Democratic nations, including this one, maintain foreign intelligence operations for good and simple reasons. Among them is to thwart those intent on subverting democracy.
As the 2020 election nears, that mission of the US intelligence community becomes critical. And yet the head of this nation’s intelligence community just announced over the weekend that, henceforth, neither he nor any senior intelligence officials would brief Congress in person on foreign interference in the upcoming election.
News of any threats would be conveyed to the relevant committees in writing, ruled Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe. Of course, you can’t question a piece of paper — and isn’t that just the point?
Ratcliffe insisted in a letter to congressional leaders, “The IC [Intelligence Community] has also provided numerous finished intelligence products spanning a wide range of threats, classification levels, and congressional audiences. While many of these engagements and products have been successful and productive, others have been less so.”
He wrote that his office’s new approach would ensure information “is not misunderstood or politicized.” What it actually does is appease the boss, by responding to President Trump’s repeated allegations that intelligence is “leaked” by members of Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer immediately protested the move. What they should do is have Ratcliffe hauled before a public session of the Intelligence Committees to share with American voters the extent to which many of those voters have already been duped by Russian trolls or set upon each other by those determined to influence this election.
It’s no secret that Russia, China, and Iran have been hard at work using a variety of techniques to interfere with the election. That was the substance of a public statement made in early August by William Evanina, a top counterintelligence official who usually briefs members of Congress.
“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’ ”Evanina wrote.
“We assess that China prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win reelection,” he added.
Evanina came under some criticism for drawing a certain equivalency of the level of interference when it is widely thought that Russia is playing a far larger role on the US stage.
But at a time when voters need more, not less, information, to abandon in-person briefings is a clear dereliction of duty — and a violation of the promise Ratcliffe made during his May confirmation hearing.
“I will deliver the unvarnished truth,” Ratcliffe said. “It won’t be shaded for anyone. What anyone wants the intelligence to reflect won’t impact the intelligence I deliver.”
That this former Texas congressman and Trump sycophant with zero intelligence experience sits at the head of the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies shows how little respect this president has for the intelligence community. It also shows to what depths this administration has sunk as it seeks to corrupt and bend to its will every agency within its grasp.
In what reads like a prescription for a Trump-imposed gag order, Ratcliffe also wrote in his recent letter, “It is vital that the [intelligence community] speak with one clear voice on an issue so critical to the American people.”
It sounds like Ratcliffe is intent on doing for the intelligence community what Louis DeJoy has done for the US Postal Service — grind its credibility into the ground.
That Donald Trump would want to keep American voters largely in the dark about foreign election interference is not surprising. After all, he’s still in denial about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — volumes of evidence notwithstanding. But keeping intelligence locked behind closed doors at this critical juncture in American history ought to be a crime.
Congress needs to step up and make clear it won’t tolerate that level of malfeasance.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.