The source of the classified intelligence that U.S. President Donald Trump shared with Russian officials during a meeting at the White House last week is Israel, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The report cited a current U.S. official and a former one.
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The intelligence was shared at a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. The unnamed officials said Israel had previously urged the U.S. to be cautious with the said information. The revelation that Trump shared sensitive intelligence with Russia raises the possibility that the information could lead to it leaked onward to Iran.
The New York Times report said Israeli officials refused to confirm that Israel was the source of the information. But BuzzFeed News quoted two Israeli intelligence officials as saying that Israel had shared information with the United States on an Islamic State plan to sneak explosive-laden laptops onto planes. The New York Times' report that the U.S. president had shared Israeli intelligence with Russia was Israel's "worst fears confirmed," one of the officers was quoted as saying.
Trump is set to visit Israel next week.
Cooperation between the Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies has intensified over the past two decades, with most of the joint operations directed, according to reports, against Iran, but also targeting Hezbollah and Hamas. An official agreement in 2008 for comprehensive cooperation, including the exposure of sources and methods of action, reportedly led to impressive results, including the disruption of the Iranian nuclear program.
The report quoted an emailed response from Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer saying "Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump."
White House spokesman Sean Spicer refused to say whether Israel was the source of the intelligence, and referred reporters to Dermer's statement.
At a Tuesday press briefing, Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said that the president did not have an inappropriate conversation or one that caused a lapse in national security when he met with senior Russian officials last week at the White House.
McMaster said at the briefing that "the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source."
In January it was reported that Israeli intelligence officials were concerned that the exposure of classified information to their American counterparts in the Trump administration could lead to their being leaked to Russia and onward to Iran. The intelligence concerns, which had been discussed in closed forums, were based on suspicions of ties between Trump, or his associates, and the government of Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
According to the January report, American officials under Barack Obama implied that Israel should “be careful” when transferring intelligence information to the White House and the National Security Council following Trump's inauguration.
Trump essentially confirmed the Washington Post's bombshell report about his exposing of highly classified information provided by a close ally to senior Russian officials on Tuesday, tweeting that he has "the absolute right" to share information with who he pleases.
After Trump disclosed the information, which an official described as spontaneous, officials immediately called the CIA and the National Security Agency, both of which have agreements with a number of allied intelligence services, and informed them what had happened.
While the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize what they called a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement, U.S. officials said.
Amir Tibon and Reuters contributed to this report.