President Donald Trump is using his last months in office to stack America’s national security and intelligence agencies with leaders loyal to him. Yesterday Trump fired Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity chief Chris Krebs, who led efforts to defend the 2020 election against foreign interference. Last week he terminated Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and four more senior staffers left the Defense Department, reportedly under pressure or in protest. In their place, Trump appointed people whose main attribute seems to be not policy experience but personal fealty.

These are dangerous decisions for an outgoing president, says University of Massachusetts Lowell security studies professor Arie Perliger. “According to the 9/11 Commission, the unusually short transition period between the Clinton and Bush administrations – truncated by the dispute over the election’s outcome – resulted in some of the intelligence and policy deficiencies that allowed Al-Qaida to attack and kill close to 3,000 Americans,” he writes. This politicization of U.S. security and intelligence services isn’t just risky, says Perliger – it also undermines their history of apolitical work.

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Catesby Holmes

International Editor and Politics Editor

Marines at Camp Post, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2020, on the 19th anniversary of the terror attacks that began the U.S. war there. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Trump’s purge of defense agencies comes at a vulnerable time for US national security

Arie Perliger, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Investigations of the 9/11 attacks show that a short, unstable transition between two presidents can weaken US security. Trump's sweeping staff changes compound the risk, experts say.

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