This comes from an Israeli paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, but it’s the most widely read daily in that country and the reporter, Ronen Bergman, is respected as far as I know. Besides, is it that hard to believe U.S. intel officials would behave this way given their icy relationship with Trump over the past three months? That’s especially true if the U.S. officials mentioned in the story are Obama political appointees rather than career spooks. (The story leaves it unclear.) Either way, whether you believe the report or not, this is what Israelis woke up to today.
Frankly, the best reason to doubt the story is the idea that Israel would need to be formally told this. No doubt they have their own covert intelligence assessments of how tight Trump is with Russia. If they think there’s any chance their secrets will be shared with hostile powers, i.e. with the Kremlin and then via the FSB with Iran, they’ll adjust their intelligence-sharing with America accordingly.
These fears, which began upon Trump’s election, grew stronger following a meeting held recently between Israeli and American intelligence officials (the date of the meeting is not mentioned to protect the sources of the report). During the meeting, according to the Israelis who participated in it, their American colleagues voiced despair over Trump’s election, as he often lashes out at the American intelligence community. The American officials also told the Israelis that the National Security Agency (NSA) had “highly credible information” that Russia’s intelligence agencies, the FSB and GRU, were responsible for hacking the Democratic Party (DNC) servers during the elections and leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The American officials further added that they believed Russia President Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump – but did not elaborate. They were apparently referring to what was published Wednesday about embarrassing information collected by the Russian intelligence in a bid to blackmail the president-elect.
The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians.
The weirdest part is the idea that U.S. and Israeli intelligence still have no idea whether the material in the BuzzFeed memos is largely true or false. That seems preposterous given that Trump has been a national political figure for nearly two years, he’s been talking up Putin and Russia since virtually day one, and the memos themselves have been circulating for months. Every intelligence agency in the western world, especially in Europe, had an incentive ages ago to find out if he’s been coopted. If a former British spy could gather information on Trump through private informants over a matter of months, the CIA and Mossad have almost certainly gathered much more confirming or debunking it by now. And logically, if the CIA had something damning on Trump suggesting that he’s been compromised, they would have leaked it during the campaign to derail his candidacy. They’re not going to sit by and let voters choose a Russian stooge as their new boss. So what’s this meeting really about, assuming it happened at all? Is there other information on Trump known to the CIA that’s now being shared with Mossad or is it just scare tactics by Obama loyalists to try to sabotage Trump’s relationship with Israel? After eight years of Obama, it’s hard to imagine Netanyahu suddenly being standoffish with the more pro-Israel Trump.
The most interesting part of the story, actually, may be Bergman claiming that U.S. officials told the Israelis that they suspect Edward Snowden shared stolen intelligence with Russia and that the Russians then passed some of it along to Iran “as part of Putin’s policy to increase Iranian dependence … on Moscow.” That’s the germ of the supposed fear that Israeli secrets shared with Team Trump might end up in Iranian hands via Moscow, but Team Trump is more hostile to Iran than Obama is. Unless the new White House really has been compromised to the point where Trump would risk jeopardizing the efficacy of his own policies by sharing information with the Kremlin, it’s goofy to think he’d risk giving Iran an advantage over Israel.
Here’s Lindsey Graham reminding everyone about the state of relations between the incoming president and his intelligence bureaus.
WATCH: Not healthy to question the competency and loyalty of US intel community, Sen. Graham says of pres.-elect's "Nazi Germany?" tweet. pic.twitter.com/FnhnLNx97i
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) January 12, 2017