Trump’s sharing risks damaging the US’ alliances

By Julie Pace  /  AP, WASHINGTON

Thu, May 18, 2017 - Page 9

For months, the US’ allies have anxiously wondered if US President Donald Trump could be trusted with some of the world’s most sensitive national security secrets.

Now, just a few days before Trump’s debut on the international stage, he is giving allies new reasons to worry and potentially putting crucial intelligence-sharing agreements at risk.

Revelations that Trump revealed highly classified information to senior Russian officials during meeting in the White House’s Oval Office last week prompted one European official to say that his country might stop sharing intelligence with the US as a result.

A second official, senior German lawmaker Burkhard Lischka, called Trump’s disclosures “highly worrying.”

The information Trump revealed to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak centered on an Islamic State group plot and was based on intelligence provided by a US partner, a US official said.

The disclosure — which Trump appeared to verify in a pair of tweets on Tuesday morning — is certain to shadow the president as he embarks tomorrow on his first overseas trip as president.

During a stop in Saudi Arabia, he is to meet with important Arab allies working with the US on the fight against the Islamic State group.

He is also to huddle with some of Washington’s strongest European partners at a NATO summit in Brussels and the G7 meeting in Sicily.

Some of the leaders Trump is to meet come from countries the US has intelligence-sharing agreements with.

At least one Republican said the president was putting those agreements at risk by divulging classified information to Russia, a country many in the US and in the West view as an adversary.

US Senator John McCain said Trump’s actions send “a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future.”

Trump on Tuesday declared on Twitter that it was his “absolute right” to share information with other countries.

Trump’s national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, said the disclosure had been “wholly appropriate” and argued that it was based on publicly available information.

Indeed, presidents are legally authorized to disclose classified information.

Yet, Trump’s decision is all the more confounding given his tense relationship with US spy agencies.

He has questioned the competence of intelligence officials, challenged their assessment that Russia meddled in last year’s election to help him win, and accused them of leaking information about him and his associates.

The leaks have only continued to flow, undermining Trump and exposing details of the investigations into whether his campaign played a role in Russia’s election meddling.

According to the US official, Trump shared details with top Russian officials about an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

The Washington Post first reported the disclosure.

White House officials disputed the report, saying Trump did not disclose intelligence sources or methods with the Russians, though they did not deny that classified information was disclosed in the meeting on Wednesday last week.

Trump later said he did share information about “terrorism and airline flight safety” with Russia.

The US and Western officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive information.

The White House has looked to Trump’s trip abroad as a moment to draw the president out of Washington’s hyperpartisan hothouse and put him in a more statesman-like setting.

He is expected to be warmly received by Arab allies in Saudi Arabia, who welcomed his decision to launch missiles against a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack, and in Israel, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views Trump as more favorable to his interests than former US president Barack Obama.

However, some of the European partners Trump is to meet later in his trip have been more skeptical about his policies, including a controversial travel and immigration ban that has been blocked by US courts.

Western allies, including Britain and Germany, have also been wary of Trump’s warmness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was kicked out of the summit of leading economic powers after Moscow’s annexation of territory from Ukraine.

The White House’s botched handling of Trump’s firing last week of then-FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing the bureau’s Russia probe, and the president’s own volatile statements about his actions are also likely to raise questions among allies about the US leader’s standing.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said allies would be trying to size up Trump’s “actual political strength relative to the divisions with Congress, the problems within his own party.

“Can he move forward with his own agenda? That will certainly be a question as he visits any country overseas,” Cordesman said.