Trump’s reckless chatter with Russia could have fatal consequences
It looks like President Donald J Trump has finally lived up to everyone’s expectations. Throughout the campaign, Trump hammered home the assertion that only he could safeguard classified information. He repeatedly pointed to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as an example of why she couldn’t be trusted with the nation’s secrets. Critics argued that given the chance, Trump would not be able to resist disclosing highly classified information. Has that moment finally come?
Now Trump has admitted that he did just that during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The Washington Post reported that Trump divulged details of a plot to attack the west by the Islamic State terrorist group.
That information was unilaterally shared with the US in a highly classified program by a Middle Eastern country. So secret was the information that only a handful of Americans knew it. The information was kept away from even our closest allies, including Britain. According to reports, this country trusted the US to safeguard its activity and thus protect the life of its source who brought the information. In a moment of unbridled egoism, the president failed to do that.
Some of Trump’s defenders argue that he has the authority to declassify information, even at a moment’s notice, giving examples of Ronald Reagan disclosing the Libyan plot to blow up a disco in Berlin and George W Bush disclosing recordings of Iraqi soldiers discussing chemical weapons. Each of these was done at the United Nations to reveal evidence of state-sponsored terrorism. Limited disclosures are usually made in close consultation with the US intelligence community. In this instance it appears Trump went off-script and bragged about US intelligence capabilities.
The White House staff immediately saw the impact of what was said and, according to the Post’s reporting, took measures to erase the discussion from the transcript of that meeting to prevent further disclosure of classified information.
This intelligence breach could lead to a chain of actions that could spell fresh disasters. The allied country, which remains unnamed, is surely likely to lose faith in America’s ability to safeguard its secrets. Now other countries will check what information is being given to Washington, which could slow down the global counter-terrorism information sharing process. This could have potentially fatal consequences, allowing Isis or al-Qaida to slip through the lines.
It is unknown if the intelligence source was a human asset or an electronic capability but the Russians will likely be trying to find out. Given this nugget of information, the danger is that Russia could exploit it.
If it is a human asset, Trump’s reckless display of ego may force an action he may be loath to execute. As part of the information-sharing process, the United States may have agreed to dedicate national resources to rescue him or her if there is a risk of “Going black” – a dark euphemism for when sources are exposed, captured and killed.
A high-value asset recovery operation usually involves numerous CIA officers or assets on the ground who will have to risk their lives to ensure special operations commandos can fly in and bring that agent out. .
American and allied intelligence professionals work tirelessly every day to safeguard information of this caliber because they know human lives are always at risk, no matter what the source. They pride themselves on being able to keep secrets so others may live.
Unfortunately, Trump’s view of intelligence and spycraft is based in a feral, willful disdain of anything that requires more than passing thought. Though he has all the information of the entire intelligence community at his fingertips, he treats spies as just another bauble he can flaunt in front of others to make him look smart.
Republicans are bending over backwards to explain that the president can do whatever he wants with this country’s security. So long as they get their conservative agenda to remove healthcare from millions, ban abortion, and give away trillions in tax cuts they are willing to tolerate anything even if it puts our most sensitive intelligence at risk. It is a party devoid of patriots or real patriotism.
This disclosure is the final straw. The country needs to get to the bottom of this interconnected web of intrigue. The Russian sway over Trump has quickly moved from suspicious to sinister. Trump’s inability to see anything wrong with Russia, his public adoration of Vladimir Putin and his reference to the intelligence community evidence of Russian hacking as a “hoax” is appalling.
Trump’s incompetence is now on full display. There is nothing left to do but demand the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, appoint a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of Trump’s involvement with Russia. His legitimacy has been fatally compromised though gross negligence and possibly foreign manipulation. The nation has a right to know just how much.