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Sep 20 2019

WTF Has Donald Done Now

There have been numerous concerns raised about Donald Trump’s handling of sensitive information since his election. We already know he disclosed sensitive intelligence from the Israelis to the Russian government representatives in May of 2017 which prompted the removal of a high-level CIA source within the Putin government, fearing for his safety. Last Friday, we learned that a whistleblower within the Intelligence Community had lodged a complaint with the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who reviewed the complaint and determined it was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” a legal threshold that requires notification of congressional oversight committees. That complaint, then given to the current acting DNI, Joseph McGuire, who at that point, by law, had seven days to alert the congressional Intelligence committees. He did not. instead, McGuire did something he was not supposed to do, he went to the Department of Justice who instructed him not to give the complaint to congress.

“No director of national intelligence has ever refused to turn over a whistle-blower complaint,” Mr. Schiff said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Schiff told CBS that Mr. Maguire had told him he was not providing the complaint “because he is being instructed not to, that this involved a higher authority, someone above” the director of national intelligence, a cabinet position.

We now know that the complaint involves phone conversations that Donald Trump had with a foreign leader

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Now, the New York Times is reporting that it is not just one phone call that trump made but multiple actions that he has taken.

The complaint was related to multiple acts, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for American spy agencies, told lawmakers during a private briefing, two officials familiar with it said. But he declined to discuss specifics, including whether the complaint involved the president, according to committee members.

Separately, a person familiar with the whistle-blower’s complaint said it involves in part a commitment that Mr. Trump made in a communication with another world leader. The Washington Post first reported the nature of that discussion. But no single communication was at the root of the complaint, another person familiar with it said. [..]

Democrats emerged from Mr. Atkinson’s briefing and renewed their accusation that the Trump administration was orchestrating a cover-up of an urgent and legitimate whistle-blower complaint that could affect national security. [..]

Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said the law is “very clear” that the whistle-blower complaint must be handed over to Congress.

“The Inspector General determines what level of concern it is,” said Mr. King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Once the determination is made,” he added, the director of national intelligence “has a ministerial responsibility to share that with Congress. It is not discretionary.”

“This is based upon the principle of separation of powers and Congress’s oversight responsibility,” Mr. King said.

More Leaks have now revealed that the complaint involves Trump’s dealing with a foreign leader and raised questions about Trump’s free wheeling diplomatic style that may have compromised US national security. The Washington Post reported late Thursday night that according to two unnamed people, the complaint involves the Ukraine.

While the media is pondering and speculating over the involvement of the Whites House and the Justice Department, the consequences of Trump’s unconventional approach dealing with foreign leaders and the effect it has on national security and the intelligence community are being missed. Balloon Juice‘s Adam L. Silverman notes that the WaPo article lacks details and there is not much more beyond the first lines. He goes on to explain what the media is missing about  the counterintelligence implications of the intelligence officer’s whistleblower complaint :

Given that the complaint involves something the President committed to do for a still undisclosed foreign leader and that it involves Ukraine, it is likely one of two things. Either he promised Putin something that had something to do with Ukraine, such as getting sanctions lifted and/or getting Russia readmitted to the G-7 making it once again the G-8. or he promised Ukraine’s President Zelensky something. Most likely that he’d free up the military aid in exchange for made up dirt on Vice President Biden’s son. Either way Putin will have signals intercepts of the call. Either because the call was with Putin and he recorded it or because Russia is actively collecting Signals Intelligence on the Ukrainians. Ukraine’s new president would be a primary target of such collection. It also likely means that the Estonians, the Latvians, the Germans, the French, the Norwegians, and several others most likely know the details as well as they are all collecting Signals Intelligence on Russia and Putin.

And this is where the counterintelligence concerns arise. The President’s unconventional approach to communicating with foreign leaders, outside advisors, and others, and his opposition to having these communications memorialized creates a counterintelligence problem for him and for the United States. This counterintelligence problem exists regardless what he may or may not have promised a foreign leader over the series of phone calls and interactions at the heart of the Intelligence official’s or officer’s complaint and whether or not it is good for the US and American interests. By getting rid of note takers, getting rid of readouts and summaries, either eliminating or extremely restricting transcripts of his phone calls and meetings, and by often using an unsecured cell phone, the President has made it all but impossible for officials in his own administration to actually document and know what he is saying to and hearing from the foreign leaders he is interacting with. This places the President, and by extension the United States, at the mercy of these foreign leaders. Right now we do not know with whom the President was speaking to in these phone calls, even as we now know it had something to do with Ukraine. But it would be a safe assumption that the foreign leader was making a recording of the call, as well as having a note taker making detailed notes. This provides that foreign leader with leverage over the President and the United States should he or she choose to use it because they can disclose as much or as little of the conversations and spin them however they want, while the United States’ government has limited, at best, information about the conversations and is therefore operating at an asymmetric disadvantage. The same problems exists for the President’s one on one meetings with Putin and Kim, where we also have no officially documented notes or transcripts on the US side of the meetings. And if you think that Putin and Kim didn’t record those meetings, I have a bridge and some beachfront property to sell you.

Right now we do not know which foreign leader the President spoke with, what, if anything the President promised that foreign leader, if the promise is good for the US’s national interest or bad for it. We do not even know how the Intelligence official or officer came to know this information. We don’t know if she or he was part of the limited chain of distribution for a transcript of the call. We do not know if he or she saw a Signals Intelligence Intercept of the call because we have that foreign leader under full time Signals Intelligence surveillance. We do not know if he or she was in the presence of the President when the phone call and other, multiple activities that were reported occurred. But we do know one thing: the foreign leader in question knows what the President promised and, from a counterintelligence perspective, it is responsible to assume that foreign leader has a recording of the call, which gives that foreign leader leverage over the President and the United States. The President has compromised himself and the United States to the leader of a foreign power and that is the major counterintelligence problem that arises from this whistleblower’s complaint.

Nail meet hammer, the greatest threat to national security is Donald J. Trump.

(NB: all emphasis in this article is mine.)