Donald Trump came into office on the heels of a claim that he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS. But at the rate he and the passengers in the clown car also known as the Trump administration are going, America may soon lack the intelligence needed to take down ISIS or any other terrorist group.
During a photo-op while visiting Israel on Monday, Trump felt the need to defend himself against reports that he had revealed sensitive intelligence information to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting. And he did it by saying that he never identified Israel as the source of that intelligence -- something nobody ever accused him of doing, even though he claimed that was how the story was reported in the press.
Now, in response to the Orange Emperor's foolishness, Israel is modifying an intelligence sharing agreement with the US. According to Voice Of America, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said that his country had done a "spot repair" on the agreement. He insisted that there is "unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States," but he also added that "What we had to clarify with our friends in the United States, we did."
Lieberman was close-lipped about exactly what the "spot repair" involved. In what could only be interpreted as a backhanded shot at Trump, Lieberman said, "Not everything needs to be discussed in the media; some things need to be talked about in closed rooms."
The Israeli announcement follows a much stronger complaint from UK officials over American leaks about the suspect in the Manchester bombing. American networks and the London-based Reuters all ran stories identifying the attack as the work of a suicide bomber, and releasing his name before British police had done so. All of those outlets identified their sources as "US officials." UK home secretary Amber Rudd expressed her frustration:
"The British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise," Rudd said on a BBC radio program. "So it is irritating if it gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again."
Within hours of Rudd's comment it happened again, with NBC's Richard Engel reporting details about the alleged bomber he said he obtained from "US intelligence officials." While the exact source of the leaks has not been identified, Democratic congressman Adam Schiff noted that they could not have come from Congress, which he said had yet to be briefed on the attack. He added that he is concerned about how the information got out before the British were ready to release it.
"We should have been very careful and respectful of the British investigation and the timing which the British felt was in their investigative interests in releasing that," Schiff told The Guardian. "That should have been their discretion not ours. If that is something we did, I think that’s a real problem."
The main problem, as these reports out of Israel and the UK illustrate, is that we are in an age where intelligence sharing among international partners is more important than ever. But unfortunately we have an administration that is headed by a president who likes to wave sensitive information around the same way most people show off pictures of their children. From what we know about the Manchester leaks it appears that attitude has rubbed off on others who seem to share Trump's desire to show off how much the administration knows about what is going on.
The good news is that the UK and Israel, thanks to various agreements, will continue sharing intelligence with American officials. The concern, for them as well as our other allies, is whether they can continue to trust that the information they share will be handled properly by the US. And the concern for average Americans, as well as average citizens of other countries, is whether continuing leaks by Trump and those around could wind up getting a lot more people killed.