The National Security Agency is 31.2 miles from the front door of the White House. When President Donald Trump first came into office, I invited him to tour the agency (located in my district at Fort Meade, Md.) at his convenience. I often take new members of Congress to NSA — I’m taking a group of freshmen next week, in fact — and it would make sense for our new commander in chief to want to see our country’s signals intelligence headquarters and meet some of its people.
I never heard back.
Given that he hasn’t even visited NSA, it should come as no surprise that it took President Trump nearly two years to visit a combat zone, where he could see first-hand how our intelligence community — which also includes the CIA, FBI and other agencies — protects the men and women on the battlefield. Patriotic Americans are literally risking their lives for intelligence that he so casually dismisses on social media.
While the president is urging our intelligence workers to “go back to school” in grammatically incorrect tweets, they are saving lives and protecting us from extremely dangerous threats. Intelligence is the best defense against terrorism, nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and financial crimes. Our intelligence workers are keeping us safe from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.
And they are very, very good at it.
I spent 12 years on the House Intelligence Committee, including four as its ranking member. I have met with members of our intelligence community on the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, South America and Syria. Many are working behind the scenes in my district. They are law-abiding, smart and dedicated.
They are also largely apolitical. The vast majority embrace a mission that is critical to our system of checks and balances. Their job isn’t to agree or disagree with politicians, regardless of party, but to help them make informed decisions. Their job is to speak truth to power.
But this president is only interested in facts when they suit his own reality. He ridicules the intelligence community when their conclusions are at odds with the narrative he likes, or claims they were misquoted. He simply ignores them when their assessments align. In the president’s world, we defeated ISIS in Syria, North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, and Russia didn’t meddle in our elections. Of course, none of this is true.
President Trump’s refusal to respect his own career professionals is why it’s more important than ever that Congress exercise its oversight responsibilities when it comes to providing military aid in the conflicts underway in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. We need to sunset the current authorizations for military force in these places. Congress needs to openly debate and vote on continued involvement.
Congress needs to send a message to our intelligence community that their work is valued, respected and supported. And the president needs to stop tweeting — and start leading.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 2nd District. Twitter: @Call_Me_Dutch.