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Washington (CNN) - In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level secret sources within the Russian government, several Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN.
A person directly involved in the discussions said that the extraction of the Russian was driven, in part, by the concern that President Donald Trump and his administration mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the secret source as a spy.
The decision to carry out the extraction came shortly after a May 2017 meeting at the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the then Russian ambassador in United States, Sergey Kislyak. Information about ISIS in Syria was provided by Israel.
The revelation to the Russians by the president, although it was not specifically the Russian spy, led intelligence officials to renew previous discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.
At that time, the then director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out about the secret source, known as an asset. An extraction, or "exfiltration," as described by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary action when US intelligence believes that an asset is in immediate danger.
A U.S. official UU. He said before the secret operation that there was media speculation about the existence of a secret source of this level, and that such coverage or public speculation posed risks to the safety of any person that a foreign government suspected of being involved. This official did not identify any public report for this purpose at the time of this decision and CNN could not find any related reference in the media reports.
Asking for comments, Brittany Bramell, director of public affairs for the CIA, told CNN: “The CNN narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life or death decisions based on something other than objective analysis and compilation Deep is simply false. The speculation that the handling of the president of the most sensitive intelligence of our nation, to which he has access every day, led to an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate. ”
A spokesman for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said: "CNN reports are not only incorrect, but have the potential to put lives in danger."
Broad concerns about Trump in the intelligence community
The extraction came at a time of great concern in the intelligence community about the mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources that served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress.
Those concerns continued to grow in the period after the Trump Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov. Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter's notes. Subsequently, intelligence officials once again expressed concern about the fact that the president had incorrectly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community's response to the Trump-Putin meeting.
Knowledge of the existence of the Russian covert source was very restricted within the US government. UU. and intelligence agencies. According to one source, "there was no equal alternative" within the Russian Government, providing information and information about Putin.
CNN will not disclose several details about the spy to reduce the person's risk of identification.
The secret extraction of the high-level Russian asset has left the United States without one of its key sources on the internal functioning of the Kremlin and the plans and thinking of the president of Russia at a time when tensions between the two nations have been growing . The US intelligence community believes that Russia is one of the two biggest threats to the national security of the United States, along with China.
"The impact would be enormous because it is very difficult to develop sources like that in any area, particularly Russia, because surveillance and security there are very strict," a former senior intelligence official told CNN. "You can't regain a capacity like that overnight."
Months of fear
The decision to take out Russia's assets was the culmination of months of growing fear within the intelligence community.
At the end of the Obama administration, US intelligence officials They had already expressed concern about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets, given the length of their cooperation with the US, according to a former senior intelligence official.
Those concerns increased in early 2017 after the US intelligence community. UU. He will publish his report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which said that Putin himself ordered the operation. The intelligence community also shared a classified version of the report with the incoming Trump administration, and included highly protected details about the sources behind the intelligence. Senior US intelligence officials considered extracting at least one Russian asset at that time, but they did not, according to the former senior intelligence officer.
In the first months of his administration, Trump's handling of classified intelligence worried intelligence officials even more. Finally, they decided to launch the difficult operation to extract an asset that had been working for the United States for years.
The president was informed in advance of the extraction, along with a small number of senior officials. The details of the extraction itself remain secret and CNN does not know the whereabouts of the current asset.
CNN's Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.