The White House May Be out of the Loop on Intelligence Information

It’s worth noting that, while Trump asked for Michael Flynn’s resignation, he seems to be more concerned about the leaks that led to it than the actions of the man he just fired.

What might be of more concern than what the leakers tell the public about this administration is what our intelligence services are NOT telling the president. Today we learn this from the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.

The officials’ decision to keep information from Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies.

After that report was published, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied that intelligence officials have withheld information from the president. But the WSJ article corroborates what John Schlinder wrote a few days ago.

In light of this, and out of worries about the White House’s ability to keep secrets, some of our spy agencies have begun withholding intelligence from the Oval Office. Why risk your most sensitive information if the president may ignore it anyway? A senior National Security Agency official explained that NSA was systematically holding back some of the “good stuff” from the White House, in an unprecedented move. For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president’s eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets.

Since NSA provides something like 80 percent of the actionable intelligence in our government, what’s being kept from the White House may be very significant indeed. However, such concerns are widely shared across the IC, and NSA doesn’t appear to be the only agency withholding intelligence from the administration out of security fears.

Meanwhile, Kurt Eichenwald reports that our allies in Europe are collecting intelligence information about the president’s ties to Russia.

The Western European intelligence operations began in August, after the British government obtained information that people acting on behalf of Russia were in contact with members of the Trump campaign…

These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country’s most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented—where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official…

The information gathered by the Western European government has been widely shared among the NATO allies, although it is not clear how much has been provided to American intelligence officials.

One of my reactions to all of this was a bit surprising. During the discussion that happened following the Snowden leaks, a major concern was that — given developing technologies — a more authoritarian U.S. president would have unprecedented powers to spy on Americans. Who knew that the same technologies would enable a small Baltic state in Europe (as Eichenwald reports) to spy on an actual authoritarian U.S. president?

But overall the situation that is developing could be very dangerous for our country. To the extent that both our own intelligence services and those of our allies in Europe are withholding information from the White House, this president has put our country in jeopardy. A Commander-in-Chief who is out of the loop doesn’t bode well for any of us.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.