Why It's Bad For The President To Share Classified Information
Update 1:51 PM EST:
Israel was the source of the highly classified information President Trump gave to the Russians, The New York Times reports.
Israeli officials would not confirm if this was true, but if this information is correct it will likely prove problematic in terms of the sharing of intelligence between the US and Israel in the future, among other issues.
President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the White House last week, according to a bombshell report published by the Washington Post on Monday.
The classified information the president released came from a close ally, the identity of whom has not been revealed, and reportedly pertained to an ISIS plot involving bombing airplanes using laptops.
Based on the reports surrounding this, President Trump was eager to impress his Russian guests, which apparently explains his loose lips.
During his meeting with the Russians, Trump reportedly said, "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day."
After the Post's report, the Trump administration rushed to deny the story's validity.
But tweets from Trump on Tuesday morning contradicted his official's statements.
What Trump did is technically not illegal -- the president has the power to declassify whatever he or she wants -- but this is a big deal and highly problematic.
Many feel the president has placed US national security at risk.
Here are all of the problems with the president sharing classified info in general, with more specific info on why it's so disconcerting in this particular instance.
Trump offered "code word" info to Russia, which is even more classified than "top secret."
There are "three basic levels of classified information," according to Amy Zegart, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
As she explained in the Atlantic,
Confidential information is defined as anything that could reasonably be expected to "cause damage” to American national security if shared without authorization. Secret information is one step up, considered to have the potential to cause “serious damage” if revealed. Top Secret information is a higher classification level still, comprising anything that could reasonably be expected to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to U.S. national security if revealed.
The type of classified information Trump reportedly divulged to Russia is so secret it's beyond top secret.
It's known as "code word" information.
According to Zegart, it "limits access to classified information to a much narrower pool of people to provide an extra layer of security."
Code word information is apparently so secret and rare, Zegart explained, "even fake spies rarely refer to it in the movies."
Russia is not America's ally.
Regardless of Trump's efforts to improve US-Russia relations, and in spite of the fact Russia also considers ISIS to be an enemy, it is not historically a US ally.
Russia deliberately interfered in the US presidential election in order to increase Trump's chances of winning -- the FBI and CIA agree on this.
In short, many believe Russia is America's enemy, and Trump allegedly just offered highly classified information to it the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey.
Comey was in the midst of investigating the Trump administration's possible collusion with Russian interference in the election, which adds an extra layer of controversy to all of this.
According to the Post, the classified info Trump revealed came from a US partner in an intelligence sharing agreement "considered so sensitive" details surrounding it have not been provided to allies.
So, while America's allies can't even be briefed on this classified intel, Trump informed America's greatest geopolitical foe.
Trump may have exposed the source of the info and how the info was gathered.
According to the Post's report, Trump gave specific information on an ISIS plot to use laptops as bombs on airplanes.
Even if he didn't give away information on how this information was gathered, he did tell the Russians the location in ISIS's territory where an allied intelligence service obtained this intel.
This gives Russia a fairly easy route to discern who gathered the info and how it was detected.
It also means the spy or spies who gathered the info could be in grave danger.
Trump might as well have given Google Map directions.
When you can't keep secrets, it means those with vital info won't share it with you.
As noted, the classified information Trump reportedly gave to the Russians was given to the US by an ally.
In other words, it wasn't America's place to share it with others.
This is a situation where you tell a close friend a deep, dark secret that it might find helpful, only to find he or she has boasted about it to someone else without your permission.
If you were in this situation, would you share information with this friend again, even if it would help them?
For many people, the answer would likely be a resounding "no."
America's allies have already reportedly expressed concern, and a senior European intelligence official told AP his country might stop sharing information with the US if it's confirmed Trump provided classified info to Russia.
Trump has arguably just undermined the trust of US allies -- and put US national security at risk in the process.
All of this sends a terrible message to US allies in multiple respects.
In terms of the war on ISIS, it's imperative for the US to maintain the trust of its intelligence sources on the ground.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Jordan and other Middle Eastern nations all provide crucial intel to the US.
If Trump is seen as someone who's too eager to brag about what he knows to the Russians, or whoever else happens to be around, these countries, among others, could stop sharing info necessary to thwart the terrorist organization's operations.
Russia is also allies with Iran, one of America's traditional enemies and the sworn enemy of one of the US's most important allies -- Israel.
If Israel thinks Trump would give intel to Russia, which could in turn be given to Iran, it will likely not trust the White House with vital information.
Nothing that reportedly occurred amounts to treason, but all Americans should be concerned.
If a person helps a country the US is at war with, it is considered treason.
Russia may have opposing political interests to America, but the two countries are not at war.
So, legally, it seems Trump did nothing wrong.
But, as outlined above, there are still numerous reasons to be concerned.
This is not the first time we've seen reports of Trump being careless with national security.
He handled a crisis involving North Korea out in the open at his Mar-a-Lago resort in February, for example. Guests were able to take photos. He might as well have broadcasted everything on Facebook Live.
The president seems to be more concerned with appearing impressive and important than protecting the country, and his carelessness could put American lives at risk.