Trump Tweeting ‘Highly-Classified’ Photos Is Actually OK—Because He’s President
By Mikelle Leow, 06 Sep 2019
Image via Donald J. Trump
As it seems, no one can stop the president of the United States from tweeting “highly-classified” security data but himself.
Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network in Vienna, was shell-shocked when US president Donald Trump posted a (previously) confidential satellite image on Twitter last week. She immediately took a screenshot of the photo “just in case it got taken down,” she tells NPR.
The image depicts the aftermath of a rocket explosion at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran on Sunday, 29 August.
It is much sharper than commercial satellite photos, and even shows burned-out vehicles and letters—features that would not be so easily seen in regular imagery.
The picture, still up on Trump’s Twitter, has been described by Hanham as “crystal-clear,” with a resolution so high “I did not believe it could have come from a satellite.”
The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
According to CNBC, the president was presented the image during his intelligence briefing the day before. The tweeted picture was likely captured from a presentation slide by Trump or an associate, as evident by the flash in its center.
Trump later told reporters that his administration released the satellite photo because “I have the absolute right to do [it].”
He’s right. Steven Aftergood, a specialist of government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, tells NPR that the president of the United States has complete control over state secrets, as the classification system for national security is not based on a law, but “the president’s own status as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.”
As president, Trump has the power to “decide unilaterally what will be disclosed,” and what doesn’t fall under classified information, Aftergood adds.
However, former CIA officer Bruce Klingner says that if such details were leaked by anyone else, they would be “serving out a prison term.”
Aftergood is concerned that other countries like Iran can exploit the area now that the photo has been released by the president. Klingner also points out that adversaries like Russia, China and North Korea might peruse the image and “figure out how good our capabilities are.”
Past leaders have used this privilege “sparingly,” NPR notes. However, satellite photos authorized by Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Colin Powell were intentionally blurred.
[via NPR, images via Donald J. Trump]
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