U.S. Allies Left in the Dark

Ukraine, Syrian rebels, Israel complain about lack of U.S. intelligence sharing, aid

Barack Obama
March 2, 2015

U.S. allies are raising concerns about what they say is unwillingness on the part of the Obama administration to share vital intelligence that could prove decisive in conflicts in Europe and the Middle East.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that U.S. officials degrade satellite images of the positions of Russian-backed separatists before delivering them to Ukrainian forces, delaying their arrival and making them less effective for combating the rebels. The United States also provided the Ukrainian military with short-range counter-artillery radar systems but omitted crucial components that would have enabled the Ukrainians to immediately respond to separatist attacks.

U.S. officials expressed concerns that increased intelligence sharing could provoke an escalation in Russian support for the separatists or even be intercepted by Kremlin spies in the Ukrainian forces.

"You don’t want to do anything that incites more instability or invites more aggression by Russia, and therefore makes it worse in the end for Ukraine," a senior U.S. military official told the Journal.

Ukrainian officials and U.S. lawmakers who want more robust support for Ukraine have sharply criticized the intelligence restrictions, as well as the Obama administration’s reluctance to send lethal aid. Ukrainian leaders now say an agreement reached with Canada could secure more timely and actionable intelligence.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the Ukraine conflict, the United Nations said on Monday.

In the Syrian civil war, the first rebel group to receive U.S. anti-tank missiles last year recently decided to disband after complaining about insufficient military aid. The group, Harakat Hazm, said they were not supplied with enough weapons to contest the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The al-Nusra Front—an al Qaeda affiliate—also targeted its fighters because of their Western support, according to a Hazm spokesman.

Military and intelligence representatives from Western and Arab nations funneled aid to Hazm through a joint Military Operations Command in Turkey and Jordan.

Oubai Shahbandar, a former senior communications adviser for the Syrian National Coalition, an exiled opposition group, told the Journal in a separate report that the U.S.-allied Syrian rebel groups have never been "sufficiently resourced."

"Moderate forces, backed by Western countries and moderate Arab countries, have this scarlet letter on their backs, yet they are not sufficiently resourced in terms of military aid to defeat Nusra," Shahbandar said. "So there’s a clear contradiction in terms of Western strategy in fighting extremism in Syria."

U.S. military officials are now redirecting their efforts toward a program to train and equip Syrian rebels to battle the Islamic State terrorist group—not Assad. The Syrian autocrat has overseen more than 200,000 deaths in his country’s civil war.

Additionally, Israeli officials say they have not been informed about all aspects of the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Some European officials told the New York Times last month that U.S. diplomats have urged them not to disclose too much about the talks for fear of Israeli leaks. Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened the existence of Israel, which is advocating for the full dismantlement of Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.