In the “Inauguration Issue” (January/February 2017) of Politico Magazine, Journalist Garrett M. Graff – describing how the president of the United States “has more access to official secrets than any other human being in the country—and the potential to know more about the world than anyone else on the planet,” had a prescient warning:
Given Trump’s behavior so far, it seems almost assured that he will deploy and weaponize those same secrets in “unpresidented” ways, to win personal fights and minor PR battles.
Historically, such information has been kept tightly held, but given Trump’s flair for the theatrical and his proclivity for scorched-earth tactics with his opponents—to say nothing of his friendship with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker—perhaps we’ll soon be learning a lot more about our allies and foes around the world.
Well, America didn’t have to wait long.
Just three months later, according to Wikipedia, “In an April 29, 2017, phone call, Trump told Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte that the U.S. had positioned two nuclear submarines off the coast of North Korea… The locations of nuclear submarines are a closely guarded secret, even from the Navy command itself.”
Then, a little more than a week later, according to The New York Times, in a White House meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, Trump “boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected…”
[Two-and-a-half years later, Business Insider reported: “The US decided to extract a top-secret source from Russia after President Donald Trump revealed classified information to two Russian officials in 2017…the US was concerned that Trump and his administration routinely mishandled classified intelligence and that their actions could expose the covert source as a spy within the Russian government.”]
In August of 2019, “Trump tweeted what appears to be a classified [National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite surveillance] image of a failed Iranian rocket launch, and said the US didn’t sabotage the effort.” In doing so, Trump “may have shared classified material” prompting experts to warn that “publishing the material could give adversaries valuable information about the US’ intelligence gathering capabilities.’”
Before Trump’s tweet, the only confirmed photographs from a KH-11 satellite was leaked in 1984 by a U.S. Navy analyst who went to prison for espionage, Wikipedia reports.
In October of last year, Trump “painted a vivid picture for the world of the deadly U.S. military raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a raid that only a small number of people witnessed in real time.”
The only problem, according to NBC News:
A few of those colorful details were wrong. Many of the rest were either highly classified or tactically sensitive, and their disclosure by the president made intelligence and military officials cringe, according to current and former U.S. officials.
And now, as Jennifer Szalai simply says in his review of Bob Woodward’s ‘Rage,’ “Enter Trump, who in his first interview with Woodward dropped hints about a ‘secret new weapons system…’”
But it is a little more serious and complicated than that.
In that first interview, Trump tells Woodward:
“I have built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before…We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about.” Adding, “We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before…There’s nobody — what we have is incredible.”
Varun Hukeri at the Daily Caller says that Woodward later spoke to anonymous sources who confirmed that the U.S. military had a previously undisclosed nuclear weapons system and that “the sources were reportedly surprised that Trump had disclosed its existence.”
According to Hukeri:
James Acton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s nuclear policy program, suggested in a tweet Wednesday that Trump might have been referring to the Trident D5 ballistic missile. The low-yield and submarine-launched weapons system was first hinted at in the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review…
Of course, Trump apologists “explain,” deny, even defend such reports.
Trump himself has declared that he has the power, the “absolute right” to declassify material at will.
Perhaps. But at what cost?
A December 8, 2016 TIME essay by Albinko Hasic describes the significance of the “Loose Lips May Sink Ships” and similar posters produced during World War II:
The United States was afraid of critical information being intercepted by the Axis, which could lead to mass casualties if the enemy acquired prior knowledge of ship lanes and troop movements.
The OWI ( Office of War Information) campaign commissioned unpaid artists to submit their work, using various symbolisms to get the message across. One of the most popular types of “silence” posters featured the image of grieving family members, or even pets, mourning the loss of those who had been killed as a result of reckless speech… Other posters depicted the Nazis “awarding” medals or acknowledgements to American citizens who had “contributed information” leading to their victories…the posters remain an important indication of the extent to which the entire population was mobilized for war.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.