Authorized or not, disclosures of classified intelligence are usually examined. Not this time.
- By Jenna McLaughlinJenna McLaughlin is an intelligence reporter for Foreign Policy, focusing on the culture, dynamics, and events happening in the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other 15 members of the intelligence community—plus the way the sensitive information they gather and analyze informs and directs the White House and policy makers on the Hill. Previously, McLaughlin was a national security reporter for the Intercept where she covered everything from the FBI’s secretive subpoena powers to cybersecurity companies in the Middle East. Before that, she covered similar topics including the rise of the Islamic State at Mother Jones Magazine. You can reach her with tips and responses securely through Signal or WhatsApp at 203-537-3949, or through her email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The intelligence community will not be doing a damage assessment into President Donald Trump’s disclosures of classified intelligence to Russian officials, Foreign Policy has learned.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump shared classified intelligence provided by a U.S. ally about potential ISIS plots with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a meeting at the White House. The news touched off a political firestorm, with White House officials defending Trump’s right to share intelligence, and critics accusing him of damaging national security.
Damage assessments, part of the intelligence community’s purview under the National Security Act of 1974, happen when there is an “unauthorized disclosure”, compromise, or mishandling of classified information to determine if there’s any “actual or potential damage” to national security as a result.
The president is the ultimate declassification authority, meaning Trump’s disclosure would not be deemed “unauthorized,” even if a foreign partner did not offer permission to share it. However, when classified information is disclosed, even if technically authorized, the intelligence community often does a damage assessment—either formally or informally—to determine if sources and methods had been compromised, a former senior administration official told FP in a phone interview.
“It’s ultimately the IC’s call, but [I’m] surprised there wouldn’t be one (even an informal one), in this case,” the former senior administration official told FP in a text message.
While a decision to launch an assessment is ultimately up to the intelligence community, President Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has repeatedly told reporters that the conversations between Trump and the Russian officials on May 10 were “wholly appropriate,” and provided information that could be derived from open sources of information like the Internet.
The U.S. has been openly worried that ISIS associates are planning to plant explosives in laptop devices, to detonate during transatlantic flights. On Wednesday, U.S. officials will meet with members of the European Union to discuss a possible laptop ban.
According to the New York Times, the intelligence Trump shared belongs to Israel, one of the U.S.’s primary military and intelligence partners.
If the report is true, “it would only confirm to many who say off the record they were concerned Israeli intelligence would find its way to Russia,” said David Schenker, a former Pentagon official now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Everybody wants to maintain a good relationship and will try no doubt to move on,” he said. “But this will no doubt remain in the back of their minds.”
FP staff writer Robbie Gramer contributed to this article.
Photo credit: MARK WILSON/Getty Images