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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appears to have declassified a CIA program to arm Syrian rebels in a series of tweets attacking The Washington Post Monday night.
"The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.....," Trump wrote, calling the Post's stories "Fake News" and accusing the paper of being a "Lobbyist for Amazon and taxes."
Last week The Washington Post first reported that Trump had decided to end a covert CIA program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.
The program, which the Obama administration initiated in 2013, has always been classified, with U.S. government and military officials declining to ever confirm its existence on the record.
While Executive Order 12356, which deals with national security and classification of information, says that the president has the authority to classify information, it does not specify whether he also has the ability to declassify any information at any time. But many legal experts agree that once the president speaks publicly about something, the information is effectively declassified.
Army Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, surprised attendees at the Aspen Security Forum last week when he became the first U.S. official to acknowledge the program publicly.
Asked whether ending the program was a concession to Russia, Thomas said, "Absolutely not," effectively confirming that it had existed. He said that terminating the program was "not a sop to the Russians" and was a "tough, tough decision."
Not mentioning the CIA by name, Thomas acknowledged that the program was run by "a sister organization" that he's not necessarily affiliated with, and that the other organization had "a tough, some would argue impossible mission based on the approach we took."
A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on the status or existence of the program. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.