President Donald Trump’s declassification order Thursday night has set up a showdown between his own Justice Department and the intelligence community that could trigger resignations and threaten the CIA’s ability to conduct its core business — managing secret intelligence and sources.
Trump’s order directed intelligence agencies to fully comply with Attorney General William Barr’s look at “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election — a probe that Trump’s allies see as a necessary check on government overreach but that critics lambaste as an attempt to create the impression of scandal. Numerous former intelligence officials called the move “unprecedented,” saying it grants the attorney general sweeping powers over the nation’s secrets, subverts the intelligence community and raises troubling legal questions.
“There’s nothing CIA or NSA, for example, guards more jealously than sources and methods,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a 32-year intelligence veteran who served as the chief of staff to CIA Director Michael Hayden. “It is not hyperbole to say that lives are at stake.”