The classified information U.S. President Donald Trump shared with Russian officials reportedly involves an Israeli cyber operation against ISIS.
According to The New York Times, the information Trump divulged concerned how Israel hacked into a cell of Syrian bomb makers who planned to take down airplanes using explosives hidden in laptops. The bombs were disguised as laptop computer batteries and were meant to pass through airport X-ray machines. The Times further reports that this classified information is in part what prompted a March ban prohibiting travelers from eight Muslim-majority countries from bringing electronic devices in carry-on luggage into the U.S. and Britain.
On May 10, Trump told the classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The story raised a number of suspicions, as it occurred the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who headed the investigation into possible meddling by the Russians into the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
According to the New York Post, Kislyak, who secretly spoke with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during the campaign and during the presidential transition, remains an important figure in the investigation.
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Israeli intelligence officials shared the information with the U.S. under the provision that it would not be shared with anybody else, including allies. Trump denied that he shared classified intelligence with the Russians, saying that he only spoke with them about common threats.
The Times reports that the U.S. has been unable to make significant progress against the Islamic State's online operations. The extremist organization has effectively used the internet to recruit new members, spread propaganda and communicate with allies.
"In general, there was some sense of disappointment in the overall ability for cyberoperations to land a major blow against ISIS," said Joshua Geltzer, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council. "This is just much harder in practice than people think. It’s almost never as cool as getting into a system and thinking you’ll see things disappear for good."
Israel's hack into ISIS's communications is considered a rare success and led to more exact information regarding how the weapons could be disguised and detonated.
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U.S. Democrats were outraged at Trump's sharing of the sensitive information, saying that it has the possibility to erode relationships with important foreign allies.
"[A country] could decide it can’t trust the United States with information, or worse, that it can’t trust the president of the United States with information,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee.
U.S. and Israeli officials, however, downplayed the impact of the situation.
"Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump," said Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster agreed, saying the incident would not damage any international relationships and downplaying the sensitive nature of the intelligence shared.
"What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged," McMaster said.