Why Trump’s White House leaks

According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and members of his delegation during a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office.

In a May 15 story, the Post reported that White House staffers tried to contain the damage by striking Trump’s allegedly inappropriate comments from internal memos.

So how did the Washington Post get the story?

The newspaper story cites “current and former U.S. officials” as sources. Later, the reporters offer more detail, describing one source as “a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team.”

Translation: The public learned of Trump’s apparent overstep because more than one member of the U.S. intelligence community was willing to leak the information.

As a professor and director of the Applied Intelligence master’s program at Georgetown University, I study, teach and write about homeland security and law enforcement intelligence. I’m curious about why intelligence officers disclose classified information and how that affects their work.

Why whispers start

Leakers and whistleblowers often are motivated by a lack of trust in their chain of command. They denounce wrongdoing and express their dissent through leaking information to the media or advocacy groups. In my view, one example of wrongdoing that is particularly salient today is political interference in intelligence activities.

Trust is undermined when the gathering or sharing of intelligence influences politics or is influenced by politics.

Bottom-up politicization happens when members of the intelligence agencies themselves target individuals or issues for political reasons. For instance, intelligence agencies may go after political opponents to maintain or increase the level of influence they enjoy with the government.

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