Why A CIA Psychiatrist Called Trump Nuts

Peter Eisner

First Published on SpyTalk

Dr. Jerrold M. Post was a highly respected trailblazer as the CIA’s first political profiler, the founder of the discipline of political psychology. Post, a psychiatrist who served for two decades at the  CIA, died on November 22 of covid-19. He was 86 years old. 

In January, just  before the start of the pandemic, Post participated in one of his final interviews with Jonathan Winer and me for our podcast, Unconventional Threat.

By that time, his concerns about President Donald Trump had led him to break with the strictures other colleagues felt to produce and publish a profile equivalent to others he had done for the CIA. Post had created the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior at the CIA. Over time, he had profiled Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat for President Jimmy Carter prior to the Camp David Accords. He also produced profiles of  Kim Jong-Il, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein, among others.

He now decided to apply the same techniques he had used on world leaders and others to analyze the President of the United States. In so doing, he was breaking a longstanding guideline established by the American Psychiatric Association, known as the Goldwater rule, in which professionals do not diagnose public figures who they have not personally examined and assessed. However, in a long-ranging interview, Post said that Donald Trump represented a clear and present danger to the United States. He said that Trump’s actions in plain sight and his well-known biography made it possible to describe the dangers in psychiatric terms. And he felt compelled to discuss his findings.

One of Post’s fellow psychiatrists, Dr. Bandy Lee of Yale University, also spoke to us for the podcast. Specializing in violence prevention and prison reform, Lee edited a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, essays by 37 psychiatrists and mental health specialists about Trump. Lee said that Post offered his prominence to highlight analysis of the Trump presidency and Trump’s mental state, despite the strictures placed on psychiatrists by the Goldwater rule. Post contributed an essay to that volume, before writing his own book, Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers.

Lee praised Post’s decision to go public and said that his support and prominence in the field helped guide her role. 

 “He, too, was very disturbed about the president’s dangerous psychology,” she said. Post’s “generous concern moved me since, in this country, while the CIA may have done profiles regularly for decades, the same is not permitted for the public (the American Psychiatric Association also made clear with the Trump administration that our own leaders are off-limits, no matter the dangers they pose).”

In our interview, Post said he applied the profiling categories he had pioneered over time not only to describe Donald Trump as a dangerous personality. Among other things he said he had fears for the 2020 elections: If Trump won by a small margin, he would once again declare a landslide. But if he lost, he would never accept the outcome. 

Here’s the full story on SpyTalk, including condensed, edited excerpts from our talk:

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