The Washington Post reported that unnamed US officials said that President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at the White House last week, jeopardizing a critical source of intelligence on ISIS. Trump appeared to confirm the truth of this statement in several tweets, despite denials by the White House. The information pertained to the terrorist threat related to the use of laptops on aircraft by ISIS.
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 president is reported to have said.
Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how ISIS was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack might cause. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.
Trump also described measures the United States has taken or is considering to counter the threat, including military operations in Iraq and Syria, as well as other steps to tighten security, officials said.
Trump set up the meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak one day after firing FBI director James B. Comey in the middle of a bureau investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, leading to charges of attempted obstruction of justice.
The information was so sensitive that details had been withheld from allies and restricted within the US government. An official stated that Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” Speculation is that the unnamed intelligence partner was Jordan.
The US did not have permission to share the information with Russia. Officials said that Trump endangered cooperation with an ally that has access to the inner operations of ISIS.
Senior White House officials immediately contacted the CIA and the NSA to contain the damage. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.
One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.
The president has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that Trump’s disclosures broke the law.
HR McMaster, the national security advisor, said that “the president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. … At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” McMaster described the Washington Post story as “false,” but did not take any questions.
Another former senior US official is quoted as saying that “it is all kind of shocking. … Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”
Photos of part of the session that were released by the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. No U.S. news organization was allowed to attend any part of the meeting.