The Trump campaign has taken speculation, innuendo, and outright quackery to new levels … because he’s a master BSer. (More)

“I could tell they were not happy”

So declared Donald Trump in Tuesday night’s candidate forum, in describing his impression from presidential candidate intelligence briefings:

TRUMP: No, I didn’t learn anything from that standpoint. What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly – when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason – what our experts said to do.
TRUMP: And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance. And I could tell you. I have pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.

You gotta give Trump credit. It’s (1) a vague account of (2) a classified briefing that (3) is ultimately grounded on Trump’s personal impression of ‘body language.’

That is to say, it cannot possibly be disproved

“It’s simply not what we do”

… although intelligence professionals are trying to rebut it:

Timothy Barrett, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, declined to comment Thursday on Trump’s characterization.

However, a U.S. official pointed out that intelligence officers don’t give policy advice, so it would be inaccurate to say that Obama failed to follow the advice of the intelligence community. A second U.S. official said analysts are trained not to allow their body language to betray their thinking.
Former CIA and NSA director Mike Hayden, who opposes Trump, told NBC News that in almost four decades in intelligence “I have never seen anything like this before.”

“A political candidate has used professional intelligence officers briefing him in a totally non-political setting as props to buttress an argument for his political campaign,” said Hayden. “And his political point was actually imputed to them, not even something they allegedly said. The `I can read body language’ line was quite remarkable. … I am confident Director Clapper sent senior professionals to this meeting and so I am equally confident that no such body language ever existed. It’s simply not what we do.”

Another Bush-era intel professional agreed:

Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director who was President George W. Bush’s briefer and is now a Hillary Clinton supporter, said Trump’s comments about his briefing were extraordinary.

“This is the first time that I can remember a candidate for president doing a readout from an intelligence briefing, and it’s the first time a candidate has politicized their intelligence briefing. Both of those are highly inappropriate and crossed a long standing red line respected by both parties,” he said.

“To me this is just the most recent example that underscores that this guy is unfit to be commander in chief,” Morell continued.

“His comments show that he’s got no understanding of how intelligence works. Intelligence officers do not make policy recommendations. It’s not their job and anyone running for president should know that. The people who briefed him, I’m pretty sure were career analysts – senior intel professionals. There is no way that they would in any way signal displeasure with the policies of the president.”

You might think that disproves Trump’s account.

“A statement devoid of factual content”

But it doesn’t, again because Trump’s story was (1) vague, (2) about a classified briefing, and (3) ultimately relied on his personal impression of their ‘body language.’

That is, Trump can say: “You weren’t in the room. I watched them and listened to them and I’m telling you what I saw and heard” … and no one can prove otherwise. Even if the briefing had been recorded, it’s classified and that recording could not be released to the public.

Former intelligence official Mike Lofgren explains, via The Atlantic’s James Fallows:

Employees of the intelligence community who give briefings to high-level officials do not, repeat, do not advocate for their pet policies. These people would not be presidential appointees but almost certainly career civil servants (or the foreign or intelligence equivalent of a civil servant) If they were asked, “what do we do about X?” they would demur on the basis of it not being their department. They know they are not there to advocate for policies. This applies doubly for personnel briefing presidential candidates because of the extreme political sensitivity. As for criticizing the policies of their bosses to a human megaphone like Donald Trump, it is inconceivable they are that stupid.

Of course the briefers didn’t actually advocate anything, as Trump first implied, so he fell back on what philosopher Karl Popper would have called a statement devoid of factual content, because it cannot be falsified: the briefers’ body language told him they disagreed with Obama’s policies.

So yes, the New York Times and Washington Post can interview former top intelligence guys who say things like this:

“Those selected for this task would have been the most professional of an elite corps of intelligence officers,” said Paul Pillar, a former high-ranking CIA analyst. “One of the last things they would do is express either verbally or through body-language preferences” about candidates or policy.

But the most the Post can manage in its headline is to say it’s “unlikely” that Trump’s briefers behaved as he described.

“Donald Trump accepts none of them”

And the Post’s Paul Waldman explains how Trump relies on that can’t-be-disproved-ness:

Our entire system is set up on the presumption that the people running for president will accept certain norms. Even if they might fib from time to time, they’ll agree that the truth does matter in a fundamental way, and that they’re accountable to it. They’ll accept that the presidency is a serious position and the people who would hold it should have some degree of understanding of the issues they’ll confront. They’ll accept that they have an obligation to explain what they’re going to do if they win. The campaign may be dominated by trivial controversies and superficial appeals, and both candidates are trying to put on a compelling show, but there has to be something substantive underneath that show, whether you agree with that candidate’s priorities or not.

Both parties’ nominees have always agreed on those basic norms. Yet Donald Trump accepts none of them.

Trump’s account of that briefing isn’t really a ‘lie.’ It’s worse than that.

“You have an entirely different agenda”

It was what philosopher Harry Frankfurt calls [BS] … as the resident faculty explored back in 2011:

To understand BS, consider the same example [where you know you have only $2 in your wallet, but lie and tell your friend you have $20] but assume you don’t know and may not even care how much money is in your pocket. You say “I have twenty dollars,” not because you want your friend to believe you have twenty dollars, but because you want your friend to invite you to dinner. Your friend needn’t believe you have exactly twenty dollars. Your friend need only believe you have enough to cover your share of dinner.

In fact, it’s easier for you if your friend doesn’t (quite) believe you. Your scheme will work better if your friend thinks: “Bob believes he has twenty dollars, but he always forgets how much he’s spent. Still, he probably has enough for his half of dinner.” Then he/she won’t be completely surprised when you ‘discover’ you have only two dollars … making it easier to convince him/her that you sincerely believed you had twenty dollars when first asked.

BSing is also easier because you don’t have to know or even care about the truth. You don’t have to remember when you last saw cash in your wallet, or estimate how much you’ve spent since. You only need an answer that is plausible and seemingly sincere, because you’re not really trying to convince your friend that you have twenty dollars. You have an entirely different agenda: convincing your friend to invite you to dinner.

Even if the briefing weren’t classified, I doubt Trump could cite a single example of briefers discussing plans that President Obama rejected. But that’s irrelevant, because Trump isn’t really trying to prove President Obama rejects plans offered by intelligence professionals. He’s trying to convince people to vote for Donald Trump … and for that he needs only answers that are “plausible and seemingly sincere.”

If you don’t the details of how intelligence officials work with our president – or you’re a conservative convinced that President Obama is too arrogant to listen to anyone – then Trump’s account is “plausible,” and he was “seemingly sincere.”

So even if every former intelligence official disputes Trump’s claim – indeed even if (unimaginably) the Director of National Intelligence cleared the briefers to go on TV and discuss the briefing – Trump can still say “I talked about what I thought I saw and heard during the meeting” …

… and you still can’t prove otherwise.

Trump is a master BSer, and that’s why he can so often sling the perfect smear. It’s gonna be a long 59 days….


Image Credit: Dustin Schmieding (Valleys in the Vinyl)


Good day and good nuts