Here's my gut-assessment-analysis on that Washington Post story about President Trump giving classified information to Russians. While meeting the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, I believe Trump said something like "We are getting this great intelligence from Raqqah. ISIS is trying to build these bombs that won't trigger airport sensors."
At first glance, there's nothing terribly problematic with that statement. After all, it speaks to two realities the Russians already know.
First, that the Islamic State runs most of its external attack planning (Paris plot, etc.) from Raqqah, Syria. Second, that the United States throws serious intelligence resources at detecting those plans.
But context is king here. Because coming from Trump's mouth, the Russians can put more analytical weight into the way he says what he says. In large part, that's because the Russians know that Trump is a relative intelligence amateur. They know his instinct and understanding predispose him to less caution than other western leaders.
Correspondingly, if, as the Washington Post reports, Trump did excitedly specify where in Syria this intelligence was being collected and what it pertained to (apparently bomb plots against passenger airliners), the Russians would perk up. They would do so, because the mix of locale, excitement, and context would help them tie down how the U.S. collected said information.
At that point, I believe the Russians would immediately have assumed the source was either a human source such as a spy in an Islamic State research and development team, or a technical source such as a computer bug, etc. (sharing the Washington Post's concern for source-protection and despising the Islamic State, I'm going to leave this at "bug").
That said, there is no question that the Russians (and every other hostile intelligence service) are enjoying the ensuing follow-on reporting surrounding this story. Consider what one of the Washington Post reporters involved, Greg Miller, told Fox News earlier today. Pushing back against White House criticism, Miller gave a strong hint towards a technical source being involved.
‘‘A capability like this'', Miller said, ‘‘that helps the United States understand what's happening inside ISIS, could also help, you know, conceivably, provide intelligence on where Russian military assets are, or what Russian planning might be.''
Why does that suggest a technical source? Put simply, because a spy inside the Islamic State is unlikely to have access to any relevant information on Russian force dispositions. Although Russia likes the Islamic State having some measure of success, the Islamic State and Russia are distinct and separate entities.
They do not, for example, share officers and equipment. In turn, if one source could collect on both actors, it would have to be versatile enough to avoid detection. An Islamic State spy could not simply split his days between visits to the Russian base in Tartus, Syria and the Islamic State facilities in Raqqah.
But this is only pontification. The only truth: intelligence remains a wilderness of mirrors.
Tom Rogan (@TomRtweets) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute.
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