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U.S., Israeli spies upset Trump shared intel

Deb Riechmann
Associated Press

Washington — The United States and Israel are publicly brushing aside President Donald Trump’s reported sharing of a highly classified tip from Israel with Russia, but spy professionals on both sides are frustrated and fearful about the repercussions to a critical intelligence partnership.

“I know how things work in Israeli intelligence,” said Uri Bar-Joseph, a professor at Haifa University in Israel who has studied and written widely about the Jewish state’s spy operations. “I have some friends I talk with. They’re upset. They are sincerely frustrated and angry.”

Meeting Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office last week, Trump shared intelligence about an Islamic State threat involving laptops carried on airplanes, according to a senior U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to talk about the sensitive material and spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. and Israeli officials have tried to allay concerns. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that Trump’s disclosure was “wholly appropriate.” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted that the allies will continue to have a “deep, meaningful and unprecedented” security relationship.

But some of the people who’ve spent years safeguarding that relationship say there will be consequences.

Trump made “two very serious mistakes,” former CIA director John Brennan said Thursday at a financial industry event in Las Vegas.

“We shared a lot of sensitive intelligence about terrorism operations that were planned against the Russians,” he said. “But we shared it through intelligence channels, and you also make sure that the language of what you are sharing is not going in any way compromise your collections systems. Mr. Trump didn’t do that.”

Shabtai Shavit, former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, told the Associated Press that his “gut feeling is that anyone who belongs to the professional club is very angry.” Danny Yatom, another ex-Mossad boss, told an Israeli radio station that if reports were accurate, Trump likely caused “heavy damage” to Israeli and American security.

Bar-Joseph, the writer, said: “I won’t say they won’t share secrets anymore, but when it comes to the most sensitive information, there will be a second thought.” Of Trump, he added, “If you can’t count on the president, who can you count on?”

Both nations gain much from the exchange of information.

Israel, which lives in close proximity to Arab enemies and Iran, has human spies in parts of the volatile Middle East where the U.S. doesn’t. It also has robust cyber capabilities, enabling it to sometimes get word of plots that the United States doesn’t know about.

Washington, in turn, provides Israel with financial and military assistance, and intelligence that U.S. agencies collect on threats far beyond Israel’s immediate borders.

“They have keen insight into things that we don’t, and obviously, we have keen insights into things they don’t,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee’s top Democrat.