US intelligence community reacts with fury to remarks

US President Donald Trump shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly denied that Russia made any effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
US President Donald Trump shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly denied that Russia made any effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump, in the words of former CIA director Michael Hayden, appeared "raw, naked and unfiltered".

Mr John Brennan, another former spy chief, called the President's performance "treasonous". And Mr Mark Lowenthal, a former CIA assistant director and congressional intelligence official, said it was "just beyond the pale".

Mr Trump has frequently questioned the conclusions of his own spies that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election, and has tried to do the same regarding potential Russian meddling in this year's mid-term polls.

But this time, he did it standing next to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has repeatedly denied that Russia made any effort to interfere in the vote - a denial that US intelligence officials say is nothing more than a hollow lie.

But not Mr Trump. Asked on Monday at his news conference in Helsinki whether he believed his own people or Mr Putin, the US President appeared to come down on the side of the Russian leader.

Mr Putin was "extremely strong and powerful in his denial today", Mr Trump said.

Then Mr Trump seemed to throw his support behind a proposal from Mr Putin for some kind of joint investigation into the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, for their alleged role in hacking into Democratic Party servers and state election systems in 2016.

 
 
 

"The odds of that happening are a negative number," said Mr Hayden, who ran the CIA and National Security Agency under President George W. Bush. "It is not going to happen," he said, noting that even with the British and Australians - arguably the US' two closest allies - "we are a little private with our stuff".

The reason, current and former intelligence officials said, was simple: Inviting in the Russians would result in sharing what is known in the intelligence world as sources and methods. Far more than the information spies collect, it is the sources of that information and the methods through which it is gathered that intelligence agencies consider their most closely guarded secrets.

One intelligence official summed up what appeared to be the consensus view: It was clear whose side Mr Trump was on, and "it isn't ours".

Mr Brennan was far more blunt in an assessment delivered via the President's favourite medium, Twitter.

"Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanours,' " he wrote. "It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican patriots: Where are you?"

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'US intelligence community reacts with fury to remarks'. Print Edition | Subscribe