News has emerged that President Trump did indeed pass secret intelligence to the Russians. According to one current and one former US official, Trump decided to inform Putin about intelligence gathered during covert hacking operations on ISIS targets. Those successful cyber espionage operations, which were conducted by the Israeli government, discovered that ISIS had developed a bomb that looked like a laptop battery and could be hidden and transported inside a laptop.
According to the revelations, the Israeli “cyberoperators” managed to hack into computers belonging to ISIS bomb manufacturers working within Syria. It is unknown exactly when the information was discovered, but according to the reports it happened “a number of months ago.”
Allegedly, the information was so precise that it was the direct cause behind the ban on traveling with electronic equipment (including laptops) from six primarily Muslim countries into the US. That ban has been in place since March to protect against the ISIS bomb, which is said to be discrete enough to easily fool airport security staff.
However, today that ban suffered a defeat in a US court within the state of Hawaii, which found that it violates existing immigration laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has already come forward to express his distaste with the ruling:
“President Trump’s executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe. Recent attacks confirm that the threat to our nation is immediate and real.”
Russian Intelligence Sharing
The New York Times first broke the intelligence story last month, when it was revealed that Trump had passed on classified information to the Kremlin during a meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. At that time it was reported that Trump’s decision was not illegal, because as President of the United States he is able to declassify important information.
At the time of those reports it remained unconfirmed exactly who the intelligence had come from. Now, however, it has become clear that the information was secret intelligence that the Israelis had specifically asked Trump to keep quiet.
Although warning the Russians about the laptop battery bombs may seem like a reasonable thing to do – a political olive branch of sorts – Netanyahu may not feel the same.
After all, Israel could rightly be concerned that its intelligence could be passed forward to Russian allies, including other enemies of the state such as Iran.
This concern was expressed back in January, when reports suggested that intensified intelligence relations between the US and Israel could become threatened if state secrets were passed to Russian allies because of the US. In those reports (written in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot), an Israeli investigative journalist called Ronen Bergman said that Israel had been warned off sharing too much information with Trump by senior US officials.
According to those reports, Trump is under “leverages of pressure” from the Kremlin, which allegedly has a certain amount of power over Trump and/or his business associates. Whether there is any truth to that remains unknown. However, there does appear to be a buzz of distrust within the Israeli media today – and it is possible that this leak could have a negative impact on intelligence relations between Israel and the US.
This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened since Trump came to power, either. Last month, a German MP warned European countries against sharing intelligence with the US. According to Thomas Opperman – leader of the Social Democrats Party – Trump’s administration “chatters too much” and is a “security risk for the West.”
This sentiment was reinforced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said during a speech that “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over.” It remains to be seen exactly how serious Germany is about not working with the US, particularly considering the close ties between its BND intelligence agency and the NSA (including the use of XKEYSCORE at a satellite interception station in Bad Aibling).
This sentiment is shared by UK police, who decided to stop sharing information regarding the Manchester bombing with the US. That decision was made after the latter released classified crime scene photos to the press. Those photos, which were part of the ongoing investigation, showed what is believed to be bomb fragments (among other things).
The decision by the German and UK intelligence services to stop sharing intel with the US is a massive transition from the usual state of play. For many years now, the NSA has enjoyed almost constant intelligence sharing thanks to the 5 Eyes and larger 14 Eyes agreements.
Whether the recent reports about US leaks to the Russians will inflame relations with Israel remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – everybody appears to be becoming wary of the Trump administration’s ability to handle classified material.
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