Why Spies Were Offended by Trump's Langley Visit

Donald Trump at the CIA headquarters on January 21 in Langley, Virginia. Dennis Gleeson writes that to take lightly the number of fallen CIA officers is offensive: These people fell in service to our country. getty

As a former analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency, I watched President Donald Trump's remarks in front of the agency's Memorial Wall this past weekend with some interest.

While elements of Trump's talk struck me as unusual—why, for example, speak at the agency outside of the Monday through Friday workweek that's typical for most CIA staff?—those elements have been covered by others. That coverage, however, misses two important elements.

First, the Memorial Wall, like any organization's memorial to its fallen, is a special place. To take lightly the number of fallen officers is offensive: These people—men and women—fell in service to our country.

As an employee, you might walk by the lobby that is home to the Memorial Wall a couple of times a week without really thinking about it. That changes the one day you walk by and, without announcement or fanfare, a new star is being carved into the wall.

I was once surprised to see a new star being carved into the wall. It was midmorning, approaching lunchtime, and despite people working in and passing through the lobby, there was no sound save for the craftsman's drill: People passed by and through the lobby in reverent silence.

I was fortunate: I never knew anyone whose death was memorialized on that wall. Seeing a new star on the wall, however, was always a moment for pause and reflection. It was a brutal, heartrending reminder that "another day at the office" was, for many of my former colleagues, a dangerous thing.

Before this is seen as yet another attack on Trump, I ask you to imagine for a minute if he had joked about the men and women who died during either of the wars in Iraq, or the war in Vietnam, or the war in Korea, or during the Second World War. Regardless of how one might have felt about those conflicts, or the administrations that oversaw them, we, as a people, treat the fallen with due respect, not levity.

Related: Michael Dorf: Why is Trump attacking our top spies?

Second, I was stunned when Trump said that "probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did. But I would guarantee a big portion, because we're all on the same wavelength, folks."

Setting aside Trump's earlier disparagement of the Intelligence Community, you must understand that the agency, unlike the departments of State and Defense, is unusually apolitical. In fact, there is only one political appointment: that of the director. The workforce is professionally apolitical, so as to remain compliant with the Hatch Act.

More important, however, is the oath that I and my fellow intelligence officers swore on joining the agency:

I…do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

In short, intelligence officers do not swear fealty to the president but rather to the Constitution.

Who we vote for and what we believe exists beyond our commitment to be professional analysts committed to the preservation and advancement of America's national interests.

Even the U.S. military's oath of office subordinates the commitment to following the president's orders to the protection and preservation of our constitutional rights.

This is not an academic difference: None of those who have fallen died for President Trump. They died because they were in service to our country.

To expect our civil servants and members of the armed services to be loyal to a person, versus the Constitution that affords us all basic civil liberties, is a certain path to tyranny.

Dennis J. Gleeson Jr. is a former a director of strategy in the CIA's Directorate of Analysis. He left government service in 2015.