Trump’s shar­ing of in­tel with Rus­sians a dis­as­ter

The Daily Observer - - OPINION - PHIL GURSKI Phil Gurski is pres­i­dent and CEO of Bo­re­alis Threat and Risk Con­sult­ing. www.bo­re­al­isthreatan­drisk.com

The pres­i­dent of the United States is very pow­er­ful. The so-called leader of the free world has a lot of in­flu­ence and a great deal of lee­way in de­cid­ing what to say and do. Don­ald Trump is ex­er­cis­ing this free­dom to the max.

Trump elected to share a piece of in­tel­li­gence with Rus­sian of­fi­cials. It had to do with Is­lamic State, which threat­ens both U.S. and Rus­sian in­ter­ests, and Canada’s. In that vein, some may not see a prob­lem with the pres­i­dent dis­clos­ing in­tel­li­gence on a mu­tual en­emy to a state which, al­though not an ally, shares a mu­tual de­sire to see the end of ISIL.

But while the pres­i­dent has stated he can make that de­ci­sion, this does not im­ply he should. On the con­trary, Trump’s dis­as­trous act has po­ten­tially se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion and in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Spy agen­cies are not nat­u­ral shar­ers of what they pos­sess. The pro­tec­tion of how they col­lect in­tel­li­gence is para­mount. Unau­tho­rized or care­less leaks that could shed light on sources or meth­ods lead to the loss of those sources and meth­ods, some of which are very hard to gain and next to im­pos­si­ble to re­pro­duce. The loss of such in­tel­li­gence can do grave dam­age to na­tional se­cu­rity (and en­dan­ger the lives of hu­man sources).

In this case, it is not clear what kind of in­tel­li­gence the pres­i­dent ap­pears to have uni­lat­er­ally de­cided to give the Rus­sians, al­though re­ports sug­gest it was sen­si­tive (which could re­fer to sig­nals in­tel­li­gence or a very del­i­cate hu­man source) and came from the Is­raelis. It is un­likely Is­rael agreed in ad­vance to al­low the U.S. to pass on its in­tel­li­gence to Rus­sia.

When in­tel­li­gence ser­vices do agree to share in­for­ma­tion, it is al­ways done on the prin­ci­ple that the re­cip­i­ent will not fur­ther dis­trib­ute it with­out the ex­press con­sent of the orig­i­na­tor. This is a car­di­nal rule of in­tel­li­gence, one that the pres­i­dent is ei­ther un­aware or dis­mis­sive of. Trump’s brazen dis­re­gard for ba­sic in­tel­li­gence prac­tice is sure to cause of­fi­cials in spy ser­vices around the world to ques­tion their shar­ing re­la­tion­ships with the U.S.

There are cir­cum­stances un­der which a se­nior of­fi­cial can and should make a pub­lic ref­er­ence to in­tel­li­gence — say to gain pub­lic con­fi­dence for a mea­sure. This, how­ever is not one of them.

Some may chalk up the pres­i­dent’s ac­tion to yet an­other “Donald­ism.” There is, how­ever, a much more in­sid­i­ous im­pli­ca­tion and it speaks to the role of U.S. and al­lied in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and their re­la­tion­ships with their clients and part­ners.

The at­mos­phere in the U.S. is al­ready toxic be­tween the pres­i­dent and his spy ser­vices: he has mocked them on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and fired the head of the FBI on du­bi­ous grounds. It is very likely peo­ple work­ing in the U.S. in­tel­li­gence are shocked, dis­mayed and de­mor­al­ized by their leader’s view of them and their man­date, and it is not be­yond the realm of pos­si­bil­ity that some ques­tion whether they can trust Trump with sen­si­tive data.

There is lit­tle chance this will have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate ef­fect on Canada’s re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. As part of the very ef­fec­tive “Five Eyes” in­tel­li­gence club, we gain more in­tel­li­gence from our al­lies than we con­trib­ute. Tak­ing a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to stop shar­ing would be in­ju­ri­ous to our in­ter­ests.

Nev­er­the­less, the heads of the Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Se­cu­rity Es­tab­lish­ment should think twice be­fore for­ward­ing the most sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence with a U.S. part­ner whose head is un­pre­dictable and ca­pa­ble of jeop­ar­diz­ing that in­tel­li­gence. The U.S. may not miss our con­tri­bu­tion but we need to take a stand on prin­ci­ple and time­honoured in­tel­li­gence prac­tice.

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