In a further blow to Donald Trump’s efforts to rebuild America’s relationship with Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, CNN has revealed that the US government extracted one of its highest-covert sources inside the Kremlin. This was confirmed by Trump administration officials with direct knowledge of the situation. A person directly involved in the discussions between the US President, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, in May 2017, said that the removal of the spy was partly driven by concerns that the Trump administration mishandled classified intelligence.
In these circumstances, the US government made the right decision to withdraw the spy immediately if their life was in danger. They were considered the highest level source for the US inside the Kremlin, high up in the national security infrastructure and they had access to Putin. They could even provide images of documents on the Russian President’s desk. The covert source provided intelligence for more than a decade and an attempt to rescue the spy, after exposure concerns, was rebuffed by the informant.
All attempts to blame Trump for the spy’s withdrawal have been rebuked by the CIA. Brittany Brammel, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN that the President’s handling of America’s most sensitive intelligence drove an alleged exfiltration operation is ‘inaccurate.’ This was also confirmed by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, who accused the news channel of inaccurate reporting. Either way, the affair begs the question as to how he should handle information regarding Putin.
Many in the intelligence community are concerned that the President is mishandling information regarding the Russian President in general. At the G20 summit in Hamburg in May 2017, Trump took the controversial step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes, leading to concerns among intelligence officials that he may have discussed classified intelligence with Putin. Yet the problem is that no one can confirm or deny this is what the two leaders talked about now.
The removal of such a valuable source leaves the US increasingly vulnerable to Putin. The US intelligence community regards China and Russia as the two greatest threats to its national security, and they no longer have a source that can provide the most concrete information on the Russian President. Because of the Russian government’s supposed meddling in the 2016 election, an operation that was conducted by Putin himself according to officials, this affair may justify claims the Trump administration has links to the Kremlin.
Furthermore, it leaves the President in a difficult position as to how to approach the Russians. Although Putin and Trump established a good relationship at the 2017 G20 summit, their relations have been damaged along the way by the 2018 Salisbury poisonings that contributed to the deaths of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal. This led to the US sanctioning Moscow further. Trump also blanked the Russian leader at last year’s G20 summit after the Russian seizure of Ukrainian vessels. But at this year’s G20 summit, Putin invited the US President to next year’s Victory Day commemorative events in Moscow.
Trump has good intentions when it comes to the Russians. Relations between the US and Russia have been hostile for a considerable period of time and it helps when two of the world’s most powerful nations are cooperating with each other. But the removal of America’s top spy in the Kremlin only adds to speculation that the US President is too soft on Putin and that the former has links to the latter. It is unclear what the Russian President wants out of this relationship when he is inviting Trump to WW2 celebrations whilst attempting to undermine his allies. This is why the extraction of the US’s most useful spy in the Kremlin is a significant loss to the American intelligence community.