The same day that a classified 50-page intelligence report was delivered to President Obama on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, its findings were immediately leaked to the Washington Post by “U.S. officials” – probably senior Obama officials at the National Security Council. Making this worse, the leakers may have compromised sensitive intelligence sources and methods by revealing that the report was based on intercepted communications.
According to the Post story, the classified intelligence report says senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow. So-called “actors” involved in providing Democratic emails to WikiLeaks reportedly are identified. The report also is said to discuss “disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks.”
After the Washington Post story was posted online, a senior U.S. intelligence official discussed the classified report with NBC News. The intelligence official agreed to talk to NBC because he or she disagreed with the focus of the Post story and believes the Post overemphasized alleged Russian celebration of Trump’s win and did not focus on the thrust of the report.
Two other intelligence officials also leaked details of the classified report to NBC. According to the NBC story, “Two top intelligence officials with direct knowledge told NBC News that the report on Russian hacking also details Russian cyberattacks not just against the Democratic National Committee, but the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and American corporations.”
It’s no surprise that Obamas officials would immediately leak to the news media details about the intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election since they have a history of leaking highly classified intelligence to the press – including sensitive intelligence sources and methods – to advance their political agendas.
For example, in 2012 then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly told the Obama NSC staff to “shut the f— up” after they leaked sensitive details about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound as part of a victory lap for the president’s foreign policy.
Not only do I believe the Obama White House raced to the phone to leak the new intelligence report on Russian hacking to the press, I believe this is why Mr. Obama requested this report in the first place – the president wanted an intelligence assessment undermining Trump’s election that his staff could leak to the news media before he left office.
But as bad as the leaking of classified reports to the press for political reasons by White House officials is, leaks about the Russia report by intelligence officers are far more serious, especially at a time of growing tension between President-elect Donald Trump and the U.S. Intelligence Community. Trump’s team has attacked the accuracy of intelligence assessments and accused intelligence officers of leaking to the news media against Trump and politicizing intelligence. Regardless of whether these accusations have merit (I believe they do), press leaks by intelligence officials on the Russia report will only widen the rift between Trump and U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump tweeted in response to the NBC story:
How did NBC get “an exclusive look into the top secret report he (Obama) was presented?” Who gave them this report and why? Politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2017
How did the intelligence officials who leaked to NBC expect Mr. Trump to react? Did they give any thought to the damage these leaks would cause to relations between their agencies and the president-elect?
President Trump will need and deserve a U.S. Intelligence Community that provides him with hard hitting and objective analysis devoid of politics. It’s time for Director of National Intelligence Clapper and other intelligence officials to stop complaining about Donald Trump “disparaging” U.S. intelligence agencies and demand that intelligence officers stop trying to undermine our new president. I am certain that the vast majority of intelligence officers welcome the opportunity to support Mr. Trump. If the handful of intelligence officers who have been leaking against Trump cannot accept his election and their responsibility to loyally serve the next president, they need to resign immediately.