Trump Teaches A Foreign Contact Reporting Lesson

Intelligence

Today’s Daily Intel was supposed to be about the president’s bizarre and almost universally denounced declaration that he had discussed the formation of an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to protect against election hacking. Then the president’s son, Donald J. Trump, Jr., gave us all an object lesson in security reporting.

“VERY HIGH LEVEL AND SENSITIVE INFORMATION”

The question everyone has wanted answered since November is “did the Trump campaign collude with the Russian government to spread false information about Hillary Clinton?” The younger Trump gave his critics a fresh batch of ammunition when he released, on his own, the email thread that had been the subject of New York Times reports.

According to the documents Trump published on Twitter, on June 3, 2016,  music promoter Rob Goldstone wrote Trump with the news that the Russian “Crown prosecutor” wanted to provide “official documents and information that will incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia…” Goldstone said the proposed meeting was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump…”

In an appearance on CNN this morning, Scott Balber, a lawyer representing the Russian pop star and his father who were the supposed brokers of this information, accused Goldstone of fabricating the Russian government connection. The lawyer who sought the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told NBC News, “I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton.”

Collusion is defined as a secret agreement, and there’s no indication that one meeting is evidence of an agreement between Russia and the Trump campaign. It still looks bad, and that’s why Trump should have reported it.

WHAT TO DO WHEN APPROACHED BY A FOREIGN GOVERNMENT

One can be charitable and say that Trump wasn’t a cleared professional, so he didn’t know proper counterintelligence protocols. He was also clearly eager to obtain information that would help his father’s campaign, regardless of the source. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario where an offer from a foreign government to provide “official documents” that would aid a one political candidate by damaging another wouldn’t raise a massive red flag.

Receiving such information from Russia would almost certainly, in the words of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, create “bonds of affection or obligation.” When dealing with foreign governments, one should always assume there is a quid pro quo, the expectation that the foreign government wants something in return for the information provided.

Government employees and contractors have security managers to whom they are obligated to report such contacts. But what about a private citizen? What should Trump have done?

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division is the nation’s protection against espionage within the U.S. Its mission has evolved from countering Soviet influence to protecting American economic secrets. But it still deals with foreign espionage.

The FBI’s 56 field offices are the bureau’s primary interface with the public. Individuals who believe they have been approached by a foreign government or who were the target of an elicitation attempt should contact their local office to report the contact.

Donald Trump, Jr.’s best course of action, and one that would have prevented the current “category 5 hurricane,” would have been to politely decline the offer and pass the request on to the FBI’s New York field office. Doing so would have saved his father a lot of pain.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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