US intel community in crisis, but Israeli-US intel cooperation unimpacted

US intelligence officials to Israel before Trump’s inauguration: Be careful sharing intelligence with incoming administration.

Former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former Mossad Director Yossi Cohen
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The US intelligence community is hitting a new level of crisis with US President Donald Trump.
How is this impacting Israel’s intelligence cooperation with the US?
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Israel’s intelligence relationship with the US has been protected so far from the ongoing earthquakes shaking the foundation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA and the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
Tension between Trump and the US intelligence community is not new.
But it has hit new levels this week and last month when he fired US intelligence community inspector-general Michael Atkinson and US director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, as well as essentially forcing out NCTC director Russell Travers.
From the start, Trump was at war with his own intelligence community over its conclusion that Russia intervened to help him during the 2016 US presidential election.
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.
In February 2018, Susan Rice, the Obama administration’s national security adviser, officially confirmed that her 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 a speech by former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo in February 2018 on the issue, shows that there was plenty of evidence of wariness from the CIA and the Mossad about what intelligence reaches the US president's desk.
Trump would go on to fight with US intelligence when they assessed that Iran was complying with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, when they said that his “mission accomplished” message regarding negotiations with North Korea was premature and several other major national security issues.
More recently, Trump has been firing top US intelligence officials either for warning the US Congress of new Russian influence operations to help Trump in the 2020 presidential election (Maguire) or for playing any part in the failed attempt by the US House to remove him from office (Atkinson.)
When Maguire was replaced by Richard Grenell, who has some government experience, but lacks specific experience in intelligence, many in the intelligence community warned that Trump would end dispassionate intelligence analysis in favor of conclusions which matched his preconceived notions.
Since Trump fired Atkinson over the weekend, the former intelligence inspector general has been uniformly praised by other intelligence and inspector-general officials as simply doing his job.
Even several senior Republican officials have questioned his firing, saying that he did not instigate the impeachment allegations against Trump and merely fulfilled his role under the law as a watchdog to pass on the whistleblower complaint to Congress about alleged abuse of power by Trump in handling Ukraine relations.
Once again, members of US intelligence and Trump’s political critics are concerned that he is trying to limit dissent and whistleblowing on abuses of power.
Incidentally, Maguire himself had more experience in intelligence than Grenell, but when he was still on Trump’s good side, had been accused by Democrats of delaying the whistleblower complaint on Ukraine.
Maybe if he had withheld intelligence about Russian cyber influence operations to help Trump in 2020 from Congress, he could have kept his job?
Following Trump’s May 2017 leak of Israeli intelligence and February 2018 disclosures of tension among some in the Mossad about whether Trump could be trusted, former Mossad director Danny Yatom told the 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, said Yatom.
Despite all this, the Post recently confirmed that Mossad-CIA cooperation has gone unimpacted by all of the internal US shakeups.
While intelligence relating to Russia and some other issues may be politicized, the Mossad’s relationship with CIA Director Gina Haspel is ironclad, and she is the key player for Israel, much more than the other officials under fire.
Some have also pointed out that regardless of his place in US politics, Grenell has a pro-Israel and anti-Iran record which dovetails with Jerusalem’s priorities.
Finally, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen maintains a special relationship with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the latter’s former role as CIA Director.
Collectively, this means that even as aspects of US intelligence may very well be politicized to new levels in the near future, the Israel-US intelligence relationship may yet emerge unscathed.