Amy Goodman

Breathtakingly Irresponsible: Former Bush Iraq Adviser on Trump Sharing Secret Intel with Russians

2017-05-16T10:30:23-07:00

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Stanford University in California.

President Trump has appeared to confirm parts of a bombshell Washington Poststory that he disclosed highly classified intelligence last week to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last week during a meeting at the White House. Earlier this morning, Trump tweeted, quote, "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism," the president tweeted. Trump’s comment appears to contradict statements from top administration officials last night who claimed The Washington Post report was false.

According to the paper, Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence, what’s known as code-name information, about the possible threat of ISIS launching an attack on an airplane using a computer bomb. This is The Washington Post’s Greg Miller, one of the co-authors of the article.

GREG MILLER: At some point, Trump starts talking about the great intelligence he gets. He’s telling his visitors, 'I get the best briefings. I get the best intelligence,' and proceeds to talk about this threat that is underway that, you know, has been actually publicly talked about for some time. But he goes into details about the specifics of this plot and how it’s coming together and what the Islamic State is doing to try to make this—to try to pull this off. And the problem is that the United States knows much of this information because of intelligence that came from a partner, another country.

And you have his own National Security Council staff members, senior officials, who see readouts of what happened. They call the CIA director, call the NSA chief, to warn them: "Look, look, something happened in this meeting with the Russians we need to tell you about." This is in part because they’re alarmed and concerned about the blowback. These are agencies, the CIA, that would be directly communicating or dealing with this foreign partner, and they would be most concerned about that relationship going south.

AMY GOODMAN: Senior White House officials were apparently so alarmed by Trump’s disclosures that they called the CIA and National Security Agency afterward to warn them of what had happened. Officials said they were concerned Trump’s disclosure would jeopardize a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. There’s been some speculation that the country of Jordan was the source of the classified intelligence. President Trump is reportedly scheduled to speak by phone this morning with Jordan’s King Abdullah. One current U.S. official told BuzzFeed the situation is, quote, "far worse than what has already been reported."

To talk more about the story, we’re joined now by two guests. In London, Scott Horton is with us, lecturer at Columbia Law School and contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, author of Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare. Here at Stanford University, Larry Diamond is with us, from the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He has served as senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad at the invitation of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Back in 2004, he blasted the Bush administration’s handling of the invasion and called for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to be fired and the entire Pentagon leadership to be changed. He’s also author of the book Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Larry Diamond, let’s begin with you. Your response to this explosive Washington Post exposé?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, good morning, Amy. It’s nice to be with you again. And I would say I’m shocked. I am—even knowing that President Trump is new to national security matters, this is shocking. It’s frightening. It’s intolerable. And I think if we had a Democratic Congress, in itself, it would be grounds for an impeachment investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, because even though it is literally true, in this case, that the president can declassify any information, he has done, potentially, if the story is, I’d say, even substantially true, grave damage to U.S. national security by burning a major ally, by revealing, if the report is true, intelligence that was so sensitive, we wouldn’t even share it with an ally.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by this is an ally’s information and how the U.S. burned them.

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, according to the reports, there was someone that one of our allies, presumably in the Middle East—you’re now, in your reporting, suggesting it may be Jordan, which would be logical—it’s one of our closest allies in the region. And it’s right there near the center of gravity of ISIS, which is in Syria and Iraq. And they probably had a plant inside ISIS that was revealing this information. So they may have shared that, their intelligence agency, with us, indicating, you know, that it was of the most sensitive nature. People’s lives could be at risk from this covert operation. I’m speculating, but it’s a logical projection. And to share this not only beyond what they asked, but with a major adversary, who is on the opposite side of this conflict in Syria—namely, Russia—is, I think, breathtakingly irresponsible. And so, either he did this in cavalier disregard for the rules and standard procedures in the sensitivity of such highly classified information, or, if his tweet is correct and he decided that he should share this kind of information with Russia, without, it appears, even consulting with his top national security officials—I mean, what’s worse? Gross incompetence, gross misjudgment, or possibly a confirmation of compromising ties with the Russians?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to what happened last night. At an emergency news conference Monday, the national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, spoke for less than a minute and did not take any questions. He said The Washington Post story, as reported, is false, but he did not deny Trump may have disclosed classified information.

H.R. McMASTER: I just have a brief statement for the record. There is nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time—at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. And I was in the room. It didn’t happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the national security adviser, General McMaster. He was a colleague of yours here at Stanford University. What do you make of what he’s saying?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, I think I can speak for my Hoover colleagues, at least the ones I know, in saying that, you know, he is widely respected and highly regarded by people at the Hoover Institution, who have interacted with him, I’d say, over the last 14 or 15 years, since he’s spent a year now. He’s a very loyal and dedicated servant of our national security. And it pains me that he’s having to go through this torture of justifying in a statement here, that was, you will note, very carefully and specifically worded.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that?

LARRY DIAMOND: He did not say that the president, as you just said, didn’t reveal any sensitive information. He said he didn’t reveal sources and methods. But what he revealed, if The Washington report—Post report is substantially accurate, what he revealed could enable a sophisticated adversary like Russia to deduce or infer sources and methods.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Professor Diamond, you come from a conservative institution here, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, with your colleague Condoleezza Rice, who you worked with back in the Iraq War. At the time, she sent you to Iraq. You called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, a change of leadership, condemned President—what President Bush was doing in the Iraq War. What is the response of your colleagues at Hoover right now to President Trump?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, I’m not going to speak for my colleagues at Hoover. First of all, I can’t speak for them collectively. I will say, more generally, I know many Republicans and many conservatives who obviously said this man isn’t fit to be president before he was elected and whose concerns, I think, are being vividly confirmed on an almost daily basis now. And I’ll just speak for myself in saying that I think we now have increasingly abundant and urgent evidence that this man is not fit to be president, is not fit to handle the national security challenges of the office, doesn’t want to read and be briefed with anything like the depth or discipline that a president must, doesn’t understand the burdens and sensitivities of these national security issues. And that’s just speaking to his incompetence. We don’t even know about the extent to which he may be compromised or his campaign may have been compromised by explicit ties with the Russians. And we have, just last week, if you can believe it, the firing of the FBI director in what increasingly appears to have been an explicit effort to shut down the FBI investigation of his campaign’s ties to the Russians. And I think it’s only going to get worse.

President Trump has appeared to confirm parts of a bombshell Washington Post story that he had disclosed highly classified intelligence last week to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last week during a meeting at the White House. Earlier this morning Trump wrote on Twitter, "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism." According to The Washington Post, Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence — what’s known as code-name information — about the possible threat of ISIS launching an attack on an airplane using a computer bomb. We speak to Stanford professor Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute. He served as senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

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