A former chief of the Mossad spy agency fired off harsh criticism at Donald Trump in an interview with The Times of Israel on Wednesday, saying his actions put international information-sharing efforts at risk, in light of reports that the US president divulged classified intelligence to Russia last week. And a second former head of the agency said in a radio interview that Israel should punish Trump over the affair.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials worked to cool tensions with promises of continued security cooperation.
Shabtai Shavit, who led the Mossad in the 1990s, said that were he in charge of the intelligence organization today, he would not be inclined to share more information with his American counterparts.
“If tomorrow I were asked to pass information to the CIA, I would do everything I could to not pass it to them. Or I would first protect myself and only then give it, and what I’d give would be totally neutered,” Shavit told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.
“If some smart guy decides that he’s allowed to leak information, then your partners in cooperation will be fewer or just won’t be at all,” he warned.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Trump revealed “code word”-level intelligence — one of the highest levels of secrecy in the US — during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak earlier this month.
The country supplying the intelligence to the US was identified in the Post story only as “an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State,” but sources told The New York Times on Tuesday that the ally was Israel. The ABC news outlet then reported that the information came specifically from a spy embedded in the terrorist group on behalf of Israel.
The Israeli government has not officially confirmed that is the source of the reportedly leaked intelligence.
But according to Shavit, when it comes to how Israeli security services will act in the future, it doesn’t matter if it was Israeli intelligence or “English or French or German,” as the most important takeaway from the episode was Trump’s carelessness.
Describing the US president as a “bull in a china shop” — or as the Hebrew version of the expression goes, an “elephant in a china shop” — Shavit accused Trump of entering situations without first being properly briefed, and then unwittingly violating the unwritten codes of conduct of intelligence.
The former Mossad chief acknowledged that Trump “is allowed to make the decision” to reveal sensitive intelligence. “However, the rules of proper operation demand that even a president of the world’s greatest power consult with the experts. That’s why the government pays them,” Shavit said.
Another former head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, said Israel should penalize the US over Trump’s leak because his acts could endanger Israeli sources.
“We need to punish the Americans, it’s possible, so that we don’t put Trump in a position where he is again tempted, we need to abstain from transferring information to him, or to only give him partial information so that he can’t endanger any source,” said Yatom, who headed the spy agency between 1999 and 2001.
Even though it is Trump’s right to declassify information, if he keeps doing it Israel will “stop sharing in the future,” he estimated, speaking in an interview with Radio 103 FM.
‘We have to reevaluate if we should pass along information and what information we should pass along to the Americans’
On Wednesday morning, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily quoted an unnamed Israeli intelligence official who said the country’s clandestine services could not continue passing along high value information until they are convinced that the United States can be trusted to protect it.
“We have to reevaluate if we should pass along information and what information we should pass along to the Americans. This is our greatest ally, and we share with them heaps of super-secret information,” the source said.
“Until we can be sure that this channel is absolutely secure, we must not hand over our crown jewels through it,” the official added.
Amnon Sofrin, a former head of the Mossad’s Intelligence Directorate, said on Wednesday that while the incident was troubling, he did not anticipate that it would have a tremendous effect on the overall relationship between Israeli and American security services.
“If this really happened and there is some reflection about the source, it can cause a big problem for us because it can put the source at risk and cause damage for our activities,” he said, in a phone briefing with the Israel Project.
“I don’t believe that [this] will cause such a big damage. It might cause small damage… but not a disaster,” Sofrin added.
In an apparent attempt to assuage concerns, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman took to Twitter on Wednesday morning with reassurances that Israeli-American security cooperation would continue to be “deep, significant and unprecedented in their scope and contribution to our strength.”
He added that he was certain that “the Mossad will do all in its power so that the source can keep giving information, but will try to extract him if need be.”
Earlier in the day, Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, downplayed the severity of the incident, describing it as part of the cost of doing spy business.
“I know of more than a few incident over the years, from different countries, in which they made use of intelligence in far more scandalous ways than how the media has described this,” Dichter, who chairs the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Army Radio.
But Shavit, the former Mossad chief, scoffed at the notion that it was a one-off incident, chuckling when asked if it was the kind of thing that happened from time to time but was not necessarily indicative of a trend.
“It’s what? One hundred and twenty days since he got into the White House? Foul-up follows foul-up over there,” he said, referring to a number of embarrassing leaks and failures that have come out of the Trump administration.
‘Before he makes any decision, he posts on Twitter. Is that how you run a country? That’s not how you run a corner-store’
“[Trump] is trying to run the country like he ran his private company — and it doesn’t work. What can you do? It doesn’t work. That’s the source of the troubles,” Shavit said.
He also took Trump to task for his social media game.
“Before he makes any decision, he posts on Twitter. He tweets and then checks the responses in order to make his decision. Is that how you run a country?” Shavit asked. “That’s not how you run a corner store.”
Gavin Rabinowitz contributed to this report.