- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2017

U.S. intelligence officials are “absolutely not” withholding the nation’s most classified secrets from President Trump, a former spy chief said Sunday.

“I have never had intelligence officers, who have a responsibility to provide full information to the president and to other leaders in the country, ever withhold a piece of intelligence,” former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “It’s something that certainly hasn’t occurred when I was there, and I doubt whether it’s happened this time.”

Mr. Panetta’s comments followed reports in The Wall Street Journal that senior intelligence officials intentionally are keeping the president and his staff in the dark on certain operational elements. Specifically, officials reportedly are keeping details on “sources and methods” on current operations under wraps because of concerns that Mr. Trump or his staff may intentionally or inadvertently disclose those details and compromise U.S. operations or operatives.

On Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo issued a statement condemning such reports, saying his agency “does not, has not, and will never hide intelligence from the president, period.”

Mr. Trump reportedly demanded that Mr. Pompeo issue the sharply worded statement after berating the nation’s top spy for not being more aggressive in the agency’s denials, CBS News reported.

On Sunday, Mr. Panetta said the agency’s heart and soul remain entrenched in giving the White House an unvarnished analysis of any challenge or crisis, regardless of who is in the Oval Office.

“Your first responsibility is to provide the truth to the president. And if you start thinking about how the president’s going to use it, what he’s going to do with that information, then frankly, you’ll never provide the truth to the president,” said Mr. Panetta, who also led the Pentagon in the Obama administration.

But he acknowledged that growing tension between Mr. Trump and intelligence officials is threatening to undermine that provision of truth.

“There is a lack of trust between the president and the intelligence community, and between the intelligence community and the president,” he said. “The last thing they need is to have a president who questions their patriotism to this country and to him.”

Mr. Trump raised eyebrows at the CIA and elsewhere after issuing several broadsides against the intelligence community’s inability to stem media leaks on his administration’s ties to Russia and on disarray in the White House.

The administration’s fury was sparked after leaked information on communications between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. led to Mr. Flynn’s abrupt resignation this month as national security adviser.

Shortly thereafter, news reports citing unidentified intelligence and government officials suggested that Moscow’s ties to the Trump administration go much deeper than Mr. Flynn’s conversations.

Mr. Flynn did not disclose his conversations with the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the outgoing Obama administration. The sanctions were levied against Moscow for its interference in the U.S. presidential election.

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