The chilling effect of Trump's push to expose the identity of an informant may be causing sources to go silent, leaving U.S. intelligence agencies in the dark.
When Trump and his Republican allies like Rep. Devin Nunes pushed to expose the identity of an FBI informant involved in the Russia investigation earlier this year, officials from the intelligence community warned that their actions could have grave consequences, both for the informant's security as well as for intelligence collection more broadly.
Those consequences are already being realized, as CIA sources in Russia have reportedly gone quiet ahead of the 2018 midterms, leaving U.S. intelligence agencies in the dark about the Kremlin's plans to interfere in the elections and potentially other sectors of American society.
According to The New York Times, CIA informants who provide critical information to the U.S. government from inside Russia have fallen silent recently, likely because of aggressive counterintelligence efforts by the Kremlin, and also because of the chilling effect of Trump's push to expose the identity of an FBI informant involved in the Russia investigation.
Officials don't think the CIA sources have been killed or thrown into prison; rather, they've decided to slip under the radar and go quiet, apparently fearing that their identities will not be protected.
The Times reported that intelligence officials believe "the outing of an F.B.I. informant under scrutiny by the House intelligence committee — an examination encouraged by President Trump — has had a chilling effect on intelligence collection."
In May, the FBI was forced to take the extraordinary step of putting in place emergency security measures to protect the safety of an informant and his associates after Trump and his GOP allies pushed to expose the informant's identity.
The move was part of a broader effort by Trump and his cronies to undermine the Russia probe by making unreasonable demands for documents from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then firing him when he failed to comply — thus laying the groundwork for ultimately firing special counsel Robert Mueller.
At the time, intelligence officials pushed back hard on the Republican-led effort to obtain documents that could expose the informant, saying the move could endanger his life and discourage others from providing sensitive information to U.S. intelligence agencies. Turning over information that could expose a source's identity would "contradict years of policy about protecting intelligence sources," senior intelligence officials said in May.
Those fears are coming true now, just as intelligence agencies and cybersecurity companies are sounding the alarm about renewed efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2018 midterms through hacking and influence operations.
Informants in Russia provide critical information on such operations, but they've stopped relaying information altogether lately, leaving U.S. intelligence agencies to make sense of the chaos without some of their best sources.
As the Times reported, "people inside or close to the Kremlin remain critical to divining whether there is a strategy behind seemingly scattershot efforts to undermine American institutions."
"Spies and informants overseas also give American intelligence agencies early warning about influence campaigns, interference operations or other attempts to compromise the United States. That information, in turn, can improve the ability of domestic agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I., to quickly identify and attempt to stop those efforts," the Times added.
Without those informants, U.S. national security will suffer as Russia improves its ability to carry out influence operations targeting Americans, and the capacity of U.S. intelligence agencies to respond to such operations becomes crippled.
It's almost as if this is exactly what Trump would have wanted.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.