Tracing the sources of the “Trump gave Russia intel” story

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

ABC news reports (May 17) that “The life of a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS is at risk tonight, according to current and former U.S. officials, after President Donald Trump reportedly disclosed classified information in a meeting with Russian officials last week. The spy provided intelligence involving an active ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet en route to the United States, with a bomb hidden in a laptop that U.S. officials believe can get through airport screening machines undetected. The information was reliable enough that the U.S. is considering a ban on laptops on all flights from Europe to the United States. The sensitive intelligence was shared with the United States, officials say, on the condition that the source remain confidential.”

This is the latest information from a story that broke 48 hours ago (May 15) when the Washington Post reported that “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister.” The story claims its source is: “according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” Further it noted “provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted.” The article also claimed the classified information was “code word information.” (articles elaborating on the level of classification didn’t expand the knowledge of the source of it, at the Atlantic or at BBC). 

The New York Times story on May 15th notes “President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, a current and a former American government official said Monday.” The NYT piece notes that they have obtained more information, “was about an Islamic State plot, according to the officials. A Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.” They note the Washington Post piece “did not address whether he talked about the Islamic State plot itself. Beyond angering a partner and calling into question the ability of the United States to keep secrets.” They add “Mr. Trump discussed the contents of the intelligence, not the sources and methods used to collect it. The concern is that knowledge of the information about the Islamic State plot could allow the Russians to figure out those details.”

All the stories on this originate with the ur-text of the Washington Post article. CNN, for instance, on May 16 “President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting last week, The Washington Post first reported Monday.” CNN expanded the sourcing, adding “Two former officials knowledgeable of the situation confirmed to CNN that the main points of the Post story are accurate.”

Israel enters the picture

On Tuesday May 16 US press began to claim Israel was the source of the classified information. All of the reports go back to a New York Times story that quotes “according to a current and a former American official familiar.” They write “The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel…Israeli officials would not confirm that they were the source of the information that Mr. Trump shared, which was about an Islamic State plot.” Haaretz writes that the NYT cites “The report cited a current U.S. official and a former one.” The Jerusalem Post also notes the same “current and former US officials are reported.”

However a May 16th Buzzfeed report claims to have found Israeli officials who will confirm the story. “Two Israeli intelligence officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News Tuesday that Israel had shared specific intelligence with the US regarding ISIS plots to smuggle explosive laptops onto planes, and that it appeared that that intelligence had been shared with Russia without prior coordination.” Unnamed Israeli officials have been used by Buzzfeed in the past and their views have not panned out.

As the story grows, it still goes back to just two alleged officials. Arutz Sheva writes “The life of a spy placed inside Islamic State (ISIS) is at risk after U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly disclosed classified information in a meeting with Russian officials last week, ABC News reported on Tuesday night, citing current and former American officials.” But even the juicy ABC report seems based on the same “according to current and former U.S. officials.”

As this story grows I will keep updating information relating to the “sources.”

 

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