Normally the location of America’s nuclear subs is a closely-guarded secret. But President Rodrigo Duterte now knows where at least two of ours are, and that’s because President Donald Trump told him in a bragging phone call, according to transcripts obtained by a news website today.
That makes this the second time in mere weeks he has divulged sensitive information to foreign officials, apparently with reckless disregard for U.S. national security.
The Intercept managed to get ahold of an official transcript of a phone conversation between Trump and Duterte, during which Trump—among many other things—congratulated Duterte on his campaign of extrajudicial slaughter that has already taken thousands of lives in a supposed “war on drugs.”
But here’s what Trump told him about the subs, after they got to talking about North Korea:
We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines—the best in the world—we have two nuclear submarines—not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.
Telling a foreign leader—especially someone as off-the-handle as Duterte—where two of America’s top nuclear submarines are located is not the best idea. Nor is it particularly safe. Of course, defense officials aren’t happy about it, either, mostly because if you know where a submarine is, then its entire existence is a bit pointless. Three defense officials told BuzzFeed that “We never talk about subs!”, but, here we are.
Then, there is this to consider:
Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.
Finally, it is unclear why Duterte would need to know the specific number of subs in the region. The Philippines is not a part US military efforts to deter North Korea so why would Duterte need to know such details?
The point is, Duterte really doesn’t need to know such details.
One thing that pops out during their call is the candor with which they speak about Kim Jung-un. Usually when we see foreign leaders speaking, they are surrounded by journalists and are less forthcoming. This phone call was different. Trump went as far as to asked Duterte if Kim was of sound mind.
Surprise! Duterte says he’s not:
“He is not stable, Mr. President, as he keeps on smiling when he explodes a rocket. He even has gone against China which is the last country he should rebuke. But it seems from his face he is laughing always and there’s a dangerous toy in his hand which could create so much agony and suffering for all mankind.”
Of course, we can all clown on Kim and say he is a nutcase, but that isn’t exactly insider information. Most of the world would likely agree with such a sentiment. North Korea isn’t called the Hermit Kingdom for nothing.
Duterte is correct in saying Pyongyang has soured relations with Beijing over its nuclear weapons program. In February, the North accused China of “dancing to the tune of the U.S.” and “styling itself as a big power,” according to the New York Times. The report added that China’s president, Xi Jinping, has a very low opinion of the North Korean leader.
Again, if Trump has the relationship with Xi he claims to have, he would know this already.
Much of the conversation is of Trump gauging Duterte’s mind on how to counter Pyongyang and the Philippine leader quickly acknowledged the importance of China. Trump asked him if China has any influence over Kim. Again, Trump should know this already.
One thing that does stand out during this exchange is Duterte’s sober tone. Known for boasting of the people he has murdered while in elected office, Duterte doesn’t come off as cocky and self-assured. He’s clearly concerned about how a North Korea nuclear strike could destabilize Southeast Asia. But Trump assured him by saying, “[Kim] has got the powder but he doesn’t have the delivery system. All his rockets are crashing. That’s the good news.”
Well, not exactly. For one, a missile is a delivery system and the north has a decent number of them. Two, all of Pyongyang’s missiles aren’t crashing. According to Foreign Policy, of 66 missiles North Korea launched since 2014, 51 have succeeded. But that’s besides the point. The main issue North Korea seems to be facing right now, in terms of actually threatening states with its nuclear weapons, is shrinking the warheads enough so that they would fit inside a rocket nosecone.
If this transcript of Trump and Duterte’s call shows anything Trump is successful in, it’s that he’s pretty efficient in leaking national intelligence. Last week, he managed to reveal sensitive information about a high-level intelligence source during his Oval Office meeting with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister.