The US pulled one of its top sources in the Russian government in 2017, due to fears that President Donald Trump’s propensity to share sensitive intelligence could put that source in danger, CNN reported on Monday, citing multiple unnamed officials.
According to the news network, the decision came because intelligence officials were alarmed after Trump divulged highly classified information on a secret Israeli mission in Syria during an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in May 2017.
The report stated that then-CIA director Mike Pompeo told other officials that too much information was being shared by Trump regarding the covert source. The spy was extracted in a complex mission, after it was determined he was in danger.
A Vanity Fair report from November of that year said that during the meeting, Trump discussed details of a daring top-secret mission into northern Syria by Israel’s Mossad spy agency and elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit to prevent Islamic State attacks, sticking a dagger into the robust Israeli-American intelligence-sharing apparatus. Trump’s revelations reportedly led to a heated shouting match between Israeli and American intelligence officials.
Trump later defended his actions by asserting that he had “the absolute right” to share information and had done so in order to encourage the Russians to “greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
In July 2017, several weeks after officials decided to bring home their man in Russia, Trump held a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following the meeting, he took his translator’s notes, fueling concerns that he may have again shared sensitive information.
According to CNN, intelligence officials decided to pull out the US asset in Moscow, even though the US president had not revealed information about him, in part out of fear that Trump would disclose details on that as well.
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
CNN reported that the asset was one of the US’s “key sources” providing intelligence on Russia’s leadership and that his absence in Moscow could hamper American intelligence gathering efforts, citing a US source who stated that there was “no equal alternative” available.
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false,” CIA director of public affairs Brittany Bramell told CNN. “Misguided speculation that the president’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence — which he has access to each and every day — drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
The White House disputed CNN’s reporting, calling it factually incorrect and asserting that it had “the potential to put lives in danger.”
Despite widespread criticism, Trump has not curtailed his approach to sensitive information. In August, he tweeted a photo of an Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center, apparently taken by a classified surveillance satellite. After backlash in the press and among intelligence experts, he again asserted that he had an “absolute right” to share whatever information he wanted.
The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
While Trump does have the power to declassify information, it is unusual for a president to do so in this manner.
After Trump’s tweet, a number of analysts were able to extrapolate the American spy satellite’s orbital position from the image.
The report of the extraction of the American asset in Russia comes as Americans prepare for the 2020 presidential election. Moscow has been accused of interfering in the 2016 election and there are widespread concerns among lawmakers and in the intelligence community that it will do so again.