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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Real and the Very Unreal

The big media storm of the day began last night.  It's a story about how President Trump spilled classified information to the Russians.  The strangest part of the story is the crazy reaction to it.

Let's start with what happened according to the Washington Post which broke the story.  It's all reported based upon anonymous sources of questionable validity, but here we go:

1.  The President met last week with the Russian Foreign minister in the Oval Office.
2.  During that meeting President Trump told the Russian that the USA has information indicating that ISIS is attempting to launch a series of attacks on commercial airplanes using, in particular, bombs disguised as batteries for laptop computers.
3.  President Trump also told the Russians, according to the WaPo source, the city either in which the ISIS plot is being hatched or in which the information about the plot was learned.
4.  The information about the impending ISIS attack came from intelligence gathered by an American ally, an it was classified.

That's it.  According to the WaPo, Trump disclosed classified information by telling the Russians that their planes may soon be targeted by ISIS using bombs in laptop computers.  Now it's a national uproar.  Predictably, Democrats in Congress are in an uproar.  The media is in an uproar.  Trump disclosed classified information!

Now let's consider what happened.

1.  President Trump has confirmed that he told the Russians about the danger to civil aviation.  And guess what?  The President has the absolute right to do so.  Information is classified only for so long as the President deems it in the national interest to keep it classified.  It is hard to imagine that it is in the national interest to keep silent with the Russians only to later see that some Russian planes get bombed and hundreds killed by ISIS.  Imagine what would happen in relations with Russia if they knew we had advance warning of this plot and did not tell them about it.  So Trump had the right to tell them and also a damn good reason for doing so.

2.  Every American official in the room during the conversation (Secretary of State Tillerson, National Security Adviser McMaster and the Deputy NSA) have all stated that the WaPo story is false and that no means and methods of intelligence were discussed.  This is not a denial that Trump discussed the ISIS threat to airlines; that actually happened.  This is also not a denial that Trump warned the Russians that we knew of a plan by ISIS to attack planes; that too happened.  It is, rather, a denial that Trump did anything that would reveal how we got that intelligence.

3.  It seems that the city where the intelligence was gathered is the big deal in the story.  Supposedly, if the Russians knew that the we got the information from Damascus, for example, it would allow them to stop whatever intelligence service had infiltrated ISIS there.  Of course, one does have to wonder why the Russians would want to stop someone who had infiltrated ISIS. 

So we have the President warning the Russians of an impending ISIS attack.  Anyone who thinks this is a bad thing is nuts; that may explain the outcry from the Democrats and the media.  Then we have a report, disputed by everyone who was in the room, that Trump revealed the city connected to the intelligence.  Did that happen?  I have to side with the three named sources who went on record to say NO rather than with the unnamed sources used by the WaPo.  After all, how did they know?  Think of it this way:  if I tell you something in private and later an unnamed source is quoted in the paper detailing what we said, who is more believable:  the unnamed source who wasn't in the room or you and I who were?

In a way, this is a very unreal story.  For over a year, we heard of the thousands of classified emails that Hillary Clinton put at risk on her private computer system.  As Secretary of State, Hillary had no right to declassify anything; she had a legal duty to keep the classified information secret.  The Democrats and the media yawned and said this is not important.  Now we have the President tell Russia of an impending bomb plot that could kill hundreds.  He had the absolute legal right to do this.  The Democrats and the media go berserk.  It is not just unreal; it is very, very unreal.

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