The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s Russia leak has countries scared to share intel. That’s really dangerous.

President Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the White House on May 10. (Russian Foreign Ministry via AP)

The news that President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister has America’s allies reeling — and asking whether it’s still safe to share their secrets with the United States.

The information Trump spilled during his meeting with Russian officials last week came not from American intelligence services but from an ally — reportedly Israel. That added another damaging layer to the president’s action.

While not confirming it was the source of the intelligence, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted Wednesday that the two countries' security cooperation was deep and meaningful, and would always be. But other allies might not be so understanding.

“It’s a big deal,” a senior European diplomat told CNN. “We want to make sure sensitive information is handled properly.” A German lawmaker suggested that sharing information with Trump might be dangerous, telling the Associated Press that if the American president “passes this information to other governments at will, then Trump becomes a security risk for the entire Western world.”

If that happens, it would be a catastrophe for national security. The intelligence community maintains “robust” relationships with countries around the world. Members of the “Five Eyes” community (the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) share nearly everything, and the United States also works closely with countries like France, Germany, Japan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

As intelligence experts Eric Rosenbach and Aki Peritz explained in 2009, “other nations often have access to intelligence and can implement direct action that the U.S. requires to pursue its national security interests.”

Those advantages come in many forms. Other countries might have better connections on the ground (particularly in countries hostile to the U.S.) or a stronger cultural understanding of the country in question. Close cooperation between the United States and Britain allowed the countries to thwart a plan to blow up a plane in 2006. In 2003, America and Pakistan worked together to capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11.

Of course, one leak — particularly one committed by accident — probably won’t undo decades of cooperation. And most countries need American intelligence as much, or more, than we need theirs. But top experts say there’s reason to worry.

Jim Jeffrey, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, cautioned this incident “could restrict future reporting.” And Jeremy Bash, the Obama-era Pentagon chief of staff, told the Wall Street Journal that, “giving the Russians intelligence that our counterterrorism partners have asked us to protect ... will ensure that those partners don't share with us the information we need to protect ourselves.”