WaPo’s leak scoop: Mar-a-Lago materials included foreign-power nuclear-defense info

Source: Hot Air

Not good, assuming the Washington Post has their facts straight — and/or that the sources leaking (from the DoJ?) are being honest. If so, then Donald Trump has a bigger political problem than he’s let on so far after the Mar-a-Lago raid, if perhaps not a bigger legal problem. Among the documents seized at the Trump residence were the nuclear-defense secrets of a foreign power, likely a US ally, along with information on human-intelligence sources so closely held that investigators may not be able to review the documents. Those are big problems, and not just for Trump.

Assuming that this is accurate, that is. After the events of the last several years, who wants to buy another leaked pig in an intel poke?

A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.

Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.

Documents about such highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret clearance. Some special-access programs can have as few as a couple dozen government personnel authorized to know of an operation’s existence. Records that deal with such programs are kept under lock and key, almost always in a secure compartmented information facility, with a designated control officer to keep careful tabs on their location. …

Among the 100-plus classified documents taken in August, some were marked “HCS,” a category of highly classified government information that refers to “HUMINT Control Systems,” which are systems used to protect intelligence gathered from secret human sources, according to a court filing. A partially unsealed affidavit said documents found in the boxes that were sent to the National Archives in January related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. There was also material that was never meant to be shared with foreign nations.

Let’s assume this is accurate for the sake of argument. What non-legal issues this would create? First off, our allies might wonder just whose nuclear secrets got transferred to Mar-a-Lago; until they know, all of them will have to assume it was theirs. Even if they get word that their secrets weren’t mishandled in this specific incident, they will all wonder how securely they were handled in other instances. If this happened in the UK with a PM that had our nuclear-infrastructure information (for example), we’d likely have to start reorganizing that at a very large expense to the extent possible in order to make that possibly-exposed intelligence harmless.

The same would be true of the HUMINT, especially if classified at the level the Post and its sources claim. Any sources and methods potentially exposed would have to be replaced, again at significant cost. And this episode would make new sources — and our existing nuclear allies — a lot less enthusiastic about trusting and working with us in the future. Assuming that all of the report is accurate, then Trump’s claim that the material was declassified wouldn’t make much sense, because this kind of material would never just get declassified without considerable consultation with allies and/or intel operations. [See addendum below on these points.]

However, this raises a question about the leak. Earlier leaks certainly appeared to come out of the DoJ, although some others insisted that the DoJ doesn’t leak. It’s tough to see who else benefits from this leak, however, and who else would have had access to these details. On a cui bono basis, one has to assume the leak came from either the DoJ or the intel communities read into the case. Trump’s lawyers almost certainly wouldn’t be leaking this — it makes Trump look terrible, and perhaps accurately so. The intent of this leak is clearly to rebut the public political case Trump has made after the raid. Who does that benefit — and among those, who would have this level of detail on material that’s so closely held that few if any of the investigators have access to it?

It’s that kind of manipulative leaking that undermines confidence in the information presented here, because it’s being leaked for a pretty clear purpose. It may be months before we can get corroboration on these leaked claims. And that sounds …. very familiar. Anyone else recall all of the leaks from the House Intelligence Committee and the Mueller probe about all the evidence they had of Russian collusion involving Trump? Or for that matter, leaks from HIC and the intel community about how Hunter Biden’s laptop was almost definitely Russian disinformation? How did those pan out?

Maybe all this is accurate, but trust in leaks and media reporting is at a low for a reason. Better to reserve judgment until we get this from actual court documents rather than selective leaking.

Finally, what does this do to Trump’s legal case, assuming it’s accurate? Probably not much at all. If they’re planning to charge Trump over mishandling classified material, the specific topics of the classified material won’t change the charge. The relevant Espionage Act statutes cover all forms of classification; it could impact sentencing if it gets that far, but not Trump’s legal liability.  Neither do they have any real impact on obstruction charges, which relate to Trump’s alleged efforts to stop the investigation, not the documents themselves. This only changes the political environment around the investigation … which is, again, a very familiar feeling.

That’s why it’s best to take all of this with a grain of salt until — and if — this gets into court. The leakers have an agenda. It doesn’t mean that they’re not giving out accurate information, but the pattern and outcomes of these leaks over the years have made it difficult to just assume that they are.

Addendum: By the way, in case it’s slipped everyone’s memory, these were the same issues that arose with Hillary Clinton and her four-year mishandling and open transmission of classified information via her server. We brought these up then, and they apply now. That’s why we require massive security precautions for such information.