The US reportedly had to remove a key spy from Russia over concerns that President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the most sensitive intelligence might put the person in danger.
In a stunning Monday morning report, CNN’s Jim Sciutto detailed how US intelligence officials were so worried that Trump might accidentally expose the covert asset’s identity that they launched a secret mission to extract the person from Russia in 2017.
That was not a trivial decision, as apparently this person — whose identity remains unknown but who reportedly worked inside the Russian government — was vital to understanding the inner workings of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.
Those concerns continued to grow in the period after Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov. Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes. Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community’s response to the Trump-Putin meeting.
At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset. An extraction, or “exfiltration” as such an operation is referred to by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary remedy when US intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger.