Did the U.S. Extract a Top Spy From Russia, Fearing Inadvertent Exposure by Trump Administration?

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

A spy described as one of the “highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government” was removed from Russia in part due to concerns that the Trump administration “repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence.”


Fake news? Or is there some justification for the concerns of U.S. intelligence?


The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.

The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.

Prior to that meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov, the CIA warned the Israeli government to “avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials” because of the casual, negligent handling of sensitive intelligence by the White House.

In addition to that breach of protocol, Trump tweeted a classified photo while revealing an operation against the Iranian missile program.

As MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported, it wasn’t long before observers started wondering whether Trump had publicly released classified material.

Two outside experts said the image that accompanied the tweet would be available only to a government source and was very likely classified.

They noted the resolution on the image is higher than images available to anyone but the government. It could have come from a presidential intelligence briefing, they said. […]

With his detailed public message, the president could be letting Tehran know that the U.S. is watching, analysts suggested. In the process, however, Trump might have disclosed critical aspects of U.S. intelligence capabilities, something usually done only for important tactical reasons, including public presentation of evidence to the United Nations Security Council to buttress U.S. claims about a military incident.


But all of this is perception, not fact. So was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo exaggerating his concerns about the release of classified intel?

At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset. An extraction, or “exfiltration” as such an operation is referred to by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary remedy when US intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger.
A US official said before the secret operation there was media speculation about the existence of such a covert source, and such coverage or public speculation poses risks to the safety of anyone a foreign government suspects may be involved. This official did not identify any public reporting to that effect at the time of this decision and CNN could not find any related reference in media reports.
The CIA categorically denies any such concerns played a role in extracting the asset.
Asked for comment, Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN: “CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
So in the end, it depends on your point of view and whether you believe not only were there genuine concerns about Trump’s handling of intelligence, but that those concerns had anything to do with pulling the CIA’s man out of Russia.
Given CNN’s track record in covering this president, there is plenty of room for doubt.


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