One of the most commonly made claims about ‘Trumpleak’ is that President Trump’s supposedly feckless leaking of intelligence information provided to the US by another country will shake that country’s confidence in the US’s ability to keep its secrets.
As a general principle however, even if ‘Trumpleak’ were as bad as is being alleged – which it isn’t – there would be no risk of any country that shares intelligence with the US walking away in a huff and in future refusing to share intelligence with the US. The claim that such a risk exists (made for example today by both the Financial Times and the Guardian) is not so much empty as non-existent since it completely misrepresents the whole nature of the intelligence partnerships which exist between the US and other countries allied to it.
The key fact about these intelligence partnerships is that the US is always and invariably the overwhelmingly dominant partner. The reason for this is because the US’s worldwide intelligence operation dwarf those of every other country with which it is allied. Not one of these countries – not Britain with MI6 and GCHQ, not Israel with Mossad and Shin Beth, not Germany with the BND – comes close.
The only other states which conduct worldwide intelligence operations at a level somewhat approximating to those of the US are the US’s two Great Power adversaries: China and Russia. Even their intelligence gathering operations almost certainly do not match the extent or scope of those of the US. This is in part because the Chinese and the Russians as Eurasian powers almost certainly feel that they don’t need to match the worldwide scope and comprehensive reach of the intelligence operation of the US, which does not just think of itself as a Great Power as the world’s self-appointed hegemon.
What that means is that countries like Britain, Israel, Germany and the rest which share intelligence information with the US receive far more intelligence information from the US than they provide to the US or could ever possibly obtain themselves. For that reason if no other however upset or angry with the US these countries become they will never do anything that might jeopardise their intelligence sharing partnership with the US.
Indeed one of the perennial nightmares of these countries is that the US might one day decide to stop sharing intelligence information with them. As everyone in the political and intelligence world knows this is an implicit threat the US regularly uses in order to keep these countries in line. It is one reason why the US’s European allies for example sought in 2013 to assist the US to track down and arrest the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In truth the intelligence agencies of most of the NATO countries allied to the US should be seen less as independent intelligence agencies and more as branch offices of the greater intelligence operation of the US.
Though some of the intelligence agencies of the bigger powers within NATO – Britain, France, Germany and Turkey – do retain some degree of operational autonomy and can sometimes act on their own initiative, most of the time their work is so heavily integrated into the much bigger US intelligence operation that after so many decades of such close collaboration they are barely able think of themselves as separate.
That is how it came to happen that in 2002 all of these agencies supposedly made the same mistake, and collectively reported that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, when in truth it did not.
Lurid talk that Trump’s supposed fecklessness with intelligence allegedly jeopardises the US’s intelligence relationships with its allies is therefore quite simply not grounded in reality. It should be seen for what it really is: part of the media campaign which has been launched against him.