The former head of the National Security Agency instructed personnel not to get into a "tit for tat" with President Donald Trump and the media after he accused the intelligence community in a tweetstorm last year of leaking information to the New York Times, according to records obtained by BuzzFeed News.
“We will not get sucked into this,” Adm. Mike Rogers wrote in a Feb. 15, 2017, email to NSA officials in response to a briefing on the tweets. “Everyone needs to do their job and do in our normal professional and forthright manner. Our behavior will be driven by the standards of our profession and not the comments or views of others. No tit for tat pettiness from anyone at the NSA on this.
“We do not condone the leaking of classified or sensitive information and anyone at NSA determined to be behaving in such a manner will be held accountable and I don’t care about their rank or position.”
BuzzFeed News obtained Rogers’ emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The explosive report published by the New York Times was based on intercepted calls and phone records US officials shared with the newspaper. Such intelligence would be considered highly classified and compartmentalized.
According to the Times report, “The intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.”
Hours after the story was published, Trump took to Twitter and railed against the “failing @nytimes and @washingtonpost” and blamed the NSA and FBI for the “illegal” leaks.
Trump’s tweets rankled NSA personnel, who warned Rogers to expect questions about the Times report and Trump’s tweets.
“Sir, POTUS has been tweeting out a few things this morning that might make their way into questions you receive later today,” Mike Halbig, the head of NSA public affairs, wrote in an email to Rogers. “Specific tweets imply that NSA and FBI are interfering in US politics and that we are leaking information to the media … We have received one query on the tweets and we are not going to respond to it or any other query.”
After Rogers reviewed Trump’s tweets, he emailed the directive to Halbig and other officials at the agency to refrain from responding to Trump.
“That has and will continue to be our position,” Deputy Director Richard Ledgett responded in an email.
Rogers retired from the NSA in May. But the incident, and whether anyone at the NSA is responsible for disclosing details about the intercepts to the Times, is the subject of one of more than two dozen leak investigations that the FBI is currently conducting, three US officials told BuzzFeed News.
Read the full email exchange here:
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.
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