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What Can the Biden Administration Do both to Regain Trust of the Intelligence Community and Positively Impact US Foreign Policy

By Don Parnell

Contrary to many who believe President Biden’s arrival will be a boost to the intelligence community (IC), I, for one, do not believe this is the case.  Many of my friends and colleagues in the intelligence and military communities will miss the Trump administration and the respect it had garnered for the United States overseas these past four years.  

I know many will disagree with this statement.  I will say it again:  the Trump administration was able to garner some respect for the USA after years of failed U.S. foreign policy.  He actually put America first, a novel concept. Yes, there were plenty of inconsistencies and shortcomings with the Trump Administration, but our country’s gains more than made up for it.  Unfortunately, most of it will be lost or has been lost within the first 100 days of the Biden administration.  Having brought back several key players from the Obama Administration will, unfortunately, return the U.S. to a mentality of apologizing to the world for our misdeeds.  It will show us as having no “backbone” when standing up to our foes (China, Russia, Iran, etc.).   

That said, Biden can still do a few things to positively impact US foreign policy and win the intelligence community’s trust.  This is a trust that was lost during the Obama years and one that Trump was never successful at fully gaining:

  1. HPSCI (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff and HPSCI member Rep.  Eric Swalwell need to go.  As long as either individual continues to be an HPSCI member, there will be no trust in their abilities to conduct proper oversight.  The HPSCI and SCCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) had been in the past apolitical and bi-partisan in its truest sense.  Congressman Schiff has politicized his position on the sacrosanct HPSCI, which, until his Chairmanship, was the least politicized and most bi-partisan committee on the Hill.  He continues to use this position to push a political agenda.  There is no way any professional intelligence officer can trust this man or take him seriously.

Rep Swalwell has been completely compromised by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).  His relationship with Ms. Fang, a known MSS operative, put him and our country in an extraordinarily compromising position.  He needs to resign or be removed from HPSCI.  I will defer to the Department of Justice on how he should be investigated and/or criminally charged.  If the Biden Administration continues to support the politicization of the IC, it will denigrate the latter’s ability to produce the quality intelligence needed to defend this country. 

  1. Treat the intelligence provided to key policymakers with the respect it deserves.  Stop the leaks and punish those that purposely leak intelligence for political gain.  The only way to facilitate this respect is to charge and convict those who do this on a regular basis.  We need to make an example of these individuals and those who support or encourage such behavior.
  2. The USA needs to maintain a solid alliance with Israel.  We all know the Israelis can be problematic at times, executing their foreign policy decisions in a vacuum independent of U.S. interests.  All aside, President Biden needs to demonstrate a continued sense of unity with our Israeli allies.  Peace in the Middle East depends on it.  Whether we like it or not, our relationship with Israel will strongly influence the level of violence and turmoil in this volatile region.
  3. To quote a well-respected senior U.S. intelligence officer: “China wants to own us, but Russia wants to destroy us!”  No truer words have been spoken.  Communist China for decades has been stealing our intellectual property and making systemic efforts to influence and shape our society.  They have disregarded human rights concerns, enslaved their own people, and stopped at nothing to continue to degrade and ultimately destroy the USA.  Their continued military growth threaten the USA and its allies in the region.  The U.S. military must be given the support to enhance their capabilities in the Pacific region.  The U.S. Military’s ability to project power in the Pacific will be vital for years to come.  Substantive cuts to the military by this administration would be a recipe for disaster.  
  4. The Biden administration will need to be far more resolute when dealing with Russia.  Russia primarily respects one thing: strength.  If they see weakness, they will exploit it every time.  The Kremlin’s Autumn 2015 entrance into Syria was met with little resistance from the passive Obama administration.  Putin surely will play the same game with Biden until proven otherwise.  It must be understood that it is impossible to work with the Russians in any capacity.  They will do any and everything possible to counter our influence and authority in the world.  

Both Russia and China are the enemy.  Both countries are united in their determination to ensure the demise of the United States of America.  If we continue to pacify either Beijing or Moscow and expect a positive result, we will be sorely disappointed.

  1. The Biden administration must change its current approach to Iran.  Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world.  The Obama administration-led 2015 Iranian nuclear accord (aka JCPOA) allows Iran to continue expanding nuclear enrichment.  Many do not understand that the JCPOA does not address nuclear weaponization.  It only addresses the activities at Iranian civilian sites (excluding known military sites).  

Iran itself had lobbied for the USA to rejoin the JCPOA.  They have threatened to ramp up their enrichment of uranium and other aspects of their nuclear program if the JCPOA is not implemented with accompanying relief from the international sanctions regime.  The Iranians know that JCPOA gives them the perfect cover to continue to expand their nuclear program while lifting certain major sanctions.  It is a win, win situation for Iran.  

The Biden Administration cannot allow this to happen.  It has to take a hard stance against the regime – doing otherwise guarantees disaster.  Biden cannot pacify or enable the Iranian regime, similar to what the Obama Administration did during his 8-year administration.   

Foreign leaders were concerned about what the Trump administration would do and understood he meant what he said.  The Iranians, with all their games in the Middle East, saw this play out with the January 2020 drone strike killing Iranian Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani.  Believe me, this strike which took place over a year ago, had a huge impact on the Iranian regime.  They came to fear even more Trump and his alliance with Israel.  Something that will be lost with the Biden administration unless there is a dramatic change in how Biden and his team deal with Iran. Most likely, Biden will take the path of the Obama administration and alienate our Israeli allies.  This will further empower Iran and put our country and military at greater risk.

I understand some of the above suggestions are beyond the realm of possibility with the Biden Administration.  Trump, with all his faults, at least strongly projected US power in the world.  His public relationship with the IC and our allies could have been better.  He nonetheless was well-liked by many in the IC and the Military.  It was nice to have had a President who didn’t bow to our foreign adversaries, who didn’t negotiate with terrorists, and who actually respected the USA.  This attitude was appreciated by many.  

The Biden Administration conversely has not gotten off to a great start.  Our adversaries have been waiting with great anticipation for the arrival of this Administration.  Unfortunately, the Biden Administration is fraught with a number of naive idealists and apologists, some of whom have proven to be just plain incompetent.  I hope I’m wrong. I hope and pray President Biden will be successful – our nation’s future lies in the balance.

About the author:

Don Parnell recently retired after a distinguished 24-year career serving as a CIA paramilitary and operations officer. He is also a former United States Marine infantry officer.  Mr. Parnell served in various senior leadership positions within the CIA, including multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Parnell’s commendations include; the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the Distinguished Intelligence Star, the Wazir Akbar Khan Medal, awarded by Afghanistan President Karzai, and the Career Intelligence Medal for distinguished career service. Don is also on the Expert Cadre of the Lobo Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this paper are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Lobo Institute. For more information on the institute or to get on the mailing list for our papers and podcasts, please go to Lobo Institute