The Current

Trump battles U.S. intelligence agencies amid leaks

Leaks are becoming a go-to strategy for analysts alarmed by the new presidency, but to do so is treasonous and all the more dangerous as Trump signals a war on security breaches.
Michael Flynn resigned Monday as Trump's national security adviser, following reports that he had misled officials about his contacts with Russia. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

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From stories about possible connections between President Trump's election team and Russian hackers, to new insights into the affair of ousted national security advisor, Michael Flynn — U.S. intelligence secrets are leaking to the press daily.

President Trump, however, has focused his ire not on the content of the leaks, but the leaks themselves, promising to catch and punish the intelligence officials behind them.

Intelligence watchers debate the escalating war between Trump and the intel community, as leaking classified information could set a dangerous precedent and is treasonous in the eyes of the law, and yet they are working with a president who is proving exceptionally hostile to both the intelligence community and the press.

Glenn Carle, a retired CIA operations officer and former deputy officer on the National Intelligence Council says analysts and other government employees are facing an "existential crisis."   

What do you do when your oath is to serve the executive — preserve, protect and defend the Constitution by serving the executive — but the executive himself is taking steps, you fear, that undermine the spirit and the letter of the oath?- Glenn  Carle

Glenn Greenwald, a journalist known for his work with Edward Snowden and founder of the online news site The Intercept, says defiance on behalf of intelligence agencies represents a significant threat to American democracy.

Belonging to "the deep state" — agencies who operate permanently and secretively as presidencies change — the intelligence community wields tremendous power that must be restrained, says Greenwald. 

"If the intelligence community starts to see itself as liberated from political officials, and in opposition to those same officials, then to whom is it subordinate? Nobody.  It's this rogue force that operates in the dark and has no one constraining what they can do."

Greenwald points to the recent persecution of leakers like Edward Snowden as proof of the self-serving attitudes of the deep state.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, a fugitive living in Moscow, faces 30 years in prison if found guilty of the charges relating to his leaking of classified materials information in 2013. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

"I find it genuinely amazing as one of the journalists who worked with Edward Snowden — who has watched the CIA and intelligence officials for eight years demand that every leaker, every whistleblower, be harshly imprisoned, even executed in the case of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden — now suddenly arrogate unto themselves the right to leak classified information because they think doing so is justified."  

"I do actually think that there is a justifiability for leakers ... But I think what is very disturbing are the subversive acts of the CIA and the intelligence community that go beyond leaking — like withholding information from the president because they're deciding that he can't be trusted ... that is as much of a threat as Trump poses to democratic norms."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman and Samira Mohyeddin.