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Deep State again tries to block dialogue with Russia: Washington Post’s phoney story about Trump’s leak

The Washington Post story about President Trump’s supposed leak of highly classified intelligence information about ISIS to the Russians is a case study of the lengths to which the President’s enemies are prepared to go in order to discredit him and to stop any chance of a rapprochement with Russia.

Briefly, the Washington Post claims that Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russians during his recent meeting with them in the Oval Office information about an alleged plot by ISIS to carry out attacks on passenger aircraft using laptops.   The Washington Post describes Trump’s supposed wrongdoing in this way

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”…..

One day after dismissing Comey, Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a key figure in earlier Russia controversies — into the Oval Office. It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft…..

For almost anyone in government, discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.

White House officials involved in the meeting said Trump discussed only shared concerns about terrorism.

The existence of an alleged ISIS plot to use laptops to bring down passenger aircraft has been all over the media for months.  That cannot therefore have been the “highly classified information” that President Trump is supposed to have discussed.

It turns out that the “highly classified information” that Trump is supposed to have disclosed is the name of the city where the alleged ISIS plot was discovered.   That supposedly compromised the source of the information, which presumably means the intelligence agency which provided it.

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 the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.

The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.

“Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive, and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling,” said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it……

…..the information wasn’t the United States’ to provide to others. Under the rules of espionage, governments — and even individual agencies — are given significant control over whether and how the information they gather is disseminated, even after it has been shared. Violating that practice undercuts trust considered essential to sharing secrets.

The officials declined to identify the ally but said it has previously voiced frustration with Washington’s inability to safeguard sensitive information related to Iraq and Syria.

“If that partner learned we’d given this to Russia without their knowledge or asking first, that is a blow to that relationship,” the U.S. official said.

There are a number of obvious problems with this story.

The first is that if any of this is true then the publication of this story in the Washington Post is completely irresponsible and is conceivably a crime itself.

Firstly, the Washington Post grudgingly concedes that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov hardly reacted to the leaking of the supposedly “highly classified information” Trump is supposed to have leaked to him.

Lavrov’s reaction to the Trump disclosures was muted, officials said, calling for the United States to work more closely with Moscow on fighting terrorism.

That suggests that Lavrov did not see this information as compromising or sensitive, and was unaware of any greater implications concerning it.  In that case it is possible the Russians failed to notice the supposed importance of this information.

If that was indeed the case then the Washington Post and the anonymous officials and former officials who have fed the Washington Post this information have now alerted the Russians for the first time to its importance.

No doubt Russian intelligence is going over the stenographic record of Lavrov’s discussion with Trump made by his interpreters looking for this information even as I write this.  When they find it this is what the Washington Post’s sources say will be the results

The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it.

“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”

The damage would however in that case have been done not by Trump but by the Washington Post and by the anonymous officials and former officials who prompted its article.

The second point is the one about the potentially damaging consequences if the “intelligence partner” who supposedly provided this “highly classified information” were ever to find out about the leak.

This is what the anonymous officials and former officials are quoted by the Washington Post as saying about that

The officials declined to identify the ally but said it has previously voiced frustration with Washington’s inability to safeguard sensitive information related to Iraq and Syria.

“If that partner learned we’d given this to Russia without their knowledge or asking first, that is a blow to that relationship,” the U.S. official said.

The “intelligence partner” – presumably a Middle East country – has now learnt about the leak.  It has done so because the Washington Post has published a story about it.

Whether any dire consequences follow is another matter.  If they do then the blame for that lies not with Donald Trump but with the Washington Post and the anonymous officials and former officials who prompted its article.

Is this story however even true?

