Since U.S. intelligence agencies exist to seek actionable information that is as close to the truth as possible, it follows that the person who heads our intelligence community should be a scrupulously honest seeker of apolitical facts. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence, isn’t that guy. The Senate will take up Ratcliffe’s nomination this week, with him testifying before the intelligence committee on Tuesday.
While many questions about Ratcliffe’s credentials already exist — he was previously nominated only to withdraw over questions about his bio — of serious ongoing concern is his social media history. Recent reporting by Spencer Ackerman and Will Sommer at The Daily Beast ties Ratcliffe, at least tangentially, to dangerous conspiracy theories on Twitter.
While many questions about Ratcliffe’s credentials already exist — he was previously nominated only to withdraw over questions about his bio — of serious ongoing concern is his social media history.
Ratcliffe, a three-term congressman, follows accounts that spew nonsense like "9/11 truther" falsehoods and at least four accountspromoting the infamous QAnon conspiracy theory claiming that the world is run by a cabal of Democratic pedophile cannibals — a set of beliefs ruled by the FBI to be a potential source of domestic terrorism. These aren’t just hypothetical theories premised on fragile notions. Rather, these fantastical fabrications are what those of us from the intelligence professions refer to as “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” insanity.
And there’s more. According to the Daily Beast report, Ratcliff’s campaign Twitter also follows conspiracy theorists that claim John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump take down the so-called Deep State, and that a Democratic sex dungeon sits within a Washington pizzeria. In Ratcliffe’s Twitter feed, there are accounts that portray Trump as a messianic figure ready to use our military and intelligence agencies to rid the nation of top Democrats.
Even if Ratcliffe were to claim that he had entrusted control of his Twitter account to someone else and they had followed these irrational conspirators, it happened on his watch and reflects a disturbing worldview for anyone, let alone a potential intelligence director.
If Ratcliffe entertains such crazed conspiracies or permits those around him to promote such theories, he’s wholly unqualified to serve in a role that is essentially our country’s “truth teller in chief.” If, alternatively, he believes that association with such lunatic fringe rumors is simply a means to ingratiate himself to a certain base of followers, he clearly doesn't grasp the dangers of QAnon and its adherents, some of whom have been arrested on murder, child abduction and weapons charges. Importantly, if Ratcliffe does become the next national intelligence director, his bias toward such conspiracies makes him vulnerable to far more sophisticated propaganda plots perpetuated by Chinese, Russian and other adversarial intelligence services.
The first time Ratcliffe’s name came up for the director spot last summer, critics argued that he was a Trump loyalist who had exaggerated his national security bona fides. The Washington Post’s editorial board called him a “rabid” defender of Trump and “the least qualified person ever to be proposed for the powerful position overseeing 17 government agencies.”
But then, as now, there were also concerns about his sympathy for conspiracies — especially ones favorable to the president. For example, according to Mother Jones, Ratcliffe was highly critical of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal, pushing the theory that the entire thing was a plot designed to undermine the administration.
Records and interviews with former Ratcliffe colleagues revealed that he exaggerated his role as a federal prosecutor of terrorism and immigration cases. In his congressional campaign and on his website, Ratcliffe bragged he had “arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day.” That wasn’t true. His former colleagues further said that Ratcliffe hadn’t played a major part in a significant terrorism case as he had claimed, nor did the supervisory position he boasted about holding even exist.
As for professional intelligence qualifications, Ratcliffe had even fewer than his resume embellishments. Federal law provides that “under ordinary circumstances, it is desirable” that either the director or the principal deputy director of national intelligence be an active-duty commissioned officer in the armed forces or have training or experience in military intelligence activities and requirements. The law also states that “any individual nominated for appointment as DNI shall have extensive national security expertise.” That’s not Ratcliffe, either. The Texas Republican was a small-town mayor and an assistant U.S. attorney before becoming a congressman.
Neither those initial concerns over Ratcliffe’s alleged sympathy toward conspiracies nor the embarrassment of his resume scandal have been resolved, and yet here we are again. As the N.Y. Yankees great Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” But even Berra might have made a better director of national intelligence; he knew the difference between a ball and a strike.
At this time in history, our nation needs an honest broker in the intelligence role, not a highly partisan conspiracy monger who would preside over the further dismantling of our intelligence community. The current inhabitant of the Oval Office doesn’t seem to understand much about the concept of truth — and we don’t need our top intelligence officer egging him on.