Donald Trump

‘Deep secrets to be revealed’: Donald Trump poised to grasp full power of US presidency – as well as its limits

After one of the briefings in 2008, President Obama told a close adviser that it was perhaps one of the most sobering experiences of his life

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 3:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 10:24am

One of the most important steps in the transition to power for ­President-elect Donald Trump includes briefings on US intell­igence capabilities and secret ­operations as well as separate ­descriptions of the extraordinary powers he will wield over the mil­itary, especially the contingency plans to use nuclear weapons.

In 2008, after then-president-elect Barack Obama was given one sensitive intelligence briefing at a secure facility in Chicago, he joked: “It’s good that there are bars on the windows here because if there weren’t, I might be jumping out.”

I’m inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half a dozen ways
US President Barack Obama

Although Trump has received some intelligence briefings on threats and capabilities, there are separate briefs scheduled for the president-elect into what Obama called “our deep secrets”.

First is a detailed look at technical and human intelligence sources and methods that provide critical information on Special ­Access Programmes – the most sensitive top secret undertakings – for drone strikes and other intelligence operations. This would ­include the disclosure, if Trump wants the names, of the dozens of officials abroad paid by the CIA, to the tune of millions of dollars.

Other methods include the most sensitive technical capabil­ities of the National Security Agency to intercept communi­cations abroad, store them and make them instantly available to analysts and operators.

A second briefing will be on the covert actions undertaken by the CIA that are designed to change events abroad without the hand of the US being revealed publicly. There are currently about a dozen such “Findings” – intelligence orders signed by the president. Some are broad authorities to conduct lethal counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries. Others are narrow, such as support for clandestine ­efforts in a single country to stop genocide or payments to political opposition or rebels.

Among the most important “Findings” are counter-prolife­r­ation operations designed to ­prevent a country from obtaining a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapon delivery capability.

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In addition, Trump will receive information on domestic counterterrorism overseen by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. After the 9/11 attacks, the FBI was turned loose to stop the next attack.

Efforts to penetrate banks, communications and foreign ­corporations in the US have been significantly expanded.

Trump will also be given in­formation about “Continuity of ­Government”, which are the plans and procedures designed for implementing the line of pres­idential succession. That could be in case of a terrorist attack or other emergency in which the president dies or could not carry out the ­duties of his office.

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A third briefing will be on ­nuclear war plans and options. The “football” – a briefcase carried by the military aide to the president – includes authentication codes designed to ensure that any launch order comes only from the commander in chief.

After one of the briefings in 2008, President Obama told a close adviser that it was perhaps one of the most sobering experiences of his life.

“I’m inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half a dozen ways, and I will have some powerful but limited and perhaps even dubious tools to keep it from happening,” he said.

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In an interview in 2010, President Obama confirmed he had made the comment.

“Events are messy out there,” Obama explained. “At any given moment of the day, there are ­explosive, tragic, heinous, hazardous things taking place.

“People are saying, ‘You’re the most powerful person in the world. Why aren’t you doing something about it?’”

Soon Trump will experience both the power of the presidency and its limits.