US Politics

Intelligence communities concerned about impact of Trump's Russia leak


Concerns about what US President Donald Trump is alleged to have divulged to Russian officials goes well beyond US borders, with implications for allies, including Australia.

There's alarm among intelligence communities about allegations that US President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with senior Russian officials in Washington last week.

It is alleged Mr Trump revealed highly-classified information about a plot, by self-proclaimed Islamic State, to top Russian officials during a meeting last week in the Oval Office.

The Washington Post newspaper cited what it said were current and former US officials as saying the disclosure potentially jeopardised a source of intelligence.

The White House has denied the reports, as has Russia's foreign ministry, both stakeholders labeling the reports are 'fake'.

It is believed the information related to an IS terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

It is also believed Mr Trump's alleged sharing of the information came before the US had shared it with its closest intelligence partners - the so-called Five Eyes alliance, which consists of the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

The group formed in the aftermath of the Second World War and acts as the intelligence eyes and ears of the western world, with a network of shared secretive, high tech surveillance stations and satellites that eavesdrop on telecommunications and internet traffic worldwide.

Associate Professor Patrick Walsh is with the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security at Charles Sturt University.

He told SBS World News the current geopolitical situation, together with Australia's involvement in the Five Eyes alliance, meant it is of particular concern to Australia.

"It's obviously very concerning to the US intelligence community, and to the Five Eyes intelligence community, of which we are part,” he said.

Watch: Trump revealed classified info in ‘boast’ to Russia's foreign minister



“In general terms, yes, leaders talk about political events, and some of that draws from intelligence.

“But, if the allegation is true, it's terribly troubling at a time when the western relationship with Russia is at an all-time low, and there isn't anywhere near the level of trust that expect to allow that sort of thing to happen."

Associate Professor Walsh said this latest event would cause nervousness behind the scenes at high levels of Australia's intelligence community.

He said while it wouldn't ruin the intelligence relationship between Australia and its biggest ally, it would raise alarm bells.

"Publically, political decision makers in Canberra wouldn't comment on this, but naturally, they'd be concerned, as would the Australian intelligence community [be],” Associate Professor Walsh said.

“There's a long history of sharing intelligence with the US and other members of the Five Eyes, and that will survive this administration, because of the broader national interest for that to be the case.

“But it is deeply concerning, I would say, to people in Canberra, and there would be some reticence in terms of that sharing relationship, and some sort of risk management, risk assessment, going on, to the extent that that's possible in Canberra, about sharing intelligence.

“I wouldn't suggest for a minute that the tap is going to be turned off, because that's not in our interest. But there'll certainly be some reticence."

Mr Trump has previously clashed, very publicly, with his own country's intelligence community.

And former Australian ambassador Kim Beazley told the ABC the intelligence and related communities in the US were not happy.

"Trump and his relationships are so comprehensively trashed, his standing with law enforcement and the intelligence community, that the normal level of quietness that emanates from them is no longer doing so," Mr Beazley said.

The federal government has reacted cautiously to the alleged incident.

Government minister Zed Seselja has told Sky News the US intelligence relationship was of great importance to Australia - and any concerns Australia had wouldn’t be played out in public.

"The Five Eyes is very important for Australia,” he said.

“And we benefit greatly from those arrangements. And there is a significant degree of trust within that.

“And we've got no reason to doubt, or have concerns, about any of those issues. Of course, to the extent that there are issues in these relationships- and I'm not suggesting that there are- these would be expressed privately rather than publically."

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