Leaking of Trump's slip made it worse

As the old saying goes, “Loose lips sink ships,” but whose lips? President Trump may have made a rookie error divulging secret facts to the Russians, not realizing those facts might reveal sources and methods to intelligence agents skilled in the tradecraft of espionage.

However, Trump’s lips are not the issue. His slip was an innocent mistake, if it was a mistake at all. He may have wanted Russia in the know. However, word of his slip was no inadvertent leak by the many officials who tipped the media. Nor was all the “sensitive data” in media stories the product of some weird wave of simultaneous Freudian slips by armies of journalists.

If Trump’s slip was so potentially damaging, why didn’t those officials and journalists zip their lips?

The Washington Post, which broke the story, cited “current and former U.S. officials” as sources. Again, if Trump’s slipup was so catastrophic, shouldn’t “current officials” have been endeavoring to limit those privy to the breach? Why were they talking to the press? How in the world did “former officials” find out, and why were they talking to the press?

Officialdom in the nation’s capital has lost sight of the nation’s vital interests in their pell-mell rush to take down Donald Trump. Either Trump’s revelation was genuinely devastating and officials and journalists should have sat on the story, or this is a tempest in a teapot. Either way, the real story here is the coordinated attempt to destroy this president.

Did the nation’s journalists even hesitate before they broadcast this allegedly grave security breach to the entire world? Before they published the details, the sensitive intel had been leaked only to the Russians. Now, every nation (including North Korea) and every terrorist organization on earth has the essential information.

Now, let’s look at the faux delicacy with which The Post handled the story. In its opening paragraphs, it characterized the breach in the gravest possible terms. Trump revealed “ ‘code-word information’… terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels.” The information had been given to the U.S. by another nation under an “intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.”

After that preamble, The Post proceeded in manifestly clueless fashion to lay out all the essential details of the threat. ISIS is the actor, it involves bombs contained in laptop computers that were to be taken aboard commercial airliners, the information was obtained “in a city in Islamic State territory.” The Post didn’t withhold much. Ironically, most of the information was already in the public domain, except “the city” and the identity of the ally sharing the intel.

Did The Post need to use the word “city?” There aren’t many cities in ISIS territory. ISIS has been driven out of all urban areas of Iraq, including almost all of Mosul, but still retains control of Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital in Syria. To a reasonably diligent follower of the news, Raqqa would, most likely, be the location. And it doesn’t take a genius to know that our primary ally in the Mideast is Israel, which was identified a day later as the ally in question.

Nevertheless, The Post claimed that it was “withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.” Again, what was withheld? Not much.

Was the “urging of officials” genuine in any way? One was “a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.” If the “urging” had been genuine and the officials had really considered the info “sensitive,” they wouldn’t have been speaking to the press at all. Period. The only sensitivity related to their careers, if they were identified.

President Trump is hardly a sympathetic character. His many enemies’ urge to stick it to him is natural and understandable. However, the American public deserves better from the national security community and from the free press. This week’s loose lipped “officials” and gotcha-oriented journalists have only enhanced the chances of a successful ISIS attack on America and its citizens. While this incident may have been a tempest in a teapot, the next may be genuinely serious.

Red Jahncke is president of Townsend Group International, a business consultancy in Connecticut, and a freelance columnist who writes on public policy issues.

 

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