefs “extremely passive and naive” on Iran and dismissed their assessments of the threat posed by North Korea a day after they contradicted his views during congressional testimony.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Gen. Robert Ashley, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about “worldwide threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the nuclear threat from North Korea remained and that Iran was not taking steps toward making a nuclear bomb, drawing conclusions that contrasted starkly with Trump’s assessments of those countries.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump said in a Twitter post.
Trump cited Iranian rocket launches and said that Tehran was “coming very close to the edge.”
“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump said.
Trump last year pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran put in place under his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, saying Tehran was “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement, and re-imposed sanctions.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran and world powers lifted international sanctions on Tehran. In return, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear activities, increasing the time it would need to produce an atom bomb if it chose to do so.
The U.S. intelligence officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons in violation of agreement, even though Tehran threatened to reverse some commitments after Trump pulled out of the deal.
Their assessments also broke with other assertions by Trump, including on the threat posed by Russia to U.S. elections, the threat that the Islamic State militant group poses in Syria and North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize.
Lawmakers including the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat condemned the Republican president’s criticism of the U.S. intelligence leaders.
“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality. People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter,” Senator Mark Warner wrote on Twitter.
Trump has clashed with leaders of the U.S. intelligence community since even before he took office, most strikingly in disputing their finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election with a campaign of hacking and propaganda to help him win the presidency.
Former CIA Director John Brennan last year called Trump’s performance at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin “nothing short of treasonous” after Trump seemed to give credence to Putin’s denial of Russia meddling in the 2016 election. Trump then revoked Brennan’s security clearance.
Brennan wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that Trump’s refusal to accept the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments on Iran, North Korea, Islamic State, Russia and other matters shows the extent of what he called the president’s “intellectual bankruptcy.”
Nine days before assuming the presidency, Trump accused the intelligence community of leaking false information, saying “that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done.”
The CIA declined to comment on Trump’s comments. The office of the Director of National Intelligence did not return a request for comment.
SUMMITS WITH KIM
Trump has invested heavily in improving relations with North Korea in hopes of getting the reclusive communist nation to abandon its nuclear ambitions. He broke with decades of U.S. policy when he agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last June and has planned a second summit in February.
“North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with U.S. No testing, getting remains, hostages returned. Decent chance of Denuclearization,” Trump said in a Twitter post, drawing a comparison to the “horrendous” relationship under Obama.
“Now a whole different story. I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel told senators that North Korea viewed its nuclear program as vital to its survival and was unlikely to give it up.
Trump also defended his decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria on grounds that Islamic State no longer poses a threat, saying “we’ve beaten them.”
“Caliphate will soon be destroyed, unthinkable two years ago,” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump has given the U.S. military about four months to withdraw the troops in Syria, backtracking from his abrupt order in December for a pullout within 30 days.
The U.S. spy chiefs said Islamic State would continue to pursue attacks from Syria and Iraq against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham