One thing you can say for Trump: he sure knows how to keep things at a full boil. James Comey? Who? That story is so last week. . .
It’s only Tuesday, but it is fairly safe to predict that Trump’s intelligence-sharing episode in the Oval Office will dominate media focus right through next Sunday’s officious TV news chat shows. Despite all of the breathless analysis of the last 18 hours, there’s still a lot we don’t know.
First, as Scott notes below, McMaster’s denial of the story really only extends to whether Trump shared the source of the purported intelligence about ISIS. That we know ISIS—and/or some other Islamic terrorist organization—is trying to develop a laptop computer bomb for use on a airplane is not a surprise revelation. (As I’m planning a trip to eastern Europe next month, the prospect of flying to and from Europe without my laptop has me breaking out in hives already, so I’m following this story closely.)
What might be new is Trump’s supposed reference to a specific city. But even this is vague: does it mean the city where the intelligence came from, where ISIS is brewing up their explosive laptop, or the city (presumably European) where the ISIS cell is that might try to get the laptop aboard a commercial airplane? This is an important detail, which is necessary to know before reaching a more refined judgment. McMaster this morning, in response to a direct question from my old pal Debra Saunders of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, obfuscated, suggesting the “city” in question was any number of cities in ISIS-controlled territory. Hmmm.
It is a near certainty that we don’t have a complete picture of what took place in the meeting. Did the Russians share any intelligence they have with Trump and his team? McMaster this morning talked about “sharing” intelligence, which everyone thinks means the ally we assume is the source of the intelligence Trump blabbed. Maybe Trump was exchanging some intelligence with Russia? (Obama did: see the dueling headlines below.) Maybe the Russians told us a few things they know? That’s the kind of thing people in the intelligence community hostile to Trump would leave out of their leak to the Post.
The refrain is being raised that allied intelligence services will be reluctant to share intelligence with the US because of Trump’s loose lips. Anyone who thinks allied intelligence services haven’t been withholding intelligence from the U.S. for years is very naive. Foreign intelligence services share with us what they think is in their interest. (McMaster’s last comment this morning ended with the interesting comment that Trump doesn’t actually know the source of the intelligence, which is quite plausible, if he got the information from his CIA daily briefing, which is always a summary.)
It is also interesting to speculate the effect this story could be having on our enemies, especially ISIS. (But what if the “city” where the laptop bomb making is taking place is Tehran?) If ISIS thinks we know the city where they are operating this effort, one can imagine that ISIS functionaries are looking at each other with a high degree of suspicion today. Sowing doubt and confusion among your enemies is one of the principal tasks of counter-intelligence.
Bottom line for this morning: It never surprises how the media is ready to jump to firm conclusions on woefully incomplete information.