The Intelligence Community And Political Social Media: A Bad Mix

The participation in political social media by current and former members of the IC is a new phenomena. Traditionally, leaders steered clear of expressing opinions about domestic politics and for good reason: to ensure the public had faith in their institutions.

A foundational principle of the IC is political neutrality. For analysts, this requirement is delineated in ICD 203. Staying neutral is important because it gives US citizens the confidence they won’t be monitored or targeted for their political beliefs and an administration won’t use its intelligence apparatus for leverage or revenge. An example of this type of overstep was COINTELPRO, which began as a government program to monitor Communist activities in the United States, but then evolved into a platform for illegal covert actions against a broad spectrum of domestic political organizations.

Trust can be damaged by engagement in political social media because taking sides in a public forum exposes bias. No matter which side the individual supports, the result will be the marginalization of at least half of the country.

A leader can claim his or her opinion is just that: a personally held belief that has no influence on work. But publicly announcing one’s views can give the impression that politics guide both personal and professional interests. The marginalized portion of the public will dismiss agency decisions and publicly disseminated products because the assumption will be these are tainted by politics, too. This leads to a loss of credibility and support for the institution.

The politicization of the intelligence services has long been the mark of authoritarian regimes and third world dictatorships. To ensure public trust in the Intelligence Community, participation in political social media is probably best avoided.

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