On Tuesday alone, the Republican tweeted three times with maps breaking down his observations of Russian military movements. And he volunteered last week that he wished he could say more about Vladimir Putin’s mental state, suggesting he was aware of non-public U.S. assessments of the Russian leader’s health.
It’s a highly unusual display of transparency from a senior senator on the Intelligence Committee who gets regular, bipartisan briefings on high-level U.S. assessments. But Rubio is comfortable parsing Russia’s war in public, saying he isn’t revealing anything classified or sensitive, even as critics slam his tweets as irresponsible and unverified. He says he’s using any tools he can to convince Americans to care about the violence in Ukraine.
“[Americans] want to understand what our role in all of this is — why America should care, why it matters, what’s happening,” Rubio said in an interview. “There’s a tremendous amount of interest in it for a variety of reasons, so to the extent we can provide that information in detail, I think it’s important just to rally support for Ukraine here in America.”
Rubio’s frequent and uncensored updates on Russia’s Ukraine invasion have led some to question whether he’s revealed closely held U.S. intelligence information. Others are more befuddled by his musings: “We don’t need your play-by-play. Who are you? John Madden?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, quipped to Rubio on Twitter.
The 2016 presidential hopeful, still considered a future contender at only 50 years old, told POLITICO that everything he has tweeted came from public online sources, including details about specific military operations in Ukraine. And he pointed to the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to declassify information about the Kremlin’s intentions, including false-flag operations that could serve as a pretext for further military action against Ukraine, to bolster his case for disclosure.
“I’m not using anything that’s classified,” Rubio insisted. “I mean, you could watch the invasion starting on Google Maps. You could see a traffic jam. Why would a bunch of cars be heading into Ukraine from Belarus … at 3:30 in the morning?”
To be sure, Rubio has shared information from sources deep within the web of the internet — often without attribution. But much of it has proven to be accurate, with a few exceptions. And his tweets are informed by his diet of frequent intelligence consumption thanks to his position as top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which gives him a spot in the coveted Gang of Eight.
“The open-source intelligence from people on the ground that are posting videos and providing that information is extraordinary,” he said. “It’s a new era.”
Rubio’s strategy carries political benefits, too. It has showed off his foreign-policy chops as he considers a potential 2024 White House run and fends off a Democratic challenger for his Senate seat later this year. It’s not a new venture for Rubio, either; he has used his Twitter account to amplify uprisings in Venezuela and Cuba, too.
But he has also sought to push back on some in the GOP who have claimed that Putin’s concerns about Ukraine joining NATO were legitimate. He said those skeptics of Kyiv’s readiness to join the Western alliance “either don’t know what they are talking about or are lying.”
While Rubio says none of his tweets have included or referenced classified information, he has nodded at secret assessments of Putin’s psychological fitness, his intentions and his military’s current and future operations.
For example, Rubio shocked many foreign-policy experts when he suggested that Putin, 69, is experiencing a mental decline.
“I wish I could share more, but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with Putin,” Rubio wrote in one tweet. “He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different & significant. It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have 5 years ago.”
Rubio has since hinted that Putin might be suffering from a neurological disorder that makes him unable to control his impulses. But the senator later said in an interview that this was simply his own perception after Putin, normally calm and composed, appeared to lash out at his national-security officials in a public meeting at the Kremlin last week.
“I’ve watched this guy for 10 years. I’ve been a target of his disinformation,” Rubio said. “This is a guy that’s always shown tremendous pride in himself and emotional control. For him to flash that kind of anger in a public forum like that probably shocked a lot of Russians as well. So there’s clearly something different about the guy.”
Rubio’s counterpart, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who chairs the intelligence committee, has made clear that he is taking a different approach when discussing the Russia-Ukraine war.
When asked during media interviews about some of the information Rubio has revealed in his tweets, Warner has said he would not comment on “any specific intelligence” due to his role as panel chair.
Like Rubio, Warner references public reporting and open-source information when discussing the Russian invasion, such as Putin’s conduct during televised meetings and his dressing-down of senior officials who don’t fall completely in line. But the Democrat has pointedly declined to go further and made clear he wasn’t referencing any specific U.S. assessments.
It’s unclear if Rubio’s Gang of Eight counterparts or members of the intelligence community are uncomfortable with his Twitter strategy. Rubio, for his part, said nobody from the Biden administration has raised concerns to him.
Representatives for both Warner and the CIA declined to comment for this story, and a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to a request for comment.