The story was earnest and hotly debated by partisans: The President of the United States, in discussion with Russian officials, revealed highly sensitive materials. Supporters of the president denied such things ever happened as opponents demanded answers.
Then, on Twitter, the president confirmed that he had revealed secrets to the Russians. He gave a reason that ostensibly justified the revelation in his view, but the kernel of the message was that, yes, Trump freely gave sensitive information to Russian officials.
This is disastrous. Not only did Trump speak freely about things best kept secret, he also allowed a Russian photographer into the Oval Office for an unrestrained photo shoot. What other pictures were taken in the Oval Office besides those of Trump and the Russian dignitaries? What documents would have been in view that the photographer would have recorded?
Back to the conversation: in US Army training films from World War Two, the message is emphatic – even if one reveals only bits and pieces of a fact, those bits and pieces are assembled with other bits and pieces to reveal a more complete picture. The training films illustrate this more complete picture with scenes of one’s brothers in arms getting slaughtered by the enemy and an officer delivering a post-mortem condemning those who talked.
Trump claims that he was being helpful and humanitarian. The training films talk about that: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them. Some observers speculate that Trump was bragging about what he knew. The training films talk about that, as well: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them. What about cooking up a story to deliberately mislead? The army’s advice on that is as simple as it is predictable: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them.
While it may not be illegal for a president to breach security, it certainly is unwise. It certainly also has consequences outside the legal system. Elements in what Trump revealed could indicate sources and methods used to acquire the information, even if Trump himself did not discus those things. Once the bits and pieces are combined, that more complete picture could have US intelligence assets picked up for questioning by enemies of the nation. It could have other partners in intelligence sharing hesitate and ask if what they share will eventually make it to the Russians by way of Trump. These consequences are serious.
Whatever his rationalization for revealing the information, Trump should not have revealed it. The Russians can help themselves with their own resources. Humanitarian concerns could be addressed in a host of other ways, without revealing sensitive information. Granted, there are certain topics that must be discussed in such meetings, but they must be discussed in a guarded and deliberate fashion, no matter how genial and cordial one’s discussion partners may be. For everything else, and I mean *everything* else, there’s only one answer and the US Army beat me to it: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them.
Shame on Mr. Trump. He can’t maintain proper security. How sad!