Updated on February 20 at 4:40 p.m. ET
President Donald Trump has made national security a centerpiece of his agenda, justifying policies ranging from a travel ban to close relations with Russia. But the United States is now more vulnerable to attack than it was before Trump took office, according to the man who served as George W. Bush’s crisis manager on 9/11.
“In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19,” said Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. “I think our readiness is extremely low and dangerously low. Certainly [government] agencies at a professional level will respond [to an attack], but having a coordinated interagency response is unlikely given the current cast of characters [in the administration] and their experience.”
Clarke’s conclusion is based in part on the upheaval on the National Security Council, an organization created in 1947 within the White House to coordinate national-security policymaking across the federal government (the council’s purpose and structure have changed over time, with the staff ballooning from dozens of people under George H.W. Bush to hundreds under Barack Obama). In recent days, that upheaval has included the resignation of National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the dismissal of a senior official on the council for publicly criticizing the president. With a major review of America’s strategy to fight ISIS coming due at the end of the month, the national-security adviser position lay vacant for a week, after the leading candidate to replace Flynn turned down the job. On Monday, Trump named H.R. McMaster, a prominent military strategist, as Flynn’s successor.