Former intelligence officials and other experts criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to tweet a photograph believed to be classified of an Iranian launch site Friday to mock the country. The cavalier action served enemies of the U.S. who could use the photo to more fully determine America’s surveillance capabilities, experts warned.
Trump tweeted the aerial photo of the Iranian site to his 64 million followers the day after a failed rocket launch at the spot.
“Good luck in determining what happened,” Trump tweeted sarcastically.
A Defense Department official said the image appeared to show a photo that was provided during an intelligence briefing earlier Friday, CNBC reported. It was a detailed image that labeled parts of the launch site where the Iranian rocket exploded. John Sipher, a former CIA officer, told CNN that the image is “consistent with a standard classified product.”
Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists who specializes in analyzing satellite imagery, said the photo Trump tweeted was in far higher definition than what’s available from commercial satellites. The tweet discloses “some pretty amazing capabilities that the public simply wasn’t privy to before this,” Panda told NPR.
Robert Deitz, a former lawyer at the CIA and National Security Agency, told Business Insider that Trump made a “serious mistake” with the tweet.
“It identifies for the world the methods we have attained” in collecting imagery intelligence, Deitz said. “One doesn’t use intel for the purposes of taunting. The Russians and the Chinese will be very happy to study this.”
Trump’s actions may have blown the cover on a “multi-decade ... campaign to disrupt Iranian missile and nuclear development,” tweeted Alex Stomos, an adjunct professor at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. “Lots of analysts counting pixels in Beijing and Moscow today,” he noted ominously.
Trump — who ironically has falsely accused former FBI Director James Comey of leaking classified information — defended his right to release the image on Friday. “We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump told reporters.
The president attacked the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, for criticizing his release of the photo, but it was unclear what he was complaining about. It didn’t appear that Clapper had made any public statement about Trump’s tweet.
In 2017, Trump shared highly classified information at the White House with visiting Russian officials that threatened to compromise foreign intelligence sources, The Washington Post reported. Israel was the source of the information, according to The New York Times. The Telegraph reported that Israeli officials were furious that Trump had leaked it to the Russians.
Intelligence officials had to scramble to contain the damage then. One source told the Post that Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”
Trump also said then that he had an “absolute right” to share the classified information.