Trump needs strong foreign policy team, former NSA boss says

Former NSA chief: Trump needs experienced advisors on foreign policy.

A former head of the National Security Agency said Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump ought to assemble a strong team around himself to help tackle the difficult foreign policy questions he will face after taking office.

"He needs people around him who can give him good advice on these issues," retired Gen. Keith Alexander said at an event at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Trump will come into office in January without having served in political or military office — making him unique among American presidents. He only has a few weeks until his inauguration to understand the country's vast intelligence bureaucracy and foreign affairs apparatus.

An early test case Trump may face is how to respond, if at all, to a hacking campaign designed to interfere with the presidential election that the intelligence community has concluded was carried out by Russia.

Alexander, who led the NSA until 2014, said the government needs to find a way to "push back." Congressional Democrats, including Reps. Steny Hoyer and Elijah Cummings, sent a letter Tuesday urging the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama to provide briefings on the hacking campaign.

"Foreign interference presents a win-win for Russia — which we must counter," the representatives wrote. "By eroding Americans' and foreigners' trust in U.S. institutions, Russia both weakens our country and sows global instability and uncertainty."

Democratic U.S. senators, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, previously sent the Obama administration a letter asking for more information about the hacks to be declassified.

But during the election, Trump questioned the intelligence community's conclusion and reportedly has taken advantage of few of the intelligence briefings available to him since his victory on Nov. 8.

"Maybe there is no hacking," Trump said during the second presidential debate.

Trump's transition team did not respond to questions about whether he had changed his view or what value he will place on information from the intelligence community as president.

Alexander said some of the people Trump has named to senior positions leave him optimistic. He praised James Mattis, a retired Marine general who is Trump's pick to run the Defense Department, and Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman tapped to lead the CIA.

Mattis in particular would offer Trump an unvarnished take on the world, Alexander said.

"The president-elect has chosen someone who will give him his unfettered advice," he said.

While some of Trump's picks are generally well-respected and have earned praise, Michael Flynn, a retired Army general who will serve as Trump's national security adviser, has faced criticism this week over spreading fake news and conspiracy theories on his Twitter account, including circulating links to bizarre and unfounded claims about Hillary Clinton.

Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Flynn's behavior meant he was unfit for the job.

"The national security adviser is responsible for filtering and assessing crucial information pertaining to the national defense," Smith, a Washington state Democrat, said in a statement. "Someone who is so oblivious to the facts, or intentionally ignorant of them, should not be entrusted with policy decisions that affect the safety of the American people."

iduncan@baltsun.com

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