“As President, Trump had, and has, the legal right to declassify information and reveal classified information to his heart’s content. He is the ultimate classifying authority.”
I was so filled with anger when I heard the news about President Trump revealing highly classified information to the Russians that I had to sleep on it before writing this article, lest it would come across as an emotional screed. As a former professional intelligence officer, I have been involved in several situations overseas where an individual revealed classified information to a third party without authorization.
In my experience, this usually happens when an ambassador reads an intelligence report and then calls the individual mentioned in the report to confirm the information without thinking of the consequences. I have been left to clean up the mess from the ensuing counterintelligence investigation launched by the host government. Thus, this type of thing is something I have very strong feelings about. Now, after a good night’s sleep I can deal with the situation in a relatively calm and rational manner.
As President, Trump had, and has, the legal right to declassify information and reveal classified information to his heart’s content. He is the ultimate classifying authority. This, however, does not make it right; nor does it minimize the damage we are left with.
President Trump did not act in the best interest of the United States when he revealed sensitive information on the ISIS terror plot to the Russians. He has jeopardized a very important and likely unique source of intelligence into ISIS plans and intentions, not to mention the important liaison relationship that led us to this information.
This makes it more difficult for the U.S. Intelligence Community to help protect Americans and the U.S. itself. Right now ISIS is conducting a counterintelligence investigation to find the source of this intelligence. If they have to, they will kill everyone involved in the operation just to plug the leak. The result is that we will go blind in this area, losing access to intelligence on this particular plot, and likely additional intelligence this source might have access to.
Right now the Russians are trying to backtrack the information in an effort to identify both the source of the intelligence and the foreign partner that gave it to us. They will approach both in an effort to steal them from us. They will tell them that the U.S. is untrustworthy and that it can’t keep a secret, thus endangering the source’s life and the security of the operation. Things would clearly be better for the source if they were working with Russia. This is a compelling and accurate argument.
This act on the part of the President will not only damage the relationship with this particular intelligence service but with others as well, as they start to view the U.S. as an unreliable liaison partner. Will they be willing to share information knowing that we might reveal that information to an unauthorized party? It is highly likely that many foreign intelligence organizations are now reviewing their policy on sharing information with the U.S., possibly leading to a loss of access to highly sensitive information that we could not obtain anywhere else.
All this fallout for a brief moment of boasting, a silly effort to win admiration from a country that acts against our interests in Syria.