Russia, ISIS leak, Israel: Did Trump know enough to burn source?

The Big Question About the Russia-ISIS Leak Is Whether Trump Knew Enough to Ruin Things

The Big Question About the Russia-ISIS Leak Is Whether Trump Knew Enough to Ruin Things

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May 16 2017 5:32 PM

The Big Question About the Russia-ISIS Leak Is Whether Trump Knew Enough to Ruin Things


H.R. McMaster at the White House on Tuesday.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Here's what we know—or at least what is not in dispute—about the Trump-Russia-ISIS-intel mess:

  • At last week's White House meeting with Russia's foreign minister and U.S. ambassador, Donald Trump shared classified intelligence information related to an ISIS plot to smuggle bombs onto airline flights via laptop computers. This information included the name of the city where some of the intelligence had been collected.
  • At least some of the information that Trump shared with Russia about the laptop threat had been collected by Israel. At least some (although apparently not all) of the information Israel gave the U.S. about the plot was so secret that it was not shared with our other closest allies, such as the U.K. and Canada. Israel had not given the U.S. permission to share the information with Russia.
  • Russia is allied with both Syria and Iran, two of Israel's long-term enemies.

Here's what we don't know:

  • Whether the Russians recognized immediately that the intelligence Trump was discussing had come from Israel.
  • What other details Trump gave the Russians about the laptop plot—which, at least in its broad strokes, was discussed publicly in March when the U.S. banned laptops on some flights originating abroad.
  • Whether the details Trump discussed were sufficient to allow Russia or any other party to determine where Israel has been getting its information—i.e. whether Israel's source is now "burned."

The Trump administration official position is that the information Trump gave Russia did not compromise the U.S.'s intelligence-gathering capabilities in any way, and the Wall Street Journal writes that "U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the Israeli source said Mr. Trump may not have provided enough detail to the Russians to damage that source." CNN, however, reports that it obtained some of the information Trump appears to have given the Russians in March—and that at the time U.S. officials "told CNN that publishing it would endanger lives and destroy intelligence-gathering methods."

The New York Times reported Tuesday afternoon, meanwhile, that some Trump administration officials have an ... interesting take on the question:

In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.

In other words, American citizens are in the position of hoping that our president turns out to have been too illiterate to have compromised his access to information about the terrorist fanatics who want to kill us on airplanes.