It’s not every day that you hear about the American president casually sharing an ally’s super-secret intelligence with Russian officials in the Oval Office. But was Donald Trump’s disclosure unprecedented? What exactly is new here, and what isn’t?
“It’s not unprecedented at all for presidents or national-security advisers or secretaries of state to share classified information with foreign officials,” especially those from allied countries, said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. The United States, for example, is part of an intelligence-sharing alliance with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. As Joshua Keating notes in Slate, George W. Bush went so far as to invite several foreign leaders to sit in on customized versions of his daily intelligence briefing. These leaders included one Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, during a high point in U.S.-Russian relations.
“It’s unusual to share sensitive intelligence from fragile sources with states [like Russia] that are not friendly,” Naftali added, but this too has been done before. As part of the Nixon administration’s opening to China, for example, Henry Kissinger wooed the Chinese by informing them that the United States was secretly providing military support to China’s ally, Pakistan, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The Reagan administration, for its part, shared intelligence with Saddam Hussein to avert an Iranian victory in the Iran-Iraq War.