Friday, 19 May 2017

Will Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's lack of judgement place Australia at risk?

Prime Minister and Liberal MP for Wentworth, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, was happy to say this to the Australian people on 20 April 2017, during an interview with ABC TV 7.30 current affairs host Leigh Sales:

“I do. I trust the judgment, the wisdom of the American government, the president and the vice president.”

Two days later he meets with U.S. Vice President Pence in Sydney and showers him with uncritical praise of American policy.

Two weeks after that he was in the United States meeting with President Donald Trump and expressing solidarity with his government.

Of that visit the prime minister stated; “It was great for Lucy and I to meet with the president and Mrs Trump. Again, that was more family than formal.”

Given the following, one wonders if Australia should trust the current U.S. government as much as Turnbull professes he does.

The Washington Post, 15 May 2017:

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

The New York Times, 15 May 2017:

In fact, the current official said that Mr. Trump shared granular details of the intelligence with the Russians. Among the details the president shared was the city in Syria where the ally picked up information about the plot, though Mr. Trump is not believed to have disclosed that the intelligence came from a Middle Eastern ally or precisely how it was gathered.

General McMaster did not address that in naming the city, in Islamic State-controlled territory, Mr. Trump gave Russia an important clue about the source of the information.

Like the United States, Russia is also fighting in Syria, where it has stationed troops and aircraft. The two countries share some information, but the cooperation is extremely limited, and each has widely divergent goals in the civil war there.

Russia’s primary focus has been propping up the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, not directly battling the Islamic State. The United States, in contrast, views the Islamic State as the primary threat, and is aiding rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State and the Syrian government.

The Washington Post, 16 May 2017:
H.R. McMaster, the president's top security adviser, repeatedly described the president's actions in a press briefing just a day after a Washington Post story revealed that Trump had shared deeply sensitive information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last week.
"In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged," McMaster said. "It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did."
McMaster refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified. However, because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely that his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.
McMaster added that Trump made a spur-of-the-moment decision to share the information in the context of the conversation he was having with the Russian officials. He said that "the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from" and had not been briefed on the source.
McMaster's pushback came just hours after Trump himself acknowledged Tuesday morning in a pair of tweets that he had indeed revealed highly classified information to Russia — a stunning confirmation of the Washington Post story and a move that seemed to contradict his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report.
Trump's tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, “code-word” information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during the White House meeting last week.
Trump described his talks with the Russians as “an openly scheduled” meeting at the White House. In fact, the gathering was closed to all U.S. media, although a photographer for the Russian state-owned news agency was allowed into the Oval Office, prompting national security concerns.
The Atlantic, 16 May 2017:
Would the president have so abjectly tried to impress representatives of any other country? He blabbed because he bragged, and he bragged because he values Russia’s and Putin’s goodwill so bizarrely much. As the economist Justin Wolfers noted, if officials had not revealed the truth to the media, the Russians would now genuinely have damaging kompromat on Trump: the secret of a dereliction of duty that would have gotten anybody else in government fired, if not indicted.

On 18 May 2017 the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has set a 9.30am 24 May 2017 hearing date to investigate if President Trump interfered in an FBI probe into the his election campaign's ties to Russia.

Even in the face of Trump’s intelligence disclosures to the Russians Turnbull declares his trust in the current U.S. Government.
As a member of the top-secret Five Eyes global surveillance and intelligence sharing group Australia is potentially affected by Trump’s loose lips and, it is becoming increasingly possible that a prime minister who trusts Trump is an additional risk to his own country's national security.

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