I used to help draft the National Intelligence Estimate.
In case you’re not familiar with the finer points of threat assessment within the national security apparatus, the NIE is the big enchilada: the document seen by presidents and members of Congress; an objective, non-political, comprehensive piece of work that categorizes and prioritizes the threats faced by the United States.
While I no longer have regular access to the complete set of intelligence reports from which the NIE is drawn, I have access to some, and I am an avid reader of the related publicly available information.
I’ve developed my own amateur NIE based on this information, and here’s the organization at the top of the list:
The Republican Party.
Shocking as that may seem — and your level of shock may vary widely depending on how closely you’ve been tracking the actions both center stage and behind the scenes of the rapidly toxifying Grand Ole Party — the real problem with this revelation is that we cannot actually do much about this threat in the classic manner.
The threat from the right is the first national-level “insider threat” the United States has faced since the Civil War. It is insidious, asymmetric, powerful – and existential.
How did I come to this conclusion? Through empirical evidence and specialized experience, using the same approach as when I helped draft a document seen by the most powerful men and women in the country.
One of the effective modern techniques we’ve developed to deal with threats is intelligence analysis – in which we methodically examine all potential threats and categorize them for effective response. Categorizations range from existential – such as that from thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union or global warming – to challenging – such as terrorism – to those of a merely nuisance variety.
The NIE, like all intelligence products, is supposed to be: objective; non-political; current; empirically valid; and zero-based (starting without assumptions.)
A part of categorization or as a next step is threat prioritization – in which we basically rank the range of threats we face so we can apply limited resources to bring down the risk. This is a necessary action, but one that is often not totally satisfactory to all citizens. For instance, the shift we’ve had to take in response to terrorism – from total elimination of the threat to limiting its potential impact — does not appear to many Americans as a proportional response to the problem. Nonetheless, from the resource and policy perspective, it is the right course of action.
Let me say it again: the Republican Party is the biggest threat the United States is facing. And without proper attribution, recognition, and a well-articulated and implemented counter-strategy, it could be terminal.
There is no other reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the facts.
An enemy of the United States might seek to sow discord between ethnic groups, or to wage a disinformation campaign, or to highlight moral inconsistencies that weaken the standing of the United States on the world stage. An enemy of the United States might try and degrade the capacity and public trust within our intelligence apparatus. It might use propaganda and weaponized information. It might seek to engage in fraud or other criminal acts to sway an election in their favor.
Does any of that sound familiar?
The Republican Party has steadily embraced authoritarianism, suspect electoral tactics, and racism more and more over the past few decades. That process has been turbocharged with Trump at the helm of the party.
We’re now seeing an explicit embrace of white supremacy. Denial in the face of climate change. Deliberate sowing of discord within the FBI and the CIA. Weakening of the rule of law. Brazen criminality. Removing funding for elections oversight. Blatant human rights abuses at the border.
The explicit nature of these acts is the point. The Republicans mean to bludgeon any and all resistance to their reshaping of the nation’s institutions to their will.
And so far, they’ve gotten away with it.
Donald Trump and his coterie of criminals have done more in two years to weaken the United States than the Soviet Union was able to achieve in decades, a stolen gold medal in Olympic basketball notwithstanding.
In other words, Americans have every right to fear the power and influence of the Republican Party – and it is in fact irrational to continue to downplay the threat even as most, including Nancy Pelosi and many Democrats, continue to do so.
Paul Nailer is a pseudonym