Trump and Putin.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If Monday night’s Washington Post report that US President Donald Trump recently revealed classified information to Russia is true, it would be a “grave violation” of intelligence sharing protocol and “could lead to harm to the source,” former Mossad director Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
The Washington Post report said that Trump shared classified information last Wednesday with Russia about a planned ISIS terror attack. The information was reportedly received from a US ally, with some hints that it was a Middle Eastern ally, yet one that had not yielded permission to release the findings.
Further, the report said that Trump had revealed to Russia the city from which the information was gathered and a high-level of detail about what the US knew about ISIS's planned attack.
Trump administration officials have not specifically denied that the president discussed information about an ISIS terror plot to use a concealed bomb within a laptop on an airplane, but denied that he revealed any means or sources of intelligence collection.
Yatom said he did not know if the reports of giving away an ally’s information were true “and I don’t know from where, I don’t know if it was from Israel,” but “if someone gives the US very sensitive information…it is prohibited to give the information to a third party – for sure not to Russia who has ties with Iran and Syria.”
US officials: Trump revealed intelligence secrets to Russia (credit: REUTERS)
The former Mossad director added that, “if the information is sensitive, it can harm the security of the intelligence source or lead to other damage.”
Regarding the Trump administration’s statements denying the sharing any intelligence methods or sources, he said “sometimes damage is caused from the content of the revelation, even if he does not say the methods and sources.”
“The fact that you have very high quality sensitive intelligence can lead to revealing the source. Very few people in ISIS may know about this information. Once it is publicized, ISIS can do an investigation and find the source," Yatom said. adding "or Russia can find the source.” Such an event could help Russia prevent the source from giving further information on potential Russia-Syria operations.
This would be of concern to all US allies, including Israel, about sharing intelligence with the Trump administration.
Another potentially-damaging scenario from Trump’s alleged disclosure could see ISIS adjust its approach to laptop bomb attack plots that until now had the potential of being uncovered and thwarted.
An element of the story which the White House has not denied is that its staff members immediately warned US intelligence agencies after the revelation, which seems to indicate that Trump had not cleared the revelation with them or departed from agreed-upon limits of what to reveal.
Yatom said that national leaders like the US president or the Israeli prime minister traditionally get a briefing from their intelligence chiefs or military liaisons about what can and cannot be revealed before meeting with a foreign official.
“If there is a debate, and he [the leader] wants to tell something that the head of intelligence is against telling, then there must be a discussion to hear the intelligence head’s reservations - even if the leader decides in the end to tell,” said Yatom.
He continued, “It seems this discussion did not occur. From what I read, he departed from the outlines agreed upon with the CIA of what he was not supposed to state and went beyond what they informed him not to say.”
While he thought that Trump simply most likely did not fully understand the implications of what he was revealing, he noted that the FBI still has an ongoing probe of Trump and his associates’ relationship with Russia.
Not everyone agreed with Yatom’s perspective.
Multiple former officials, including former IDF intelligence deputy chief and INSS expert Brig.-Gen. (res.) Dr. Meir Elran said that the story was “not very significant” for Israel “unless the information was received from Israel, and there is no indication of that.”
Further, he said that intelligence sharing between the US and Israel “is too important, even if there are…glitches” where Trump or others in the US break some of the unwritten rules of the game.
Elran said that Israeli intelligence “takes into account always that this could happen” but at the end of the day “intelligence assets are national assets” and they do not get to decide how the political echelon uses their information.
He said that intelligence agency gatekeepers "aren’t the only ones with authority."
"Even if intelligence professionals don’t like” the political echelon sharing intelligence “it is too bad," he said, adding that "They need to explain how information is sensitive, but the political echelon has the final say.”