WASHINGTON: On the first full day as US president, Donald Trump will head to CIA headquarters on Saturday, signaling an effort to mend fences after he slammed spy agencies for their investigation into Russian hacking during the presidential election.
Trump, who engaged in an unprecedented feud with the CIA and other US intelligence agencies before his inauguration, is expected to thank agencies, but some analysts said it will take more than a quick visit to patch up relations with a community he has compared to using tactics reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
Trump harshly criticized intelligence officials after they concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed hackers to breach Democratic emails to try to boost Trump’s presidential election campaign.
Then, after leaks about an unsubstantiated dossier compiled by a private security firm suggesting Moscow had compromising information about him, Trump blamed intelligence agencies for using Nazi-like tactics.
That drew an unusual public rebuke from outgoing CIA Director John Brennan and raised fears about the impact that sagging morale at the agencies could have on US security.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested that Trump would bring an olive branch when he speaks with more than 300 people at the event at the Langley, Virginia-based Central Intelligence Agency.
“Excited to thank the men and women of the intelligence community,” White House spokesman Spicer said on Twitter.
The visit is a “good gesture,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA and White House official, now at the Brookings Institution think-tank. Riedel said the visit may help Trump learn more about the agency’s counterterrorism work.
Will take time to heal
But others said it may take time to forgive and forget.
“A single visit with some nice words will not outweigh prior attacks and insults,” said Paul Pillar, a former top US intelligence analyst on the Middle East.
“If today is the last they see of the president for weeks or months, the work force will not be favorably impressed,” he said.
Within the 17-agency intelligence community, there are widely shared concerns about the qualifications and judgment of Trump, a businessman and television star who has never held public office.
Some veteran analysts who have spent their careers studying foreign dictators and autocrats have said they are troubled by Trump’s style, saying his negativity, egotism, and appeals to nationalism are hallmarks of autocratic regimes.
“Many people are asking whether we can serve under a president and national security adviser who’ve expressed such contempt for the intelligence community, and one photo opportunity drive-by on a Saturday is not going to change that,” said a veteran officer now working at CIA headquarters after multiple assignments overseas, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It will be interesting to see how many people leave their houses and jump in their cars to drive to headquarters on their day off to make the crowd look bigger for someone who’s compared them to Nazis,” said a second serving intelligence officer.