The US government extracted one of their most senior covert sources inside the Russian government in 2017 amid fears over how Donald Trump was handling intelligence, a US broadcaster has alleged.
The secret removal took place amid fears over the individual’s safety and was successful, according to CNN, which broke the news.
The decision reportedly came just weeks after a May 2017 meeting when Mr Trump is said to have discussed highly classified intelligence with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to America.
CNN referred to a person said to be directly involved in discussions claiming the removal was driven in part by concerns over the handling of intelligence by Mr Trump and his administration.
The CIA did not deny the source had been extracted in a comment given to CNN but categorically denied the suggestion that Mr Trump’s handling of intelligence “drove” the operation.
An unnamed US official told CNN that there was media speculation about the existence of such a covert source at the time, which could have posed risks.
The name and former position of the source reportedly extracted is not known. CNN said it was holding back details to protect the person in question.
The development is yet another twist in US-Russia relations under Mr Trump, which have dominated the US political landscape since he took office in January 2017.
A special counsel investigation lasting almost two years revealed the extent of Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but concluded no Trump campaign figure had criminally conspired with the Kremlin.
Intelligence sources tend only to be extracted – or ‘exfiltrated’ – when they are in immediate danger. Such high-level assets can take years to cultivate and are hard to replace, according to experts.
CNN alleged that there were concerns in the US intelligence community about how Mr Trump and his administration were handling classified material and talking to senior Russian government figures.
One incident said to have raised concerns was the May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office. The intelligence Mr Trump discussed with Mr Lavrov and Mr Kislyak was about the terror group Isil in Syria and had been provided by Israel.
CNN claimed that the decision to extract the source was taken after this meeting.
A second episode said to have again raised concerns was Mr Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in July 2017.
The pair met at the G20 summit in Hamburg. Mr Trump took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes after the meeting.
Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN: "CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false.
“Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: "CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger." The Daily Telegraph has approached the CIA and the US Director of National Intelligence for comment.
Mr Trump criticised CNN’s “bad information and fake news” in tweets on Monday morning shortly after the report appeared, though made no direct comment on the claims.
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