International Affairs

Trump plays spy game and loses

Donald Trump, Sergey Lavrov, Russia
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

It’s no accident Trump spontaneously decided to disclose highly classified intelligence to a spymaster.

While it was considered bad optics that Trump decided to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the day after he fired Comey, it was made exponentially worse when photos were disclosed the following day showing that Sergei Kislyak, Russian Ambassador and known intelligence operative, was also in attendance.

Kislyak proved to be a critical lynchpin in undermining the credibility of the Trump administration and an apparent key person in the potential compromise of General Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser.

{mosads}The fact remains that the Trump administration does not acknowledge Kislyak as the spymaster that he is, and that likely resulted in the spontaneous disclosure of the Israeli intelligence on ISIS.


I will avoid commentary on how damaging the release of information is on Israeli operatives operating inside Syria, given that Trump released this to Russian intelligence operatives, who support Syria and Iran, existential threats to Israel. Frankly, just stating the facts implies the damage.

However, the key part is that Trump played right into the hands of Russia.

The White House stated that Trump took the meeting with Lavrov at the request of Putin. He literally said that he could not say, no to Putin. That in and of itself is troubling.

However, it was not announced that Kislyak would also be present, which is telling. Kislyak is an acknowledged Russian intelligence operative whose primary job is to elicit information from people with access to data valuable to Russia and its allies, such as Syria and Iran.

Kislyak can lead a conversation just enough to get a person like Trump — who has shown a tendency toward rants, Tweet storms and other instances where the president could not control either his tongue or his fingers as it were — to reveal information. 

Let’s be very clear about this: Trump deciding to spontaneously “declassify” the Israeli intelligence was not spontaneous to Kislyak and Russia. Kislyak likely set the stage for Trump to disclose as much classified information as he could get out of him.

When anyone is interacting with a skilled intelligence operative, the spontaneous release of information is not an accident. 

Kislyak and Laprov were in a battle of wits against a man unprepared for such a high stakes encounter.

From all accounts Trump was provided with a script regarding what to discuss and not discuss. Clearly, his shoot-from-the-hip style led him to fail to protect classified information.

Whether or not Trump thought he had a reason to release the Israeli intelligence, we have yet to see any tangible result from the release, except for Putin indicating that the Russians brought recording devices into the Oval Office, and recorded the interactions and possibly more, while the president did not.

In the meeting with the Russians, Trump demonstrated everyone’s worsts fears; that he could be manipulated by foreign operatives to divulge sensitive intelligence. 

To Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump’s spontaneous decision to discuss classified information was anything but spontaneous.

Ira Winkler is president of Secure Mentem, a security awareness company. He is one of the foremost experts in the human elements of cybersecurity and the author of several books, most recently “Advanced Persistent Security.” He has previously worked for the National Security Agency and served as president of the Internet Security Advisors Group, chief security strategist at HP Consulting and director of Technology of the National Computer Security Association. He has also served on the graduate and undergraduate faculties of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland. He and his work have been featured in a variety of media outlets including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle and Forbes, among others.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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