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Officials: Trump Revealed Intelligence Secrets To Russians In Oval Office

By Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation, two U.S. officials said on Monday, plunging the White House into another controversy just months into Trump’s short tenure in office.

The intelligence, shared at a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, was supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials with knowledge of the situation said.

The White House declared the allegations, first reported by the Washington Post, incorrect.

“The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House, adding that the leaders reviewed a range of common threats including to civil aviation.

“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known…I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” he said.

The White House also released a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the Oval Office meeting focused on counterterrorism, and from Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, who called the Washington Post story false.

Still, the news triggered concern in Congress.

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, called Trump’s conduct “dangerous” and “reckless”.

Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling” if true.

“Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to come to grips with all that’s happening,” he said of the White House.

The latest controversy came as Trump’s administration reels from the fallout over his abrupt dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey and amid congressional calls for an independent investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

One of the officials said the intelligence discussed by Trump in his meeting with Lavrov was classified “Top Secret” and held in a secure “compartment” to which only a handful of intelligence officials have access.

After Trump disclosed the information, which one of the officials 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 around the world, 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 a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement, the U.S. officials said.

Since taking office in January, Trump has careened from controversy to controversy, complaining on the first day about news coverage of his inauguration crowds; charging his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, with wiretapping; and just last week firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into potential ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.

Trump, a Republican who has called allegations of links between his campaign team and Russia a “total scam,” sharply criticized his 2016 election rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, for her handling of classified information as secretary of state, when she used a private email server.

The FBI concluded that no criminal charges against Clinton were warranted, but Comey said she and her colleagues had been “careless” with classified information.

In his conversations with the Russian officials, Trump appeared to be boasting about his knowledge of the looming threats, telling them he was briefed on “great intel every day,” an official with knowledge of the exchange said, according to the Post.

Some U.S. officials have told Reuters they have been concerned about disclosing highly classified intelligence to Trump.

One official, who requested anonymity to discuss dealing with the president, said last month: “He has no filter; it’s in one ear and out the mouth.”

One of the officials with knowledge of Trump’s meeting with the Russian called the timing of the disclosure “particularly unfortunate,” as the President prepares for a White House meeting on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, an ally in the fight against Islamic State.

Trump’s first foreign trip also begins later this week and includes a stop in Saudi Arabia, another Islamic State foe, and a May 25 NATO meeting in Brussels attended by other important U.S. allies. He also has stops planned in Israel and the Vatican.

The president’s trip and latest uproar over his meeting with Russian officials come amid rumors that he might shake-up his senior staff in a bid to refocus his administration.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander, Mark Hosenball, Susan Cornwell, Ayesha Rascoe and Steve Holland; Editing by Kieran Murray and Bill Tarrant)

FILE PHOTO: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) walks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting at the State Department in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas /File Photo

Why ISIS, Al Qaeda, And Iran’s Mullahs All Love Donald Trump

Have Americans really become a nation of gullible cowards? Sometimes it looks that way. Take President Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Middle Eastern and North African countries. If you think it has anything whatsoever to do with protecting against terrorist attacks, then you haven’t been paying attention.

The Trump administration’s policies are designed not to deal with real problems in the visible world, but to rile up partisan ignoramuses here in the USA. Also to stimulate nativism and fear of dark-skinned foreigners, and to make Democrats appear to be defending Muslims instead of the Constitution.

Poorly thought out and incompetently drafted, to the extent that Trump’s order has anything to do with ISIS or al Qaeda terrorists, it will help them. The reasons are quite simple, and pretty much undeniable.

New York Times reporter David Zucchino spoke with Iraqi soldiers barricaded inside the city of Mosul, where they are fighting a brutal house-to-house battle against ISIS fighters for control of the country’s second-biggest city. Its outcome is crucial to breaking the terrorist insurrection for good.

“If America doesn’t want Iraqis because we are all terrorists, then America should send its sons back to Iraq to fight the terrorists themselves,” Capt. Ahmed Adnan al-Musawe said. Officers and enlisted men interviewed in Mosul unanimously described Trump’s order as a grave insult to their honor, and that of their fallen comrades.

The Iraqi commanding officer in Mosul said “This decision by Trump blows up our liberation efforts of cooperation and coordination with American forces.” English-speaking Brig. Gen. Mizhir Khalid al-Mashhadani described himself as astounded by the president’s order. He added that American officers in Iraq helping to train Iraqi forces thought it hasty and badly-considered.

It’s not for nothing that former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Madeleine Albright described Trump’s order in a court filing as “ill-conceived, poorly implemented and ill-explained”—and an obvious impediment to persuading Muslims to resist Islamic extremism.  Meanwhile, ISIS propagandists couldn’t have been happier. They crowed that exactly as they’d alleged all along, America had now declared war on Islam.

