Soul of discretion? Not Donald Trump
Sharing intelligence information confirms fears US president is too close to Putin
When the US last week announced new restrictions on bringing laptops on to flights, it was clear it had new information about capabilities being developed by Islamic State. Where that information may have come from and the reliability of its source were matters of conjecture. Until, it appears, President Donald Trump told Russian visitors it came from a city in Islamic State territory and appears to have hinted at an ally as the source.
In his meeting last week with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and Sergei Kislyak, its US ambassador, 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 Washington Post, which broke the story, quoted the president as saying, citing an official with knowledge of the exchange.
National security adviser, HR McMaster, who participated in the meeting, insisted that: “at no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly”. It was a carefully couched response, echoed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson, which avoided the allegation being made that Trump revealed enough classified information to potentially allow the Russians to identify its source. But Trump appeared to undermine the official narrative – and the officials who provided it – when he took to Twitter to confirm he had shared information pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety and defended his right to do so.
The president is entitled in US law to classsify, declassify and to dispense any secrets he likes but Trump appears to have broken a cardinal convention in sharing secrets without the permission of their source. In this case, an unspecified Middle East ally, whose own source close to or in the Islamic State leadership may dry up. Or worse.
“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do, and that’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close as to prevent that from happening,” said Republican senator Bob Corker. And he is not alone in Republican ranks in beginning to express open concerns about their unpredictable president.
Coming so soon after the firing of FBI chief James Comey, ostensibly over his botched investigations of Hillary Clinton’s security lapses with her email, Trump’s display of complete ignorance of security procedures and cavalier boasting, will only reinforce Republican concerns that this is not a man fit to be commander in chief. Defence and security are close to their hearts.
It is widely belived Comey was actually fired because he was too vigorously pursuing an inquiry into Trump and his campaign’s links with the Russians. Trump’s “sharing” will confirm the fear that he is too close to Vladimir Putin. Above all they confirm the incompetence of the man.