Worry as Trump se­cu­rity chief fu­els con­spir­a­cies

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

On is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence, no one is likely to have more in­flu­ence in Don­ald Trump’s White House than re­tired Gen Michael T Flynn. Yet Flynn, Trump’s in­com­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, has gained promi­nence in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics by fu­el­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries and Is­lam­o­pho­bic rhetoric that crit­ics warn could cre­ate se­ri­ous dis­trac­tions - or alien­ate al­lies and em­bolden en­e­mies - if it con­tin­ues.

“His job is to en­sure that the White House is fo­cused at all times on all of the threats that the United States faces abroad,” said Ju­lianne Smith, a for­mer deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den. She said she was “deeply trou­bled” by a Flynn ten­dency to pro­mote fake news sto­ries on his Twit­ter feed. “You don’t want to have a dis­tracted na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser,” said Smith, who now di­rects the strat­egy and state­craft pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity.

She was among sev­eral na­tional se­cu­rity ex­perts who raised con­cerns Tues­day about Flynn’s will­ing­ness to share bad in­tel­li­gence on a so­cial me­dia feed as he pre­pares to move to the West Wing. Flynn served un­til 2014 as the head of US mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence. Al­though he left that job over dis­putes with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion over pol­icy and his man­age­ment of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, he is widely re­garded as a top in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, a job that re­quires an un­der­stand­ing of the power of dis­in­for­ma­tion.

The is­sue of shar­ing fake news was high­lighted when Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, tweeted about the false idea that prompted a shoot­ing at a Wash­ing­ton pizza par­lor. He had been pro­mot­ing a con­spir­acy the­ory that Hil­lary Clin­ton’s al­lies had been op­er­at­ing a se­cret pe­dophilia ring in the res­tau­rant and noted it would re­main a story un­til “proven to be false.” Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence ac­knowl­edged Tues­day that the younger Flynn was help­ing his fa­ther with sched­ul­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tive items dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial transition but told CNN “that’s no longer the case.”

Asked re­peat­edly whether a se­cu­rity clear­ance was re­quested, Pence re­fused to an­swer di­rectly. “What­ever the ap­pro­pri­ate pa­per­work was to as­sist him in that re­gard, Jake, I’m sure was tak­ing place,” he said. Trump’s team did not clar­ify whether Michael Flynn Jr.’s de­par­ture from Trump’s transition team was re­lated to the tweets. Less than a week be­fore the elec­tion, the elder Flynn tweeted a link to a story that falsely claimed Clin­ton emails con­tained proof of money laun­der­ing and sex crimes with chil­dren, among other il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties. The in­com­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser called the base­less story a “must read” and in­structed his fol­low­ers: “U de­cide.”

Flynn also pro­moted con­spir­acy the­o­rists, some of them white su­prem­a­cists, through­out the cam­paign even as he emerged as Trump’s high­est pro­file na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. He en­cour­aged his fol­low­ers to read a book by Mike Cer­novich, whose web­site has suggested Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man was part of a “sex cult with con­nec­tions to hu­man traf­fick­ing.” Flynn also tagged white na­tion­al­ist Jared Wyand, whose web­site is pop­u­lar with “alt-right” fol­low­ers.

Flynn’s ap­point­ment is not sub­ject to Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. Rep Adam Schiff, the top Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, said Tues­day that Flynn’s will­ing­ness to pro­mote fake news “raises pro­found ques­tions about his suit­abil­ity for this im­por­tant po­si­tion.” Trump’s team did not re­spond to ques­tions about Flynn’s so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity. Pence praised Flynn more broadly on Tues­day, even as he dis­tanced the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion from Flynn’s son.

‘Wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence’

“We are so grate­ful and hon­ored to have Gen Flynn as our nom­i­nee for na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. He brings an ex­tra­or­di­nary wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pence said. The role of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser has var­ied by ad­min­is­tra­tion, but usu­ally cen­ters on co­or­di­nat­ing the pol­icy po­si­tions of the sec­re­taries of state and de­fense, the at­tor­ney gen­eral and other mem­bers of a pres­i­dent’s team.

It is an es­pe­cially im­por­tant po­si­tion be­cause of the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser’s ac­cess to the pres­i­dent in the West Wing of the White House. Flynn’s of­fice will be steps away from the Oval Of­fice, prox­im­ity that al­lows him to act as a gate­keeper on a wide range of is­sues, in­clud­ing mat­ters of war and peace as well as diplo­macy and in­tel­li­gence.

He is ex­pected to have more di­rect ac­cess to the pres­i­dent than na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in the Cabi­net. Aside from at­tend­ing Trump’s daily in­tel­li­gence brief­ings and se­nior staff meet­ings, Flynn will also over­see the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, a White House depart­ment that has grown to about 400 peo­ple in­volved in mak­ing pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions.

Flynn, who turns 58 in De­cem­ber, served for more than three decades in the Army. “If the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser is go­ing to be the di­rect con­duit be­tween the pres­i­dent and the na­tional se­cu­rity world, of course it’s a con­cern that that ad­viser is be­ing taken in by con­spir­acy the­o­ries and fake news,” said Tom Ni­chols, a pro­fes­sor at the US Naval War Col­lege in New­port, Rhode Is­land, where Flynn ob­tained a master’s in na­tional se­cu­rity and strate­gic stud­ies in 2001. Who­ever has the pres­i­dent’s ear on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, Ni­chols said, should have “a firm grip on what’s true and what’s false.”

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