Ryan Pickrell on May 21, 2017
President Donald Trump is under fire for allegedly “leaking” classified information to the Russians, but former intelligence officials downplayed the damage caused by the president’s revelations in interviews with The Daily Caller News Foundation and other outlets.
The intelligence community will not conduct a damage assessment, Foreign Policy reported Tuesday, arguing, “Authorized or not, disclosures of classified intelligence are usually examined, [but] not this time.”
“I do not think you would do a damage assessment, certainly not for a president,” Joseph Wippl, a former CIA officer, told TheDCNF, “There would certainly never be a damage assessment if the president passed information like that.”
Under the provisions of the Intelligence Community Directive 732, when there is an “unauthorized disclosure or compromise of classified national intelligence,” a damage assessment to “evaluate actual or potential damage” should be conducted, but “the president has the ultimate classification authority,” former CIA analyst Fred Fleitz told TheDCNF. “There is nothing to assess here … This is not an unauthorized disclosure,” he added.
“I do not see what Trump gave as a leak,” Air Force Colonel James Waurishuk, a former senior intelligence officer, told TheDCNF. “That is part of a foreign policy capability and process to share information with other countries for whatever reason.”
He also suggested that another reason the intelligence community may not be carrying out reviews and damage assessments is that “there is no reason to do that because there was really no damage done.”
“The only damage assessments I know of is when there has been some kind of compromise for an operation,” he further explained.
TheDCNF reached out to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the CIA, but neither were willing to comment on whether or not a damage assessment is in the works. Three Democratic senators sent a letter Thursday to ODNI requesting a review or a damage assessment. Former intelligence officials, however, revealed that it would be unusual to conduct a damage assessment for presidential revelations.
Trump does appear to have either intentionally or unintentionally shared classified information with Russian officials, specifically the general nature of an ISIS plot and the town in which the plot originated. However, the media with the help of leakers, published not only the information the president divulged but additional sensitive information as well.
For instance, The New York Times revealed that the close ally which provided the information Trump shared is Israel. Multiple outlets exposed that the ISIS terror plot was one to bring down a commercial airliner with an advanced laptop bomb, and CBS News reported the weapons were built and tested at Mosul University.
The Washington Post, filled in by anonymous officials, was the first to claim that Trump “leaked” classified information.
The various media reports indicate that government officials revealed highly-classified information to the press — information that was then published for the world to see. Multiple media outlets revealed sensitive information while simultaneously criticizing the president for putting national security at risk.
“I think a lot of things are political these days,” Wippl offered as an explanation for the leaks to the media.
“The left is trying to hurt the president,” Fleitz said. “These people committed felonies. They must be identified and prosecuted,” he explained in a recent article, referring to the leakers in the government who are running to the press.
“It damages our national security interests when officials feel compelled to leak classified information in a misguided effort to protect it,” argued former CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “In this regard, the damage caused by leaks and the resulting media speculation may well be more damaging than the original disclosure by President Trump.”
There was a lot of shock and awe surrounding the president’s revelations, but disclosures of sensitive or classified information, for one reason or another, are quite common.
“A lot of things have been leaked in the past because it was politically expedient for us to do it,” explained Wippl. “I’ve never heard of a damage assessment being rendered on that.”
“The Obama administration couldn’t keep anything a secret,” Fleitz said, pointing to the outing of a CIA station chief to the press, the Stuxnet revelations, and the leaked details of the Osama bin Laden raids.
While it is unclear why Trump disclosed the information, when it comes to terror plots, there is a clear and justifiable reason to inform other countries, even our adversaries, of potential threats.
Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and the CIA and a four-star general, told ABC News recently that the U.S has “a responsibility to warn” foreign countries if there is a threat of “impending danger for someone else, even if we didn’t like the someone else.” He added that Trump’s action was not a crime because declassification authority “is totally within his purview.”
“When dealing with laptops that may be turned into bombs, we don’t want any airliner blown out of the sky. We don’t care if its a Syrian airliner or an Iranian airliner. There’s innocent people on board, and you do everything you can to keep that from happening,” said Waurishuk. “That’s why, perhaps, there is no need to do a damage report.”
“If the president felt moved to divulge this information to the Russians out of personal concern for the elevated threats to civil aviation globally, it should be acknowledged that this is a laudable objective,” Mowatt-Larssen explained. “The president’s hand would have been strengthened if he had relied on coordinated, carefully crafted language from the intelligence community that conveyed the urgency of the threat, while doing everything necessary to protect sources and methods.”
Trump’s lack of experience and knowledge of certain protocols may have complicated the issue, but the media and some politicians appear to have exaggerated the severity of the situation. Some observers have suggested that the president’s disclosures may negatively impact intelligence sharing between the U.S. and its international partners, but former intelligence officials don’t expect any significant changes.
“If something is really important for the Americans to know, they are going to pass it along. We are so dominant in intelligence collection that it is going to happen,” Wippl explained. “A lot of foreign intelligence services, they are very critical of the U.S. because the U.S. just leaks a lot. It’s endemic,” he added. “We do crazy things all the time, and we get away with it because we are powerful.”
It is still unclear how much damage, if any, the president’s revelations, along with the subsequent media disclosures caused, but those in the intelligence business are experienced in dealing with leaks, which occur regularly.
“Mishaps that cause intelligence damage always happen, and should be viewed in the proper proportion,” Haim Tomer, the former head of Mossad’s Tevel Division, told Israel Defense, “In such a situation, a series of activities should be initiated to minimize the damage actually inflicted, to prevent future damage and move on. There is no substitute for the intelligence cooperation between Israel and the USA and the other intelligence services in the West.”
“Even if a public revelation had endangered the life of a human source, an evacuation plan could still be initiated to extricate that source,” he added, noting, “It is important to understand that putting an intelligence source at risk is an almost daily phenomenon.”
“The close intelligence cooperation with the USA will not be discontinued. It is an overriding interest of both countries,” Tomer further explained.
Perhaps the most serious issue from the latest debacle is the breakdown of trust between the president and the intelligence community, which could lead to more leaks and more divisive behavior.
“The main beneficiaries of this rupture in trust and its corrosive effects on the American establishment are the Russians,” Mowatt-Larssen wrote, concluding a recent opinion article. “That alone should give us reason to learn from this incident and move on the wiser for it.”
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