Former Intel officials say 2019 Oval Office incident perfectly illustrates Trump’s approach to state secrets

Senior intelligence officials soon realized that President Donald Trump would not even read short written summaries of his regular intelligence briefings. So the CIA officers preparing the briefings made sure to stock the Oval Office with stunning photos, pared-down charts and slick graphics designed to capture the president’s fleeting interest. Several officials familiar with the briefing told NBC News.

“To get his attention, you had to use pictures and catchy headlines, even better if they had his name on them,” said Doug London, a former CIA officer who compiled the briefing materials. I helped.

On August 30, 2019, top spies realized the dangers of this approach. What unfolded that day became an infamous moment in Trump’s presidency — a moment that former intelligence officials say defined his approach to dealing with state secrets. A former senior intelligence official told NBC News that Trump had indeed tweeted a top-secret photo taken by a secret spy satellite, as many experts suspected at the time. And in doing so, the official and others said, Trump gave America’s adversaries deep insight into America’s capabilities to spy from above.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton told NBC News that “the president tweeted a photo of an Iranian missile launch site showing a failed ICBM test that everyone acknowledged was It was a top secret photo taken from space.” Monday. “He tweeted it, and of course he classified it by definition, but it also showed what can happen when such an image, even on a Twitter attachment, is analyzed by foreign intelligence services. Be able to.”

After the explosion at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center (Donald J. Trump Twitter account via AP).

Bolton and others familiar with the matter say the incident is indicative of a mindset in which Trump or those close to him thought his compound at Mar-a-Lago was in what the FBI says is highly classified. Carrying and storage of documents is permissible.

“He spent no time understanding what was classified and what we protected,” said another former senior intelligence official.

A former senior official with direct knowledge of the matter explained to NBC News that the president’s intelligence briefing that day included an image from one of America’s premier spy satellites — an image with a resolution higher than any on the commercial market. It is more than a thing. The picture shows the aftermath of a catastrophic failure of an Iranian rocket launch.

“We blew up this image of an Iranian missile, and it was brilliant intelligence, and he didn’t even wait,” the former official said. “As soon as we showed it to him, he said, ‘Hey, I’m tweeting this.’

CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire tried to talk Trump out of doing so, the official said, noting that the U.S. has developed capabilities to take images from space. spent billions of dollars to do it, and told Trump, “You can’t do it. . . if you pull it out, they’ll understand what we’re capable of.”

But the former official said Trump is unmoved.

“He said, ‘Look, I’m the president, I can reveal anything,'” the official said.

Trump was told they were correct, but intelligence officials asked Trump to wait, so they could provide the same image with a lower resolution, the official said.

Robert O’Brien, who will soon replace Bolton as national security adviser, and Vice President Mike Pence were also at the briefing, the former official said.

Pence, O’Brien, Haspel and Maguire declined to comment. Former President Trump’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Presidents have declassified satellite images in the past, such as in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy released photos of Soviet missile sites during the Cuban Missile Crisis. .

The satellite photo was not the only instance in which Trump was accused of leaking classified information.

As NBC News reported at the time, Trump told the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office in May 2017 that the Islamic State had used stolen airport security equipment to test a bomb. which can be hidden in electronic devices and remain undetected. Officials said the plane’s cabin. And he named the city in ISIS-held Syria where the intelligence was gathered, the officials added.

After the Iran photo incident, the former official said, senior intelligence officials vowed never to bring top-secret photos into the Oval Office again.

Bolton, a former national security adviser and former CIA officer in London, said Trump would ask for top-secret photos, charts or other documents.

“The president had a habit of asking to keep sensitive documents and from time to time, he did and we don’t know what happened to them,” Bolton said. “And that was always a concern, because he didn’t really fully understand the risks of means and methods and other risks of disclosing classified information that it could get to the wrong people.”

“If he decided he liked something he saw, you’d have to return it,” London said.

To combat this, London said, the briefers would use photos blown up to the size of posters so Trump couldn’t pick them up.

Another former senior intelligence official said Trump “didn’t act like he felt a responsibility to protect secrets. He just didn’t understand.”

Mark Zaid, a lawyer who handles cases involving intelligence officers and classified information, told NBC News that Trump alone could not have been responsible for all of the classified material that was accessed at Mar-a-Lago. received

“I don’t think anybody realistically thinks that Donald Trump took the documents off his desk, packed them in a U-Haul box, put them on a helicopter, took them off the helicopter, took them to Mar—a -Put in Lago.” He said. “Others did it. There must be at least several others who are within the scope of the Justice Department to prosecute under the Espionage Act and other laws.

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