Intelligence officials who brief the president have warned him about Chinese espionage in bottom-line business terms. They have used Black Sea shipping figures to demonstrate the effect of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
In an effort to accommodate President Donald Trump, who has attacked them publicly as “naive,” the nation’s intelligence agencies have revamped their presentations to focus on subjects their No. 1 customer wants to hear about – economics and trade.
Intelligence officers, steeped in how Trump views the world, now work to answer his repeated question: Who is winning? What the president wants to know, according to former officials, is what country is making more money or gaining a financial advantage.
While the professionals do not criticize Trump’s focus, they do question whether those interests are crowding out intelligence on threats like terrorism and the maneuvers of traditional adversaries, developments with foreign militaries or geopolitical events with international implications.
“If Trump tailors it to his needs, that is fine and his prerogative,” Douglas H. Wise, a career CIA official and a former top deputy at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said of the daily briefing. “However, if he suppresses intelligence through that tailoring, that is not helpful. He is no longer making informed decisions because he is making decisions based on information he could have had but didn’t have.”
Presidents have long shaped their intelligence briefings based on their interests and the issues of the moment. Other presidents have also told intelligence agencies to focus more on economics.
Trump, finding traditional intelligence briefings less helpful than his predecessors, reduced the in-person briefings to about twice a week. Those sessions from Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and Gina Haspel, CIA director, now feature far more charts and visual aids to appeal to Trump, according to a senior intelligence official.
“President Trump’s economic focus has been evident, including his emphasis on increasing NATO allies’ burden sharing and pressing allies and partners to do more in support of our common interests,” said Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
The written reports are still delivered daily to John Bolton, the national security adviser, who conveys the highlights to Trump on days when the intelligence chiefs are not at the Oval Office, according to a former official.