How Trump may have undermined national security with disclosures to Russia
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If it is true that President Trump disclosed to the Russians highly classified information that could lead them to uncover the sources and methods through which this information was gathered, this could be the most serious breach of national security committed by a sitting president.

According to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times, President Trump revealed the city from which secret information was gathered regarding ISIS's plan to use laptops to blow up commercial airliners in flight. He may have also disclosed the critical fact that this intel came from another country that is sharing intelligence with the U.S. This critical data could allow Russian intelligence to determine the sources and methods by which this highly sensitive information was gathered.  

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If true, this breach of national security could put at risk the lives of the source or sources currently providing valuable information from within ISIS's highest ranks. If a friendly intelligence service managed to turn a high-ranking ISIS official into a double agent, or managed to place one of its secret agents inside ISIS, that agent's life would be placed at risk.

If the friendly service managed to plant listening devices in ISIS meeting places, those devices are now at risk. Moreover, the friendly agency may now be reluctant to share its intel with an "unreliable" ally who provides the information to an enemy. Let there be no doubt about the reality that Russia is an enemy, not only of the U.S. when it comes to Syria but of the intelligence agency that provided the U.S. with the disclosed information — especially if that country is in the Middle East.

Russia is allied with what's called the Shia Crescent — Iran, the Shiite portion of Iraq and the Hezbollah-controlled parts of Syria and Lebanon. Information provided to Russia may well end up in hands of these enemies of peace and stability. Russia's goal in Syria is in conflict with ours; their allies are our enemies and the enemies of our allies.

Providing sources and methods to Russia can change the dynamic in the region and cause ISIS to speed up its plans to blow up commercial airliners. That's the worst-case scenario that must be considered by us and by friendly intelligence services seeking to contain the fallout by engaging in damage control. 

For the sake of our country, our allies and the world, let's hope that the story is untrue or exaggerated. That is what the White House is claiming in carefully worded statements that don't specifically refute the thrust of the story but deny that the president "discussed" sources and methods. Of course he didn't — but that's not the accusation.

The story reported that Trump disclosed substantive secrets that could lead Russian intelligence to figure out sources and methods. I hope that's not true, and it remains unproven at this time. The president tweeted that he has the right to reveal what he revealed, and Russian authorities have denied the entire account. But if it turns out to be true and the worst-case scenario comes to pass, the seriousness of this breach cannot be overstated. 

President Trump may be correct in tweeting this morning that he had the right to disclose classified information to the Russians since he has the power to declassify. But having the right to do something doesn't make it right to do it if it undermines our national security. 

What should be done now? First and foremost, this issue must be taken seriously by all Americans and not politicized. Democrats should not seek immediate partisan advantage from this potential national security crisis. They should work together with Republicans to learn the truth and control the damage. 

Our national security agencies must consider whether to put in place, on an emergency basis, a ban on laptops on all international flights. They must put in place plans to secure intelligence assets that may have been placed at risk by the disclosures. And they must coordinate with friendly intelligence agencies who may fear further disclosures. 

We must look forward and take preventive actions both to assure against repetition and to assess and manage the damage that may already have been done. The White House must put in place checks to assure that any disclosure of high-level national security secrets are not disclosed unless a calculated decision to do so is carefully made in conjunction with the friendly intelligence service that secured the intel. 

There will be time enough for recriminations and partisan finger-pointing. Now is the time to stand together to deal constructively with a serious and ongoing risk to our national security. 

 

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law, emeritus, at Harvard Law School and author of “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law” and “Electile Dysfunction: A Guide for the Unaroused Voter.” Follow him on Twitter: @AlanDersh or Facebook: @AlanMDershowitz.


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