- Recent revelations about President Trump's tax problems have confirmed suspicions among US allies that the president is uniquely vulnerable to influence or blackmail by foreign powers, NATO sources told Insider.
- Security operatives in the US's European allies now regard Trump as a risk that makes them reluctant to share information with the US.
- Trump's messy finances are exactly the kind of thing that foreign powers look for when trying to recruit assets. "Everything about his finances smells like blood and we are trained to be sharks," one source told Insider.
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European intelligence services have long considered US President Donald Trump vulnerable to financial influence by foreign powers. But this week's revelations from the New York Times that Trump's personal finances are a tangled mess of tax avoidance and huge debts have raised their level of concern to something approaching alarm, according to half a dozen current and former European intelligence officers interviewed by Insider.
Three of six officials in civilian or military intelligence services in NATO refused to say specifically whether they believe Trump is vulnerable to foreign pressure or blackmail through his business entanglements and debts, citing national security reasons. But the same three agreed that Trump's finances and behavior have put the United States — and, via NATO, Western Europe and the UK — in significant peril in terms of intelligence operations.
Since taking office in 2017, Trump has repeatedly refused to stand up to key countries — such as Russia Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia — that sometimes have hostile agendas toward the US and Europe, former intelligence officials among US allies say. At the same time, Trump has allowed foreign dignitaries to spend millions at his hotels, golf resorts, and clubs. And he has displayed a willingness to politicize aspects of intelligence and foreign relations for benefits that seem to be personal or political, these sources note.
'The US president's finances and business leave him uniquely vulnerable to foreign pressure and influence'
"There has been a longstanding debate [in Europe] on how to look at Trump's behavior towards rich autocratic figures such as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, [Turkish President Recep] Erdogan, and the Gulf Monarchies," said a senior official with the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service, who refused to be identified. "The extent of the problem and its origin has been at times hotly debated across European capitals but these debates have ended with the most recent revelations. The overwhelming evidence is that the US president's finances and business leave him uniquely vulnerable to foreign pressure and influence in the best of situations and by refusing to detail these entanglements to his own security services, which are designed to protect his office from such pressures, he has made things considerably more suspicious."
When asked what this meant in terms of these concerns affecting the close intelligence-sharing relationship between the US and Netherlands — the Dutch services are considered to be skilled at technology operations and closely monitor Russian intelligence activity — the source refused to comment further.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment when reached by Insider. Trump has insisted that the New York Times' investigation into his taxes and debts are "fake news."
All six officials contacted additionally refused to comment on anything involving the US election scheduled for November, citing versions of widespread EU policies against election interference.
Two other senior active duty intelligence officials — who refused to directly comment or allow their countries to be named — agreed with the assessment that Trump and his precarious financial condition pose historically unprecedented counterintelligence threats.
"The situation is so dire that I would be disappointed if anyone else commented directly on it," said one official before refusing to elaborate. "It's a difficult job normally without concerns that things that can hurt you might leak directly from your most powerful ally, intentionally or just accidentally."
'My first response was to compare it to a Hezbollah-linked company making and laundering money in Africa'
Three other officials — from Belgium, from a central European country, and a third who serves as a senior member of Italian law enforcement — all offered similar concerns. They ranged from the structure of the president's finances indicating further wrongdoing to a persistent belief that Trump acts to indirectly benefit foreign political figures that could be useful in his post-presidency. None would dismiss the possibility of outright corruption.
"My first response was to compare it to a Hezbollah-linked company making and laundering money in Africa," said a Belgian military intelligence official with a long history of working money laundering cases in the Middle East and Africa. "But Hezbollah is trying to make money so there's always physical assets being traded you can eventually find to explain the cash flows. Trump's stuff is more like the shell companies used to move Russian money to the EU or an international drug cartel: They're moving around ghost amounts of cash trying to obscure everything."
The Italian official strongly agreed.
"I have studied the organizational structures of many companies and the first thing I'd say about the Trump businesses, if you showed them to me and did not tell me who ran them, would be, 'OK so who are they money laundering for? Helping Russians get money into the West or is it the Ndrangheta?'" The Ndrangheta is an Italian organized group based in Calabria which is believed to control much of the world's cocaine trade.
"Then I would get to work building cases on his lawyers, accountants and proxies to turn them," the source continued. "That's my law enforcement side. My counterintelligence side would look at his finances and say, 'OK, this person is uniquely positioned to know many things of use to my service, so let's get him to work for us.' There's plenty of obvious levers of pressure."
'Everything about his finances smells like blood and we are trained to be sharks'
When asked if he was suggesting the US president was a candidate for being blackmailed or coerced into cooperating with an intelligence service, the source agreed.
"This is what they teach us to do: Find weakness and exploit them for the gain of our legal system or intelligence services, the only thing stopping me would be what would happen if I suggested it to our foreign ministry. But all the signs are here: Recruit this guy or have him arrested."
"Please make it clear Italy would never do this to the president of the United States, but as an intelligence and law enforcement officer, everything about his finances smells like blood and we are trained to be sharks," the source added.
'Large countries are having a tough time deciding how to handle the sense that you might not be able to trust the president'
To put this in perspective, a former CIA case officer once told Insider that it is for this reason — financial weakness — that Americans are often denied clearance in the US services if they have too much student debt. Trump has up to $300 million in debt.
A central European counterintelligence official said that Trump's finances had previously concerned him sufficiently to warn his government about information sharing. He suspects the warning was ignored because, in his view, the geopolitical risks for their country outweighed the real fears the president could be compromised.
"I assessed there was a possibility that Trump posed a risk in terms of information sharing but that is very much not my decision," said the official. "Large countries are having a tough time deciding how to handle the sense that you might not be able to trust the president of the United States with valuable information. Smaller countries have even more at stake and this is a position none of us should be in."