Analysis: How will the latest Trump conflict impact Mossad-CIA relations?

If Trump and the CIA do not trust each other, the Mossad and other US allies may need to reevaluate what information they share with the US.

By
September 25, 2019 21:40
US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)

As impeachment season begins, aspects of collateral damage to national security in the broader political drama between US President Donald Trump and US House Democrats may be lost in the storm.

There is no question that this latest conflict between Trump and his own CIA could have far reaching implications both for US intelligence and allied intelligence services like the Mossad.

Part of the reason that there could be spillover is Trump’s history of tension with the CIA and alleged prior reports that the Mossad and the CIA were being careful regarding what information they would share with the president even before he was elected.

To review, the outset of the impeachment process against Trump started when it emerged that a CIA whistleblower had referred a complaint of wrongdoing against Trump to the CIA inspector-general, who found the complaint valid.

Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, a political appointee, blocked the inspector-general from passing the complaint on to Congress’s Intelligence Committee for review, leading to increased scrutiny and a call to release other information related to the controversy.

On Wednesday, Trump released a transcript of his telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he appears to pressure Zelensky, a foreign actor, into probing potential US presidential candidate Joseph Biden for corruption in a manner that appears to demonstrate the use of Trump’s presidential power to accrue future electoral benefit.

Putting aside the question of your opinion of what Trump did, the fact that a member of the CIA broke the story into the open could put a nail in the coffin of the Trump-CIA relationship, which has long been shaky.

If Trump and the CIA do not trust each other, the Mossad and other US allies may need to reevaluate what information they share with the US and whether they may require a condition that certain intelligence items not reach Trump.

During his term, Trump fought publicly with the CIA about the agency’s view of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election; how to handle Russia generally; threats presented by North Korea; the Saudis’ role in the murder of reporter Jamal Khashoggi; and recently over Iran’s role in attacking the Saudi oil fields.

The CIA‘s cardinal sin, in Trump’s view, appears to be the 2016 election issue, which he had feared impacted his legitimacy. Trump also seems to have innate suspicions concerning illegal CIA actions in earlier decades while he was formulating his views.

The CIA and the national security apparatus also displayed doubts about Trump from the beginning.

Besides former FBI director James Comey having written memoranda regarding what he viewed as illegal instructions from Trump, and former Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein reportedly considering meeting the president with a concealed wiretap, top officials were said to be specifically concerned about Trump leaking intelligence.

In February 2018, Susan Rice, the Obama administration’s national security adviser, officially confirmed that his team had doubts about sharing classified intelligence with Trump’s presidential transition team due to concerns about links to Russia.

The fact that Trump did leak Israeli intelligence to Russia in May 2017, combined with former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo’s related mid-February 2018 speech on the issue, shows that there is plenty of evidence of wariness from the CIA and the Mossad about what intelligence reaches president’s desk.

Has Israel held off sharing certain intelligence with Trump due to these suspicions?

It seems a bizarre question to ask about the president who moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and whom many consider the most pro-Israel occupant ever in the Oval Office.

The Trump era is often full of paradoxes, as he stakes out a style and policy positions which do not always appear to fit together.

Right before Trump’s inauguration as president, an Israeli journalist reported that US intelligence officials, on an undisclosed date, warned their Israeli counterparts: Be careful sharing intelligence with the incoming administration as there may be a risk that the information may get to Russia and from there to Iran.

Similar reports came out shortly thereafter about potential problems with Britain, Australia and other countries sharing intelligence with the US.

Pardo’s speech in mid-February 2018 about warnings he got from US intelligence officials about Trump while in Washington, further reinforced those cautions.

But Rice’s letter later in February 2018, made it official that the concerns about Trump’s team were present – and made a highly convincing case – that the US intelligence officials who warned the Israeli officials were acting on orders from on high.

What should Israel do if the Trump-CIA feud heats up – especially after Rice’s letter and in light of Trump’s May 2017 infamous leak to Russia of Israeli intelligence?

Following the February 2018 disclosures, former Mossad director Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post that he hoped Trump and his team had learned their lesson “after what happened, and the pandemonium it created, both in the US and among other nations which share intelligence with the US… like Israel and which worry that sensitive intelligence could fall into the hands of the Russians” if Trump again violates Israel’s trust.

“Did they [the Trump team] learn their lesson? Only time will tell,” Yatom continued. “But they need to meet the day-to-day test of maintaining information security with Israel and others officials from the UK, Germany and France, who share intelligence with the CIA, FBI and NSA.

“And if it happens again, we would need to change the way we share intelligence with the US and not give them sensitive material,” he added.

Was this latest episode the straw that broke the camel’s back? Must Israel continue to share intelligence with the US, and even with Trump, with little in the way of conditions, because the US is the senior partner?

No matter what, as long as the Trump-CIA relationship is unstable, the impact on the Mossad-CIA-Trump relationship will be unpredictable.


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