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Intel agencies have been working with the FBI for months on assessing Mar-a-Lago documents

<i>Marco Bello/Reuters</i><br/>The intelligence community has been working with the FBI since mid-May to examine some of the classified documents taken from Mar-a-Lago.
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Marco Bello/Reuters
The intelligence community has been working with the FBI since mid-May to examine some of the classified documents taken from Mar-a-Lago.

By Katie Bo Lillis, Evan Perez, Jamie Gangel and Zachary Cohen, CNN

The intelligence community has been working with the FBI since mid-May to examine some of the classified documents taken from Mar-a-Lago in order to determine their level of classification, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

This document-by-document review has allowed the agencies to determine whether any immediate efforts needed to be made to protect sources and methods as a result of the documents being held at former President Donald Trump‘s Florida residence and resort, the sources said.

After the National Archives provided the FBI with access in mid-May to the 15 boxes it retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January, the bureau began providing copies of relevant documents to individual US intelligence agencies to assess whether those that contained classified markings were in fact classified — and allowing the agencies that owned the sensitive information to informally determine whether the disclosure of the material could place sensitive sources at risk. That effort took place as part of the Justice Department investigation that resulted in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.

Under pressure from Congress, the director of national intelligence notified key lawmakers on Friday that her office, which oversees the intelligence agencies, will also conduct a formal damage assessment of any potential harm that could result from the exposure of the documents. While individual agencies have had a window into some of what was retrieved from Mar-a-Lago, assessments like the ones Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines launched are designed to offer a more wide-ranging analytical picture of both short and long-term risks to US national security if such information were to be exposed, rather than resolve any immediate operational risks.

Spokespeople for the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA and the National Security Agency declined to comment.

For now, the risk posed by Trump’s storage of top secret documents at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort remains purely theoretical. It is not known publicly who may have gained access to or viewed any of the classified material contained in the boxes recovered by the Archives and the FBI — or what the documents themselves reveal.

But current and former US officials have raised alarm bells about the potential danger of the highly insecure storage of such sensitive documents and top US lawmakers have put pressure on the intelligence community to detail what it knows about the fallout.

There are multiple concerns for intelligence officials, including that secret US programs might have been exposed. There is also the concern that the sensitive ways in which the US government collects secret information — including human sources, overseas wiretaps and other technical platforms like satellites — might have been exposed to the wrong eyes and rendered useless. Of particular worry is the possibility that a human source might be placed in physical danger if their identity is revealed to an adversarial government.

Formal damage assessments like the one announced by Haines are designed not only to uncover any immediate damage from the exposure of classified information, but also to look at the long-term risks if that information were to be made public, according to Brian Greer, a former CIA lawyer who specialized in national security investigations. For example, such a review might analyze whether there are any foreign policy concerns for the US if a particular piece of classified information were revealed.

That’s different, Greer said, than the kind of case-by-case review done by the relevant operational units at each agency that are geared at immediate damage mitigation.

“It makes sense to me that this has been going on since the second the FBI identified those documents,” Greer said. “Those risk mitigation efforts are different than a formal assessment, which is going to be analytical in nature and look at not only immediate damage but also damage in the long term — it’s both concrete and theoretical.”

According to Greer, there are some potential risks to conducting a full damage assessment: In particular, that it might interfere with any criminal prosecution that the Justice Department may choose to pursue as a result of it investigation. In theory, the damage assessment might be discoverable in court and risks offering the defense the opportunity for what’s known as “graymail” — using the threat of exposing state secrets in public court in order to get the DOJ to drop the case.

Haines in her Friday notification to Congress vowed that the ODNI “will closely coordinate with DOJ to ensure this IC assessment is conducted in a manner that does not unduly interfere with DOJ’s ongoing criminal investigation.”

In January, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of presidential materials that contained 184 documents containing classified markings, “including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET,” according to a DOJ affidavit released on Friday.

The Justice Department sought a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago earlier this month and obtained 11 sets of classified material, including one marked “top secret/SCI” and four marked “top secret.”

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