Did Trump’s document theft endanger CIA agents and informants? – National & International News – TUE 6Sep2022

Trump is asking the Supreme Court to once again halt the Justice Department investigation of classified documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate.

 

Did Trump’s document theft endanger CIA agents and informants? Russia conducts war games with China, gets weapons from N. Korea. UK swears in Liz Truss as new Prime Minister.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

Did Trump’s document theft endanger CIA agents and informants?

In a redacted affidavit released last month, DOJ said that several boxes of documents Trump turned over in January contained national defense information and references to U.S. intelligence-gathering methods and confidential informants. This included details about foreign surveillance methods and specific sources.

In October, the New York Times reported on a leaked secret CIA cable warning field operatives about an unusually high number of confidential informants in foreign countries being killed, captured or turned into double agents. In light of the recent revelations about Mar-a-Lago, especially the 90 empty folders (43 labeled “classified” and 47 labeled “Return to staff secretary/military aide”), some legal commentators have raised the possibility that Trump’s mishandling of documents might in some way be connected to the unusually high loss of agents and confidential sources.

Maybe, maybe not

The theory is speculative, but perhaps not wildly so. However, the Times authors cited other reasons for these intelligence failures, including the CIA’s perverse incentive structure. CIA case officers get promotions based on the number of informants they recruit, rather than the value of intelligence they produce or the outcome of the recruitment.

The article also pointed to other tradecraft failures that could account for the poor outcomes. These included: underestimating the capabilities of adversarial intelligences agencies; improper or incomplete vetting of recruits; and an overall tendency by case officers to place “mission over security”. The memo directed frontline case officers to shore up their recruitment practices with security in mind.

Nevertheless, the possibility remains that Trump may have endangered CIA operatives and their informants by allowing a huge number of classified documents on intelligence gathering to go astray (either through malice or carelessness). U.S. intelligence is currently assessing the national security risks from Trump’s mishandling of classified records, so we may soon find out if there’s any “there” there.

Judge grants “special master”

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, granted Trump’s attorneys’ request for a “special master” to review documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago. She also ruled that the FBI’s criminal investigation of Trump’s mishandling of classified documents must remain on hold until the master’s review is complete. 

The Justice Department had argued that appointing a special master would needlessly slow down an investigation already in progress. Special masters typically review document evidence in criminal and civil cases to ensure none are subject to attorney-client privilege. The FBI has already filtered and set aside any such documents.

However, Cannon went even further by ordering that the special master should evaluate whether any of the documents are subject to executive privilege. Her ruling ignores the fact that executive privilege only applies to sitting presidents, not former ones.

Some question whether Trump even had standing to request a special master in the first place. The documents aren’t his property, but belong to the US government. Imagine someone stole your diaries and financial papers, claimed they were entitled to keep them, and then found a judge willing to appoint someone to decide whether they could keep them.

Despite all the legal peculiarities of Cannon’s ruling, DOJ hasn’t yet said whether they will appeal. The two sides have until Friday to submit their candidates for special master. Depending how that process goes, it may be in DOJ’s interest to get the review over with so their investigation can proceed without further impediment. If a special master finds no issues, it could even strengthen DOJ’s case should they seek an indictment. 

 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Russia conducts war games with China, gets weapons from N. Korea

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is producing a global polarizing effect with the U.S. and its allies on one side and Russia, China, and now North Korea on the other. In its western provinces, Russian soldiers has joined with soldiers from China and other countries for massive military exercises. The war games are a show of force and a direct message to the West. Russia and China’s tensions with the West over Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively, seems to have intensified military cooperation between them. 

Additionally, a declassified U.S. intelligence memo reveals that Russia has bought millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea for use in the Ukraine.

 

UK swears in Liz Truss as new Prime Minister

A few weeks ago, under pressure from his own Cabinet, British PM Boris Johnson resigned in disgrace. Since then, many of the leading lights in Britain’s Conservative Party have been jockeying for leadership. In a series of debates, each candidate seemed determined to appeal to the lowest common denominator of their base, touting their enthusiasm for regressive taxes, xenophobic domestic policy and hawkish foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Liz Truss managed to skirt making any particularly odious policy statements, and she has now been sworn in as Britain’s new PM. Truss won an election where only the Conservative Party’s 172,000 dues-paying members could participate. She now leads the UK, having won 0.5% of its vote.

Truss will have to work fast to fend off calls from opposition parties for an early election in October. The Conservatives’ brand has taken many a hit in recent years. When Boris Johnson officially stepped down yesterday, he had a disapproval rating of 65%. Current polling suggests that if a general election took place today, the Labour Party would defeat the Conservatives handily.

Like much of the world, the UK is currently facing high inflation (10%, possibly 13% by October) and an energy crunch. Truss has promised to act to get energy prices under control. Truss faces a lot of distrust and skepticism from labor unions, many of whom are threatening to strike in the coming weeks.

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