Donald Trump has unleashed a Twitter tirade against his own intelligence agencies, accusing them of being “wrong” and “naive” over the dangers in the Middle East.
In a direct contradiction of statements made by his top spy chiefs yesterday, he claimed “tremendous progress” had been made with Islamic State, and the “caliphate would soon be destroyed.”
It came after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate IS “very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States” and said the militant group was “intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”
The President identified Iran as a source of potential conflict, accusing the nation of testing rockets “last week” and warning the nation was “coming very close to the edge,” in a string of furious tweets about regional tensions on Wednesday morning local time.
He added: “There (sic) economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back,” telling intelligence to “go back to school”.
But this was not the scenario described by Mr Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, who said Tehran was not “currently” taking steps to develop nuclear weapons.
They said the country “technically” remained in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal — although it had “threatened to push the boundaries” if there were no calculable benefits from it.
Mr Trump claimed he had improved the situation by ending the “terrible Iran nuclear deal”.
He said negotiations in Afghanistan were also progressing well after 18 years of fighting, and the relationship between the United States and North Korea was the “best it has ever been”, with no nuclear testing, hostages returned and a “decent chance” of denuclearisation.
His rant conflicted with Mr Coats’ warning of serious threats facing the US, including cyber attacks from Iran, North Korea, China and Russia.
Mr Coats said some traditional US allies were also moving away from the US and becoming “more open” to new partnerships.
“China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways — to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on worldwide threats.
He warned North Korea was unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and has continued activity inconsistent with Kim Jong-un’s pledges to denuclearise. “The post-World War Two international system is coming under increasing strain amid continuing cyber and WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferation threats, competition in space and regional conflicts.”
Mr Coats also declined to characterise the situation on the US-Mexico border as a security crisis, leading to a tweet from Mr Trump quoted Fox and Friends on “three separate caravans marching to our southern border.”
The President also tweeted that if the committee meeting on border security was not contemplating a wall or physical barrier, “they are wasting their time!”
Mr Coats said enemies of the US were probably already looking at interfering in the 2020 presidential election, building their capabilities and refining their methods to stay one step ahead of the US.
The government and social networks including Facebook and Instagram have placed new focus on combating the spread of misinformation as more evidence emerges of sophisticated and widespread Russian election meddling. But they have an enormous job ahead of them, with Russia now highly skilled at aggravating global social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities and criticising politicians perceived as anti-Russia.
Mr Coats noted that “Moscow’s relationship with Beijing is closer than it’s been in many decades.”
Senator Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, said he was particularly concerned about Russia’s use of social media “to amplify divisions in our society and to influence our democratic processes” and the threat from China in the technology arena.
The US on Monday announced criminal charges against China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, escalating a fight with the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker and coming days before trade talks between Washington and Beijing.
The director of the CIA and FBI and other top intelligence officials also testified before the panel.