A Biden administration may have a unique national security threat – his predecessor Donald Trump, who will leave with an abundant knowledge of national secrets and classified intelligence.
Trump has revealed highly classified intelligence as president in order to secure a political advantage, but sometimes compromising U.S. interests while doing so. Security experts say that the soon-to-be ex-president may be a threat like no other former president has been.
“Anyone who is disgruntled, dissatisfied or aggrieved is a risk of disclosing classified information, whether as a current or former officeholder. Trump certainly fits that profile,” David Priess, a former CIA officer and author of The President’s Book of Secrets told the Washington Post.
Trump also has a pattern of being careless in safeguarding classified information while in office.
In August 2019, he tweeted an aerial image of an Iranian launchpad, which was able to be tracked down through publicly-available satellite images. And in an Oval Office meeting in 2017, Trump told Russia’s foreign minister highly classified information about Islamic State threats to aviation, which reportedly jeopardized the source.
Augmenting the threat is Trump’s financial problems, exhibited by the tax records obtained by the New York Times, that show his businesses largely struggling.
“People with significant debt are always of grave concern to security professionals,” Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to CIA Director Michael Hayden, told the Post. “The human condition is a frail one. And people in dire situations make dire decisions. Many of the individuals who’ve committed espionage against our country are people who are financially vulnerable.”
Experts also noted that Trump likely will not leave with fine details of classified intelligence, as he often misses briefings or seemingly doesn’t pay attention — as in the case of Russia putting bounties on American soldiers. Intelligence officials were reported to have known about it for months, but Trump claimed he was never briefed, though the information was reportedly included in his written, daily report.
However, Trump is still capable of revealing national secrets and sensitive information even if he doesn’t remember all the details — particularly around the U.S. defense and nuclear capabilities, as he had the launch codes. He will retain records of classified information from his administration after he leaves office, but will not be allowed to choose to disclose it following Joe Biden‘s inauguration.
In the worst-case scenario, should Trump actively reveal national intelligence, he could face an unprecedented criminal prosecution under The Espionage Act, as he will no longer be protected by presidential immunity.