Washington (CNN) In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN. A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.
The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel. The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter. (CNN)
In a CNN interview, Mike Rodgers stated it was a fear of Trump’s lack of discipline about intelligence matters after his meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office spurred the decision to extract the source. It was not out of fear that Trump would ever wittingly out the source. I'm glad the extraction was done before Trump's one on one meeting with Putin in Helsinki. We have no idea what he might have blurted out in that meeting.
I’m sure this is not the only concern the IC had about the security and safety of their source. When the IC assessment about Russian activities during the 2016 election came out, I was astonished with the specificity in the key findings about Putin’s plans and intentions. I thought that was putting a key source, collection capability or both in jeopardy. When the NSA only expressed moderate confidence in one of the findings about Putin’s plans and intentions, I was more convinced that it was a human asset who provided that intelligence information rather than a technical capability. That had to weigh heavily in the decision to extract the source in 2017. I was just as shocked with the specificity of the information revealed in the indictments of the IRA and especially the GRU 12. That may also have cost us some collection capabilities.
Some intelligence officers talk rather cavalierly about the dangers their sources sometimes face. They are more concerned about what the loss of a source would do to their reputation. I despise that attitude. A source’s life and liberty is in the case officer’s hands. Such trust cannot be taken lightly and should weigh heavily in the training and tasking decisions made by the case officer. Your actions could lead to the imprisonment, torture and execution of a man or woman who willingly placed their lives in your hands. It better be damned well worth it and the take better be given the care and respect it deserves.