Even Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei—a resolute foe of Sunni Arab extremism—found something to like in Trump’s bungling. “We actually thank this new president! We thank him, because he made it easier for us to reveal the real face of the United States,” he said “Now, with everything he is doing—handcuffing a child as young as 5 at an airport—he is showing the reality of American human rights.”

Never mind that the handcuffing thing falls under the heading of Fake News. Didn’t happen. Even so, Trump handed the Iranian leader a big propaganda gift even as he tried to close the door on Persian refugees from the Ayatollah’s oppressive regime. Should it matter that Iran has never been implicated in a terrorist act in the United States? Not one. Ever.

Of course it should, but to Trump’s henchmen—the president evidently never read the fool thing—it didn’t. Here in Arkansas, one of the state’s most beloved citizens, former Gov. and Sen. David Pryor, is probably alive today due to the emergency intervention of two brilliant Iranian neurosurgeons—immigrant brothers—at a Fayetteville hospital. For my money, the U.S. can’t admit enough Persian immigrants, heirs to one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

And for pretty much the same reasons all eight of my Irish great-grandparents were welcomed to America more than a century ago: poverty and oppression. A lot of people were suspicious of their religion too.

But that was back when, whatever their shortcomings, Americans tended to be a brave, self-confident people. Today, millions of timid ignoramuses cower behind TV screens listening to a preposterous blowhard vow to protect them from a scary threat few can even define.

So should it matter that there have been zero domestic fatalities at the hands of terrorists from any of the seven countries Trump named? Well, you’d think so. Of course if the travel ban had anything to do with an actual threat, it would center upon countries like Saudi Arabia where the majority of the 9/11 terrorists originated. However, the Saudis have three things nobody in Yemen, Sudan, or Somalia can boast: oil, money, and Trump Organization investments.

So that’s out of the question. Anyway, vetting of immigrants from Middle Eastern countries is already strong, and has been ever since 9/11. The process can take years. That’s part of the reason why more Americans by far (22) were killed by cows in 2016 than by foreign terrorists (0).

 But then, as I say, this entire exercise in folly has nothing to do with resisting ISIS, a stateless band of murdering psychopaths that nevertheless poses no existential threat to Americans. Instead, it’s about atavistic fears, racial contempt and misplaced zeal for our preposterous comic-opera president.

So: Delusional or a pathological liar?

We report, you decide.

Exclusive: Trump To Focus Counter-Extremism Program Solely On Islam

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.

Such a change would reflect Trump’s election campaign rhetoric and criticism of former President Barack Obama for being weak in the fight against Islamic State and for refusing to use the phrase “radical Islam” in describing it. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for attacks on civilians in several countries.

The CVE program aims to deter groups or potential lone attackers through community partnerships and educational programs or counter-messaging campaigns in cooperation with companies such as Google and Facebook.

Some proponents of the program fear that rebranding it could make it more difficult for the government to work with Muslims already hesitant to trust the new administration, particularly after Trump issued an executive order last Friday temporarily blocking travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Still, the CVE program, which focuses on U.S. residents and is separate from a military effort to fight extremism online, has been criticized even by some supporters as ineffective.

A source who has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the program said Trump transition team members first met with a CVE task force in December and floated the idea of changing the name and focus.

In a meeting last Thursday, attended by senior staff for DHS Secretary John Kelly, government employees were asked to defend why they chose certain community organizations as recipients of CVE program grants, said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

Although CVE funding has been appropriated by Congress and the grant recipients were notified in the final days of the Obama administration, the money still may not go out the door, the source said, adding that Kelly is reviewing the matter.

The department declined comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

PROGRAM CRITICIZED

Some Republicans in Congress have long assailed the program as politically correct and ineffective, asserting that singling out and using the term “radical Islam” as the trigger for many violent attacks would help focus deterrence efforts.

Others counter that branding the problem as “radical Islam” would only serve to alienate more than three million Americans who practice Islam peacefully.

Many community groups, meanwhile, had already been cautious about the program, partly over concerns that it could double as a surveillance tool for law enforcement.

Hoda Hawa, director of policy for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said she was told last week by people within DHS that there was a push to refocus the CVE effort from tackling all violent ideology to only Islamist extremism.

“That is concerning for us because they are targeting a faith group and casting it under a net of suspicion,” she said.

Another source familiar with the matter was told last week by a DHS official that a name change would take place. Three other sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such plans had been discussed but were unable to attest whether they had been finalized.

The Obama administration sought to foster relationships with community groups to engage them in the counterterrorism effort. In 2016, Congress appropriated $10 million in grants for CVE efforts and DHS awarded the first round of grants on Jan. 13, a week before Trump was inaugurated.

