Israeli intelligence expert Melman on Trump’s “dangerous amateurism”

May 18, 2017 at 2:42 pm (israel, Middle East, posted by JD, Putin, Russia, Trump, United States) ()

By Yossi Melman (17 May 2017) at Yedioth  Ahronoth: Dangerous Amateurism

  • Israeli officials were very careful yesterday not to comment even implicitly on reports from the US, according to which US President Donald Trump shared top secret intelligence in his meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrof and with the Russian ambassador to Washington. That’s all senior officials need, to get into trouble with the unpredictable Trump prior to his visit to Israel next week.
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  • American media outlets assessed yesterday that the secret information came from Jordan or from Israel — two countries whose intelligence  communities have very close ties with American intelligence. Both also have good capabilities. The Jordanians [specialize] more in handling agents; Israel, presumably [specializes] in technological intelligence — in coverage of Syria and ISIS. Lat night the New York Times already reported that the information came from Israel, which had requested that the US handle it with extreme caution.
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  • In any case, the information, irrespective of its source, dealt with ISIS terror plots. We can assume that Trump said what he said in order to mobilize and spur the Russians into taking action against the terror organization, which is a front on which they are dragging their feet. However, sharing the information is a double-edged sword. The Russians, who are working in Syria to fortify Bashar Assad’s regime, might share the information to him and perhaps even to his allies/their allies in the civil war in Syria — Iran and Hizbullah. Each of these could make use of the information, if it comes to their attention, in such a manner that would jeopardize intelligence operations and expose sources of information. And in this shadow world, there is no worse sin than failing to protect sources and exposing agents — as in the affair involving Eli Zeira, the Mossad and Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan.
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  • In democratic countries, the intelligence communities are committed to give all the information at their disposal to the political echelon. There are leaders, in Israel too (such as the late Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin), who insist on receiving not only the executive summary, but also knowing about the sources that are behind the information. Presumably, Trump delivered the information not out of malice, but simply because of his lack of understanding of the rules of the game in the [sphere of] intelligence. If he did this with malicious intent, then that is a different story, which borders on treason and espionage.
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  • Sharing the information with a third party without permission from the supplying source undoubtably undermines trust between the two countries. And intelligence cooperation is based first and foremost on trust. There is no doubt that officials in the US intelligence community are also embarrassed by the president’s amateurism. But at this point what can they do? They are on a collision course with him in any case, and the affair of the dismissal of former FBI director James Comey is only one example. Besides, after all, he is the elected president and commander-in-chief of the military.
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  • Before being elected president, Trump had already become entangled in slips of the tongue and leaking intelligence, to which he was exposed in briefings that he received.
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  • Now there are reports in Europe that following the incident, some countries are weighing the option of scaling down their cooperation with the United States. This is empty talk. The US is an intelligence power, and all the intelligence communities in the Western world, certainly small countries like Israel, are more dependent on it than it is on them. The relationships here are not among equals, and are more similar to the relationship between horse and rider. Even those who are angry at Trump will not be able to take counter-measures, since then they would be exposed to American revenge and punitive action. If the information is indeed from Israel or Jordan, have no fear — both countries will continue to cooperate with the United States, mainly because they have no alternative. However, they will be more cautious.

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