Trump ‘discloses’ US surveillance secrets with Iran photo

U.S. President Donald Trump. (File Photo: Xinhua/IANS)

Washington, Aug 31 (IANS) US President Donald Trump has tweeted a photo of an apparently failed Iranian rocket launch and said that Washington had nothing to do with it, prompting concerns that he disclosed classified information.

The US President tweeted the high-resolution picture of the location on Friday, with annotations pointing to damaged vehicles and the launch gantry, saying it involved Iran’s Safir satellite rocket.

“The US was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” Trump wrote.

“I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One,” he added.

Tehran made no official comment on the indications from aerial photos that a rocket exploded on the launch pad at the Semnan Space Centre in northern Iran. The country was believed to have been planning a third attempt to loft a satellite into space, after two launches in January and February failed to place satellites in orbit, say media reports.

Trump himself sidestepped questions about whether the imagery was meant for public consumption, saying: “I just wish Iran well. They had a big problem. I released a photo, which I had the absolute right to do.”

The incident comes after months of tensions between Iran and Washington. In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the landmark 2015 international deal that placed limits on Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. He also reimposed crippling financial penalties.

Iran’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi dismissed reports that a satellite had been lost, but did not comment on the alleged launch-pad explosion.

“Apparently there were reports that the third attempt to put the satellite in orbit were unsuccessful. In fact, Nahid 1 is alright, and is right now in the laboratory. Reporters can come visit the laboratory, too… transparency,” he tweeted.

Dave Burbach, a professor at the US Naval War College, said that the “quality of image Trump tweeted appears beyond the capabilities US has previously been willing to demonstrate to public”.

Eric Brewer, a former National Security Council official who focused on Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues in both the Trump and (Barack) Obama administrations, suggested that he is among those who believe the imagery was a product of the intelligence community.

“In a normal world, we would assume the intelligence community approved the public release of this image,” Brewer tweeted.

“Yes, the President has the magic wand of declassification authority, but that is rarely (ever?) exercised without consultations with the intelligence community to understand the risks and benefits of doing so. To do otherwise might be legal, but it is grossly irresponsible.”

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