Today we are facing the very real possibility that the president of the United States poses a clear and present danger to American national security.
That's the inescapable conclusion from the Washington Post's bombshell report that Trump shared highly sensitive, highly classified information about the ISIS fight with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when the men met with Trump in the Oval Office last week.
The White House went into crisis mode after the story broke Monday night, trotting out surrogates to argue that Trump's move was no big deal because Russia is an ally in the ISIS fight (it isn't), because Hillary Clinton did something worse (she didn't), and because Trump was legally free to share whatever he wants with whomever he wants (true, but utterly irrelevant). Breitbart, unsurprisingly, blamed it all on a supposed "deep state" of US national security officials committed to harming the Trump presidency.
The spin is meant to distract attention from the enormity of the new scandal — and from the likely repercussions of Trump's actions. The White House has good reason for desperately hoping it can change the topic: The president's gaffe will make US allies less likely to share vital intelligence and add new fuel to the administration's ongoing war with the American intelligence community just when US spies can least afford the distraction.
That's because Trump's disclosures represent a direct threat to US counterterrorism efforts, which rely less on the skills of individual operatives and more on the web of intelligence-sharing agreements that Washington has with allies around the globe.
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The best known is the decades-old Five Eyes agreement between the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia that calls for the nations to share information and not carry out espionage missions against each other.
But the US also maintains formal and informal intelligence-sharing arrangements with countries closer to the main battlefields of the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda. Those include deals with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and other Middle Eastern nations that have worked hard to develop granular knowledge of the terror groups that threaten them at least as much as they threaten the West.
Those are also precisely the kinds of agreements that could fall apart because of Trump's cavalier decision to give Russia information Washington had received from one of its allies in the terror fight. As the Washington Post's Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe write:
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump's decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State
We don't yet know which country had its secrets given to Moscow, nor the exact details of the intelligence Trump shared. (The Post said the information had to do with an ISIS "terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.")
One thing is very clear, however: Trump doesn't seem to know or care about the possible repercussions of his actions. Russia would once have devoted enormous amounts of resources toward trying to gain insight into what an American president was thinking or what kinds of deals the US was striking with other nations. In the age of Trump, that information is literally handed to them in the Oval Office on a whim.
"I get great intel," Trump boasted to Lavrov, according to a source who recounted that conversation to the Post. "I have people brief me on great intel every day."
The problem is that those people thought they were briefing Donald Trump. They didn't realize they were also briefing Vladimir Putin.