Recently we learned that President Trump has been skeptical about using foreign spies to collect information. For example, after it was reported that the half-brother of the North Korean leader had been a source for U.S. intelligence, the president stated that he would not have allowed recruitment of such sources if permission to do so was sought during his presidency. Most rational individuals would have concluded that having the half-brother of Kim Jong Un as a source was quite a coup, but not the president. He believes that foreign spies can damage relations with their host countries and undermine his personal relationships with their leaders. While that may sometimes be true in the short run, that is seldom the case over the long haul, because even adversaries often see some benefit in maintaining diplomatic relations and sometimes even concluding major arms control agreements.
The president’s issues with U.S. intelligence agencies date to late 2016 and early 2017 when they produced two reports (one classified and one unclassified) and briefed him on the extensive Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The intelligence community also concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin was aware of the effort if not directing it. The Russian meddling was intended to support the election of Donald Trump, which has been in the president’s craw for over two years. The community made no judgement regarding effectiveness of the Russian meddling.
Since that time we have seen the president become extra accommodating to senior Russian officials. He sided with Putin when he denied any involvement in the U.S. election. Also, he shared in the Oval Office sensitive intelligence information with the Russian ambassador and the head of the Russian foreign service. Reportedly, the information was about a terrorist group in Syria and was provided by Israel.
Recently, the president tweeted an image from a classified briefing about a major mishap at a missile launchpad in Iran. Another individual doing that would face criminal prosecution. But the president is the final authority in controlling classified information. So his actions are not considered illegal.
At a minimum, however, they are reckless and irresponsible. If you care about the security of the United States, you inform the Russian president that the U.S. will not tolerate the meddling that occured in 2016; you protect classified information; and you call for an aggressive collection effort against our major adversaries.
Trump’s position – it is wrong to use spies to collect information about other nations – is naive and ludicrous. Having people on the ground is often the only way to obtain information about intentions of adversaries. Would he not welcome such information about Russia, North Korea, Syria, Iran and China? (What about terrorists groups?) Does he believe these countries play nice and do not conduct major operations to collect as much information as possible about U.S. political, military and economic developments?
This president, who has proclaimed himself “really smart” and “an extremely stable genius,” is making empty-headed decisions when it comes to intelligence and national security.