Prominent Democrats and other critics of President-elect Donald Trump seem quite taken with the insipid phrase “intelligence community.”
We’re talking here about such furtive federal agencies as the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and the office of the director of National Intelligence.
They are congressionally created and White House run. They spy. They gather data. They target suspected terrorists and criminals. They authorize violence in the name of the state. They’ve been known to impinge on civil liberties.
They do not form an ethnic or religious population. Nor do they gather to live in utopian bliss on collective farms.
Still, one of Thursday’s headlines: “Can the Rift Between Trump and the Intel Community Be Healed?”
Which seems to imply that this is a group of constituents seeking a voice in government, rather than government itself under the executive himself.
Call it a profession, maybe. But a community?
Practically, we’re talking about some 17 agencies with military forces, information-technology contractors and surveillance capabilities we might not even know about.
Calling it a community also glosses over the bureaucratic tensions that form part of the Washington landscape. Much has been made in the past of behind-the-scenes rivalries between the FBI and CIA, between the NSA and the CIA.
When James Mattis sat before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday for a confirmation hearing as defense secretary, he professed a “close relationship with the intelligence community” during his long military career.
The catchphrase serves a purpose. It softens edges. It implies a natural, consensual effort — and obscures the fact that we know different presidents will believe different advice and order research into different questions.
Largely, this “community” will have no choice but to be at Trump’s full disposal by next week and out of President Barack Obama’s hands.
Then it will be Trump’s turn to deal as he wishes with unnamed officials he publicly taunted over the Russia controversy.
And that isn’t the only weird phrasing of the season.
Testifying Thursday at his confirmation hearing, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) was asked about his independence.
“You have my commitment that every day I will speak truth to power,” Pompeo said.
So here was a right-leaning Republican and designated CIA director using a phrase coined by the Quakers in 1955 with a pamphlet called: “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence.” It promoted pacifism, in the belief that love trumps hate.
Listen carefully these days, and you can hear strange things from both sides of the partisan aisle.