The essence of the story – that Trump leaked “highly classified information” to Lavrov and the Russians in a way that does harm or potential harm to US national security – has been emphatically denied by Donald Trump’s highly regarded (perhaps over-regarded) National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, as well as by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and by other officials

Here is a video of General McMaster commenting on the story.  Here is a transcript of what he said

There’s nothing that the President takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The President and the [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] reviewed a range of common threats to our two counties, including threats to civil aviation.  At no time – at no time – were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the President did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the Secretary of State, remember it being the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. And I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”

 

Firstly, since this is a discussion about classified information there were obvious constraints on what General McMaster could say.  He could not go into the detail of the Washington Post’s story without compounding the damage the Washington Post’s publication of the story has quite possibly already done and without breaking the law.

Secondly, General McMaster has nonetheless unequivocally said that “the story as reported is false”.

Thirdly, General McMaster has made the point that he was physically present in the room when the conversation between Trump and Lavrov took place and that – unlike the ‘anonymous sources’ the Washington Post is relying upon – he is speaking publicly and on the record.

In any sane world statements made publicly and on the record should always be given greater credence than statements made secretly and anonymously.  In any matter involving Trump or Russia the reverse is true.  This story is a case in point.

So what is General McMaster denying?

There is no doubt that President Trump did share with the Russians information about an alleged ISIS plot against passenger aircraft using laptops.   General McMaster says as much, and President Trump has just admitted it.

However as President Trump has correctly said – and as the Washington Post grudgingly admits – as President Trump was fully within his rights to do this.  Here is what Trump himself has tweeted today about all of this

And here is what the Washington Post has said about it

For almost anyone in government, discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.

(bold italics added)

If the fact that Trump shared information with the Russians about an ISIS plot against passenger aircraft using laptops is not disputed, and if his right to do so is not disputed either, it is the interpretation of his doing it given by the Washington Post which McMaster, Tillerson and the other senior administration officials are disputing.  That is what McMaster means when he says that “the story as reported is false”.

When world leaders meet they regularly exchange information with each other.  If they did not do so diplomatic contacts would be devoid of all content and would grind to a stop.

In this case Trump told Lavrov of a supposed plot by ISIS to use laptops against passenger aircraft.  Trump says he did this in order to get Russia’s help in the fight against ISIS.  There is nothing unusual or untoward about this, and nothing unusual about Trump telling the Russians some of the details of the plot.  It beggars belief that Trump doing this was in any way sinister or dangerous or a threat to national security or risks any of the consequences the Washington Post alleges.  Had it done so Trump’s aides who were present at the meeting – General McMaster first and foremost – would have intervened immediately to stop him doing it.  That after all is their job.

A former US intelligence officer Michael Pregent has explained the position clearly

But some former intelligence officials think the repercussions from the Oval Office meeting will be minimal, if any.

“No damage – no sources or methods revealed,” said Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer now with the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank.

Pregent, who worked with McMaster in Iraq, said it is unlikely the national security adviser would have allowed the president to cross any lines.

Instead, Pregent sees an opportunity to have turned the Russian visit to the White House to Washington’s advantage.

“Sharing this info with the Russians calls them on their inaction against ISIS in Syria,” he said.

In other words no harm was done and the President and his officials were doing nothing more than engaging in normal diplomacy.

The Washington Post story itself all but admits this.  As I have said, if Trump sharing information with the Russians really did have the potentially serious national security consequences the Washington Post alleges, then the Washington Post and the ‘anonymous current and former officials’ who were its sources for the story have massively and irresponsibly compounded the damage by telling the world about it.  That they did so in fact shows that no harm was done, and that they know it.

Which brings us to the real point of this story.

Ever since Trump met Lavrov in the Oval Office there has been a concerted attempt by the mainstream media and some US politicians to cast the meeting in the most sinister light.

Firstly there was the preposterous story of the Russian photographer.  Now there is the attempt by the Washington Post to spin a standard diplomatic exchange into a dangerous leak.

That is both unwarranted and ridiculous.  It shows the real agenda behind this story: to discredit Trump in any way possible, and to make impossible any meaningful dialogue between the US and Russian governments which might lead to a possible rapprochement between the US and Russia.

Those who give credence to this story or pretend to are either being manipulated or share this agenda.

What do you think?

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