US intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.
The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward US spy agencies.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him.
In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.
A White House official said: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”
Intelligence officials have in the past not told a president or members of Congress about the ins and outs of how they ply their trade. At times, they have decided that secrecy is essential for protecting a source, and that all a president needs to know is what that source revealed and what the intelligence community thinks is important about it.
But in these previous cases in which information was withheld, the decision wasn’t motivated by a concern about a president’s trustworthiness or discretion, the current and former officials said.
It wasn’t clear Wednesday how many times officials have held back information from Mr Trump.
The officials emphasised that they know of no instance in which crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted. Still, the misgivings that have emerged among intelligence officials point to the fissures spreading between the White House and the US spy agencies.
Mr Trump, a Republican, asked on Monday night for the resignation of Mike Flynn, his national security adviser, after the White House said the president lost trust in him, in part, because he misstated the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Last night, Mr Trump castigated the intelligence agencies and the news media, blaming them for Mr Flynn’s downfall.
“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Mr Trump doesn’t immerse himself in intelligence information, and it isn’t clear that he has expressed a desire to know sources and methods. The intelligence agencies have been told to dramatically pare down the president’s daily intelligence briefing, both the number of topics and how much information is described under each topic, an official said. Compared with his immediate predecessors, Mr Trump so far has chosen to rely less on the daily briefing than they did.
The current and former officials said the decision to avoid revealing sources and methods with Mr Trump stems in large part from the president’s repeated expressions of admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his call, during the presidential campaign for Russia to continue hacking the emails of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia stole and leaked emails from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign to undermine the election process and try to boost Mr Trump’s chances of winning, an allegation denied by Russian officials.
Several of Mr Trump’s current and former advisers are under investigation for the nature of their ties to Moscow, according to people familiar with the matter. After Mr Flynn’s dismissal, politicians have called on the government to release the transcripts of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and to disclose whether Mr Trump was aware of or directed Mr Flynn’s conversations.
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Source: Wall Street Journal