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Donald Trump faces backlash for remark he could read intel briefers' 'body language'

By Eric DuVall
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in New York on Thursday, the day after participating in a military affairs forum on NBC. Trump has faced criticism for a remark in that forum that he was able to read the body language of intelligence officials giving him a classified briefing last month. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in New York on Thursday, the day after participating in a military affairs forum on NBC. Trump has faced criticism for a remark in that forum that he was able to read the body language of intelligence officials giving him a classified briefing last month. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump faced criticism Thursday for his comments at a candidate forum he was able to read the body language of career intelligence officers briefing him on security threats that they were unhappy with Obama administration anti-terrorism policies.

Trump made the comment at NBC's Commander-in-Chief Forum on Wednesday, saying briefers imbued their displeasure with President Barack Obama's handling of terror threats through nonverbal communications.

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"What I did learn," Trump said of his classified intelligence briefing, "is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow ... what our experts said to do ... And I was very, very surprised. I could tell -- I'm pretty good with body language -- I could tell they were not happy."

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Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, speaking to reporters in New York before departing for a campaign rally in North Carolina, criticized Trump's handling of the question.

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"I think what he said was totally inappropriate and undisciplined," she said.

Former high-ranking intelligence officials who are familiar with how such classified intelligence briefings are handled, but who were not a part of Trump's briefing, were also skeptical of the candidate's claim.

Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, who is on record opposing Trump, told NBC News the officials who handle candidate briefings are career intelligence officers, both military and civilian, trained carefully in what to say and how to say it. Hayden said the officials are specifically trained not to allow body language to betray their words.

Hayden was critical of Trump for politicizing an intelligence briefing and said he could not recall another instance of a presidential nominee from either party invoking the briefings in a political context.

"A political candidate has used professional intelligence officers briefing him in a totally non-political setting as props to buttress an argument for his political campaign," Hayden said. "And his political point was actually imputed to them, not even something they allegedly said. The `I can read body language' line was quite remarkable. ... I am confident [National Intelligence Director James Clapper] sent senior professionals to this meeting and so I am equally confident that no such body language ever existed. It's simply not what we do."

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Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA who was tasked with giving then-Gov. George W. Bush his classified intelligence briefings during the 2000 campaign, said Trump's comments reflect a lack of understanding of the intelligence community. Morell said briefers are trained never to offer advice or commentary on the topics and only stick to the facts about terrorist threats.

"His comments show that he's got no understanding of how intelligence works. Intelligence officers do not make policy recommendations. It's not their job and anyone running for president should know that," said Morell, a Clinton supporter. "The people who briefed him, I'm pretty sure were career analysts — senior [intelligence] professionals. There is no way that they would in any way signal displeasure with the policies of the president."

Trump's claims were backed up Thursday by one of his advisers who attended the briefing. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he also picked up on briefers' displeasure with Obama administration policies when they described the administration's response to threats being outlined in the briefing.

"They would say, the intelligence professionals would say, as they should, they would say 'those are policy decisions,' so Donald Trump in a very, very sophisticated way, was asking tough questions. They would back off and say 'those are policy decisions the administration is making.'"

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