Tuesday May 16, 2017

How Trump sharing intel with Russia could create an 'intelligence vacuum' and put Canadians at risk

Donald Trump put intelligence gathering in jeopardy for all U.S. allies, says a former CSIS agent.

Donald Trump put intelligence gathering in jeopardy for all U.S. allies, says a former CSIS agent. (Michael Reynolds/Getty Images)

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Intelligence officials are on edge after an explosive Washington Post report that U.S. President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with Russia.

Several officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the newspaper that Trump revealed so-called "code-word" intel during an Oval Office meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, putting a source of ISIS intelligence at risk.The New York Times reports the intel came from Israel, a longtime U.S. ally.

Trump and his surrogates have denied doing any wrongdoing, with the president tweeting on Tuesday that he shared "facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety" with Russia, which is his "absolute right." 

That's cold comfort for François Lavigne, a former CSIS agent who specialized in counter-intelligence. He told As It Happens host Carol Off this could have widespread implications for all the U.S.'s closest allies — including Canada. Here is a part of their conversation.

Carol Off: What concerns do you have about the fact that this happened?

François Lavigne: He is the leader of the free world. As a result, it's going to create sort of an intelligence vacuum for all the allies.

Because this is now in the media and is such a big thing, it means that all of the other countries like Great Britain and France and Germany and Israel of course, and even Canada, are going to have to be much, much, much more careful about what they pass, what they share, because they have to protect their assets and their sources. 

CO: What do you think that does for security?

FL: It means that different countries are going to have to rely on themselves to carry out operations, to carry out assessments, because they won't be able to sit down at a table with everybody and share the way they did.

So it's going to create a vacuum, it's going to mean there's not as much co-ordination as there has been, and it's going to reduce the effectiveness of intelligence sharing.

CO: Specifically, what does it mean for Canada?

FL:  In terms of Canadian security interests, it's not that significant because the U.S. doesn't necessarily share that much with us and we don't necessarily share so much with them. We're not a big player in terms of foreign intelligence. We're really newbies, and so from that aspect, it's not really going to have much of a consequence on Canada.

What it will mean, though, it's going to be much more difficult for Canada to obtain intelligence and to share it with the U.S., because as I said, this is going to create a vacuum and it's going to really, really damage co-ordination.

And so that will have an impact on Canada because we won't have as much information and intelligence about what's going on and we will have to work a lot harder with individual allies to compensate.

What it could mean is if Israel, for instance, cuts off the U.S. from certain sources and certain assets, so that the U.S. no longer has eyes and ears the way it did in certain areas, in certain regions of the world, it may be that the U.S. is going to pressure Canada to take up the flack.

And if that happens it may actually put some of our people at risk because they're going to be taking chances that they wouldn't have otherwise taken.

CO: There were reports this afternoon that Israel was the source of the intelligence that was passed on to the Russians at that meeting. How do you think Israel would react to that?

FL: It certainly gives Israel now a very big advantage over the U.S.A. Certainly, they're going to punish the U.S.A. So they're gonna cut off sources of intel. They're going to cut off certain operations.

That's what's really going to be most dangerous, because now the U.S.A. is going to find itself partially blinded in that area and it's going to try to compensate, and by doing so it might put Canada at risk because it's going to ask us to pick up a little bit of the slack.

So it could actually put Canadian lives and Canadian assets at risk.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our full interview with François Lavigne.