The Washington Post is reporting today that during his meeting last week in the White House with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, President Donald Trump boasted of U.S. intelligence information on ISIS, specifically pertaining to threat information from a highly sensitive “liaison” reporting stream.
Here are the salient facts in the Post piece, as they stand now (things can and probably will change as the story develops):
- The highly sensitive information was provided by an allied intelligence service, in what is called “liaison reporting” in the trade. Additionally, American government officials declined to identify the ally in question, but said it had “previously voiced frustration with Washington’s inability to safeguard sensitive information related to Iraq and Syria.” That’s a gut punch for the CIA, who must now clean up the mess.
- The liaison service in question had not provided its permission to share the intelligence with Russia, which is a breach of the trust that underpins such arrangements between intelligence services.
- White House aides in the meeting who overheard the disclosure immediately recognized the transgression, and called the CIA and NSA immediately after the meeting to give them a head’s up about the disclosure. This would seem to indicate that the information was disclosed in a manner not previously approved by the either the CIA or NSA, not to mention the originating foreign intelligence service. The call would have been made to give the CIA and NSA time to start doing damage control, and protecting “equities” with the foreign intel service in question.
- According to the Post, “White House officials involved in the meeting said Trump discussed only shared concerns about terrorism.” This seems like an attempt at spin, as it does not jive with the immediate calls made to the CIA and NSA after the meeting, nor the overall thrust of the reports, which indicate a breach of protocol in handling highly classified information. The U.S. government shares general terror threat reporting with other nations all the time. This instance was clearly different.
- National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster stated that the Post’s story was false, and that no sources and methods were discussed in the meeting. This could be true on its face, and still not rule out the fact that the President disclosed highly sensitive information to the Russians. McMaster’s denial is not entirely believable, on first read. At a minimum, he is parsing words to minimize the political damage that has been done.
- The Washington Post was wisely withholding most of the plot details that were discussed, at the time of this writing, including the name of the city in which the information was collected, which President Trump also reportedly shared with the Russians. Intelligence officials urged the Post to withhold details, as they warned that revealing the details “would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.”
In sum, on first read, this appears to have been an unwise and potentially dangerous revelation on the part of President Trump to the Russians. The information should not have been shared without the liaison service’s prior approval, and without going through the right channels at the CIA and/or NSA first. It looks to this former CIA officer that President Trump talked too much when he should not have.
Now his CIA and NSA will have to clean up the mess.
(Featured image by the Russian Foreign Ministry via Associated Press.)