Unchecked Intelligence Sharing: A Calamity Of Epic Proportions

By sharing classified information for seemingly personal gain, President Trump has undermined the entirety of the intelligence community's mission.

In sharing highly classified information with Russian dignitaries, President Trump single-handedly compromised the safety and security of American citizens.

The average sentence for those within the CIA who have recently been convicted of divulging classified information has been two-and-a-half to three years. U.S. Code Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 37 Section 798 states that it is unlawful to “knowingly and willfully communicate, furnish, transmit information, or otherwise make available to an unauthorized person... information in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States.”

Technically, the president has the ability to declassify information, however, the intent behind this ability is to address immediate and impending national security matters. The intent is not for the president to use this information as a reward to others for supporting his administration. The intent behind sharing this classified information is key issue in this situation. What was Trump’s intent in sharing classified information with the Russians? In what way did he feel this would benefit Americans?

Apprehension to share critical information with the Commander in Chief could have catastrophic consequences.

President Trump is using this information in a manner that compromises the safety of Americans. At the CIA, much time is spent training officers as to how to properly handle classified information. As someone who at times contributed to the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), or to what Trump refers to as the “great intel” he receives every day, I can say that the information in this brief was of the utmost importance to the safety and security of the American people. It is not meant to be shared at the president’s whim with foreign entities because he simply wanted to brag. When I submitted my intelligence to the PDB, I never questioned that it would be mishandled. I proudly submitted the intelligence that I had gathered in the hopes that it would be used to protect American citizens. I would suspect that in light of recent developments, CIA employees may approach submission to the PDB with a sense of trepidation. Though not the fault of the CIA, such apprehension to share critical information with the Commander in Chief could have catastrophic consequences. But this would assume that the Commander in Chief was using the classified information provided in the PDB in the manner it was intended.

If Trump shared classified information with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak about specific ISIS capabilities, we have to think about where that information could potentially go. There are far broader implications for sharing this type of highly classified information without thought.

It’s been widely reported that Russia supports the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hezbollah in Syria. Both of these organizations have been labelled as terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department. I have absolutely no doubt that Russia would gladly share highly classified information with these terrorist groups if it benefitted them.

I cannot speak to what occurred in all meetings between former presidents and foreign dignitaries. However, I can speak to how the CIA treats their classified information. Much consideration is placed into who information is shared with and how much information is shared. I remember vividly rehearsing the talking points for meetings with foreign entities to ensure that all attendees were on the same page in regards to what information would be shared. This same process was also applied to written information shared with foreign entities. The information goes through a heavy vetting process prior to its ultimate release.

The CIA’s primary mission is to “collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the president and senior U.S. government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security.” The CIA is a remarkable organization and it’s employees take information security seriously. By sharing classified information for seemingly personal gain, President Trump has undermined the entirety of its mission.

The author, overseas.
The author, overseas.

Tracy Walder worked as Staff Operations Officer (SOO) at the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterterrorism Center Weapons of Mass Destruction Group from 2000-2004.