Saturday 19 October 2019

MI6 battling to stop Trump releasing top secret files

Election probe: Release of Trump files risks a split with Theresa May’s UK
Election probe: Release of Trump files risks a split with Theresa May’s UK

Ben Riley-Smith

MI6 chiefs in Britain are secretly battling Donald Trump to stop him publishing classified information linked to the Russian election meddling investigation.

The UK is warning that the US president would undermine intelligence gathering if he releases pages of an FBI application to wiretap one of his former campaign advisers.

Trump allies are fighting back, demanding transparency and asking why the UK would oppose the move unless it had something to hide.

It forces the spotlight on whether the UK played a role in the FBI's investigation launched before the 2016 presidential election into allegations of Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin.

Britain's 'Daily Telegraph' has talked to more than a dozen UK and US officials, including in American intelligence, who have revealed details about the row. British spy chiefs have "genuine concern" about sources being exposed if classified parts of the wiretap request were made public, according to sources.

"It boils down to the exposure of people," said one US intelligence official, adding: "We don't want to reveal sources and methods." US intelligence shares the concerns of the UK.

Another said the UK feared setting a dangerous "precedent" which could make people less likely to share information, knowing that it could one day become public.

The row is deemed so politically sensitive that staff at the British embassy in Washington DC have been barred from discussing it with journalists.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who already has a testing relationship with Mr Trump, has also been kept at arms-length and is understood to have not raised the issue directly with the US president.

The row is about an FBI request to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, which was made in October 2016 - the month before the US election. The FBI said it had suspicions Mr Page was being targeted for recruitment by the Russian government and cited classified intelligence to make its case. The agency was granted approval for 90 days of surveillance by a secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa). It was renewed a number of times.

Republican allies of Mr Trump in Congress have pounced on the application, claiming the FBI failed to follow due process and presented information in a flawed way.

A heavily redacted version of the documents has already been released. Mr Trump wants to declassify 21 pages from one of the applications. He announced the move in September, then backtracked, then this month said he was "very seriously" considering it again. Both the UK and Australia are understood to be opposing the move.

Memos detailing alleged ties between Mr Trump and Russia compiled by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer, were cited in the application, which could explain some of the UK concern.

Numerous spokesmen for UK and US government bodies declined to comment. Mr Page has denied being a foreign agent for Russia.

The row comes as UK intelligence agencies are increasingly dragged into a heated and partisan battle in Washington DC over the origins of the Russian investigation.

Mr Trump's allies and former advisers are raising questions about the UK's role in the start of the probe, given many of the key figures and meetings were located in Britain.

George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, has publicly claimed he was targeted by UK spies and told 'The Telegraph' that he is demanding transparency.

Republicans are attempting to protect the US president by suggesting the Russia investigation, which continues to this day, was invalid from the start.

The probe, now overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller, is looking into whether Trump campaign figures conspired with the Kremlin and whether the president obstructed justice. By suggesting the investigation was created by shadowy intelligence figures who wanted to thwart Mr Trump's candidacy from the start, Republicans are making it easier for the eventual findings to be waved away.

However, a result of the attack line is that the UK's spy agencies are being included in claims of "deep state" opposition to Mr Trump. It risks tensions at a time when the UK wants to deepen ties with the US as it quits the EU.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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