Among those approved were local governments, city police departments, universities, and non-profit organizations. In addition to organizations dedicated to combating Islamic State’s recruitment in the United States, grants also went to Life After Hate, which rehabilitates former neo-Nazis and other domestic extremists.

Just in the past two years, authorities blamed radical and violent ideologies as the motives for a white supremacist’s shooting rampage inside a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and Islamist militants for shootings and bombings in California, Florida, and New York.

One grant recipient, Leaders Advancing & Helping Communities, a Michigan-based group led by Lebanese-Americans, has declined a $500,000 DHS grant it had sought, according to an email the group sent that was seen by Reuters. A representative for the group confirmed the grant had been rejected, but declined further comment.

“Given the current political climate and cause for concern, LAHC has chosen to decline the award,” said the email, which was sent last Thursday, a day before Trump issued his immigration order, which was condemned at home and abroad as discriminating against Muslims while the White House said it was to “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards and Dustin Volz in Washington, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Jonathan Weber and Grant McCool)

IMAGE: President Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, at the Homeland Security headquarters. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump Seeks To Reassure CIA Staff At Headquarters Rally

LANGLEY, Va./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump tried to ease tensions with the CIA on Saturday, telling officers he had their back after he had leveled unprecedented criticism against spy agencies for their investigation into Russian hacking during the election.

In his first official visit to a government agency as president, Trump – who had said U.S. intelligence tactics were reminiscent of Nazi Germany – sought to leave no doubt with officers that he supported their work.

Even so, some analysts said it would take more than a quick visit for Trump to patch up relations with a community that he has denigrated. A large part of Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks on Saturday were not related to the work of the CIA, at times sounding more like a campaign rally than an address to intelligence professionals.

Trump made no mention of Russia during his remarks, which included praise for his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, a pledge to fight Islamic State and a rant against the media, which he said invented his feud with intelligence agencies.

“Very, very few people could do the job you people do and I want you to know I am so behind you,” Trump said, to cheers and loud applause from about 400 officers who packed the building’s atrium to hear him speak.

Ahead of his inauguration, Trump had harshly criticized intelligence officials after they concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed hackers to breach Democratic emails to try to boost Trump’s presidential election campaign. He has since accepted those conclusions.

Then, after leaks about an unsubstantiated dossier compiled by a private security firm suggesting Moscow had compromising information about him, Trump blamed intelligence agencies for using Nazi-like tactics – drawing a rebuke from outgoing CIA Director John Brennan.

Trump has said he wants to try to work with Moscow to fight Islamic State militants and reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

He said reporters made up the tension between him and the CIA. “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest people on earth,” Trump said. “They made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence people.”

Trump also slammed media for showing images of “an empty field” from his inauguration on the National Mall while he claimed that the crowd “went all the way back to the Washington Monument.” And he called out by name a reporter who had made an error in a White House press pool report.

While Trump has some support in the U.S. intelligence community, his criticism over the Russia issue eroded much of it. Within the 17-agency intelligence community, there are widely shared concerns about the qualifications and judgment of Trump, a businessman and television star who never before held public office.

Some veteran analysts who have spent their careers studying foreign dictators and autocrats have said they are troubled by Trump’s style, saying his negativity, egotism and appeals to nationalism are hallmarks of autocratic regimes.

“Many people are asking whether we can serve under a president and national security adviser who’ve expressed such contempt for the intelligence community, and one photo opportunity drive-by on a Saturday is not going to change that,” said a veteran officer now working at CIA headquarters after multiple assignments overseas, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Paul Pillar, a former top U.S. intelligence analyst on the Middle East, said Trump’s digressions during the speech show that “even when he is in their own building he can’t be bothered to focus on their work.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee, said Trump’s speech in front of a memorial wall with stars representing CIA personnel killed in action was “little more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of their service and sacrifice.”

Trump had originally hoped to swear in Pompeo as his new CIA chief during the visit to the spy agency. But the Senate has not yet confirmed the Kansas Republican representative for the job. That vote is expected on Monday.

Trump and Pompeo received briefings at the CIA headquarters before the president made remarks.

Trump vowed he would return to speak with officers again. He said fighting Islamic State militants would be a priority for the agency, saying “radical Islamic terrorism” had to be eradicated.

“We have not used the real abilities that we have. We’ve been restrained,” Trump said. It was not immediately clear what he meant by restraints.

During his campaign, Trump pledged to bring back the use of waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that former President Barack Obama had banned as torture.

But Pompeo and Trump’s new defense secretary, James Mattis, have told Congress they would oppose a return to the interrogation technique.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: President Donald Trump leaves the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters accompanied by National security adviser General Michael Flynn (2nd L)  after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia U.S., January 21, 2017. U.S. REUTERS/Carlos Barria