After firing FBI Director James Comey last week, President Trump held a closed meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office.
Apparently, it wasn’t the kind of meeting where they simply talked about mutual goals and strengthening bonds.
According to Washington officials, President Trump drifted off script and revealed highly classified information received from a partner concerning the Islamic State (ISIS) and a threat that involved laptops on airplanes.
“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”
The CIA declined to comment, and the NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
But officials expressed concern about Trump’s handling of sensitive information as well as his grasp of the potential consequences. Exposure of an intelligence stream that has provided critical insight into the Islamic State, they said, could hinder the United States’ and its allies’ ability to detect future threats.
As president, Trump has the authority to declassify information, so what would be highly illegal, had anyone else revealed it to a hostile nation such as Russia, won’t be enough, alone, to bring charges against him.
Where are we as a nation now, that this is the best we could do for president?
In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.
Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.
How likely are those key partners in the fight against a deadly threat to now consider pulling away from the U.S.?
Can they still trust us to hold up our end of this fight?
“Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive, and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling,” said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Russia is NOT our friend!
While Russia and the United States are on the same side, as far as how ISIS is regarded, the agendas of the two nations in Syria clash.
If you’ll recall, after the tomahawk missile strike in Syria several months ago, the relationship between the U.S. and Russia became strained. With that in mind, the way to repair the breach is not to reveal information that endangers our partners in fighting ISIS.
“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.
A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”
At a more fundamental level, the information wasn’t the United States’ to provide to others. Under the rules of espionage, governments — and even individual agencies — are given significant control over whether and how the information they gather is disseminated, even after it has been shared. Violating that practice undercuts trust considered essential to sharing secrets.
So what else did Trump reveal?
Trump also described measures that the United States has taken or is contemplating to counter the threat, including military operations in Iraq and Syria, as well as other steps to tighten security, officials said.
Does anybody else get the feeling that all Lavrov and Kislyak had to do to suss out this treasure trove of classified intel from Trump was to compliment him on his tie?
Trump’s ego-driven disregard for the grave responsibilities of his title are greatly undermining the security of our nation.
Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout.
Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.
One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.
Yet, the information was already in the hands of Russian diplomats.
What do you think they chose to do with it?
U.S. officials said that the National Security Council continues to prepare multi-page briefings for Trump to guide him through conversations with foreign leaders, but that he has insisted that the guidance be distilled to a single page of bullet points — and often ignores those.
“He seems to get in the room or on the phone and just goes with it, and that has big downsides,” the second former official said. “Does he understand what’s classified and what’s not? That’s what worries me.”
It should worry us all.