Recent headlines have brought attention to the seedier side of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state during President Obama’s first term. This scheme, which gives every appearance of being about pay-for-play, solicited donations from foreign big-shots in exchange for access to the boss of American foreign policy.
I’ll leave to others to assess the legality of this shady business—for now it’s the national security implications we need to discuss. It’s a big deal when the person who’s possibly our next president—and if polls are accurate, she probably will be—has sold access to foreign bidders before taking the oath of office. It’s especially worrisome when some of those foreigners are in Moscow.
I’ve previously explained how Donald Trump possesses unsavory Russian ties. He parrots Kremlin propaganda, his inner circle includes people on Moscow’s payroll, and top American intelligence officials have called him an “unwitting agent” of Vladimir Putin. This is a serious matter deserving close scrutiny.
Just as serious is how the Kremlin has forged links with nearly all the presidential candidates this year, not just Trump—so much so that, no matter who wins on November 8, Putin will, too. Hillary Clinton also possesses Moscow links that merit investigation. I’ve previously explained how Kremlin money found its way to the Podesta Group, the prominent Democratic lobbying firm that just happens to be headed by the brother of her campaign chairman, John Podesta (who co-founded the firm).
However, recent revelations indicate that Hillary’s dubious Kremlin ties go far deeper. A new report by Peter Schweizer, who’s spent years investigating the dubious and convoluted finances of Clinton, Inc., raises troubling questions about just how deep Hillary’s Moscow’s ties are—and whom exactly they’re with.
Read the rest at The Observer…
Moles—that is, long-term penetration agents—are every intelligence service’s worst nightmare. Though rarer in reality than in spy movies and novels, moles exist and can do enormous damage to a country’s secrets and espionage capabilities. They’re what keep counterintelligence experts awake at night.
The recent appearance on the Internet of top secret hacking tools from the National Security Agency has shined yet another unwanted spotlight on that hard-luck agency, which has been reeling for three years from Edward Snowden’s defection to Moscow after stealing more than a million classified documents from NSA. As I explained, this latest debacle was not a “hack”—rather, it’s a clear sign that the agency has a mole.
Of course, I’ve been saying that for years. It’s not exactly a secret that NSA has one or more Russian moles in its ranks—not counting Snowden. Now the mainstream media has taken notice and we have the “another Snowden” meme upon us.
James Bamford, who’s written a lot about NSA over the decades, has taken up this meme. It should be noted that Bamford is less than a reliable journalist who’s known to embellish sources when not outright fabricating them. That said, there’s no doubt that NSA has a penetration problem.
This shouldn’t be shocking news since the agency has suffered from moles since its birth in 1952. While many intelligence services have tried to steal secrets from NSA, only the Russians have been able to do so consistently. Kremlin penetration of NSA has been a constant. A brief historical sketch outlines the problem.
Read the rest at The Observer …
I’ve watched the campaign of Donald J. Trump for the presidency with interest since the moment this unique spectacle began. As I explained early on, while I considered the man himself to be a clownish character, I was glad that he was raising issues that needed to be discussed but weren’t until The Donald entered the race.
I knew from the moment Mitt Romney lost an election in 2012 that he shouldn’t have that the Republican Party would take all the wrong lessons from that needless defeat. As I predicted, rather than refocus to win more votes from demographics that felt unloved by Romney — especially working class whites — the GOP establishment would jump through great intellectual hoops to reach any other conclusion. And so they did.
Right-leaning pundits and the GOP’s donor class, which between them pretty much call the shots on what’s acceptable Republican discourse, wanted nothing to do with any outreach to downmarket whites, whom they despise. So it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be talking about out of control illegal immigration or job losses to China if it weren’t for Trump, who sashayed and tweeted his way into the campaign and shifted the GOP’s Overton window in a stunning fashion.
There will be much for future historians to ponder in this year’s remarkable Republican primary race, which left the party’s “stars” gasping for breath, not sure exactly what hit them when the vaunted Trump train barreled through their ranks. Like pretty much every other pundit in America, I got it wrong when I said last summer that Trump stood no chance of getting the Republican nomination, much less winding up in the White House. Otherwise I stick by most of what I said about Trump and his candidacy when this strange saga kicked off.
That said, I always had doubts about Trump, enormous ones. How not? This, after all, is a reality TV star whose all-over-the-map business dealings can charitably be called dodgy. In a field like national politics that attracts narcissists like schoolyards beckon pedophiles, Trump is a standout for his rank, tacky self-absorption. His inability to admit ever being wrong, his incessant need to double, then triple-down on any issue, however small, was impossible to miss. Warning signs were large and neon-lit for anyone caring to see.
Nevertheless, I had hopes that, eventually, professional handlers would get a hold of Trump and moderate his rough edges. Once he secured the GOP nomination a more focused Trump — one not needing to respond to every imagined slight with an incendiary tweet — had to arrive. Surely if he expected to be competitive in the general election, Trump knew he would have to refocus, stop pandering to his narrow but fervent base, and start talking like, well….a president.
Alas, I was wrong. Wise friends of mine like Tom Nichols and Rick Wilson were right all along. There is no better Trump. There is no responsible Trump. There is no balanced Trump. There is no presidential Trump. There is only Trump.
This is a man who cannot listen to any opinions contrary to his own. Sycophancy is a requirement for admission to Trump’s inner circle, which explains why his echo chamber is so effective at silencing reality. His campaign is now in free fall. His self-immolation in the weeks after the Republican convention — between attacks on the family of a dead American soldier to asking the Kremlin to find Clinton’s missing emails — is unprecedented in our country’s political history. Trump will lose catastrophically on November 8 to Hillary Clinton, an almost unimaginably flawed candidate whom any normal Republican could defeat, and whose moving back into the White House fills me with dread.
I’m not a very partisan person, as my longtime readers know, and until the last year I was never particularly anti-Hillary, whom I regarded as a world-class grifter with few, if any, firm convictions beyond the naked pursuit of power and money. Corrupt politicians scare me less than fanatical ones. However, the revelations of EmailGate, which I’ve analyzed in great depth, reveal a woman whose crass disregard for our nation’s laws and its security renders her unfit to be commander-in-chief.
Yet she will be. Trump has now self-destructed in such a shocking fashion, revealing his true, ugly self, that many average Americans have decided he’s crazy. I’ll leave actual diagnosis to mental health professionals, but the case for Trump having something very wrong with him now seems self-evident.
Let me be clear. Even if Trump were the picture of rectitude, a modest man not prone to outbursts and devoted to country over self — in other words, the opposite of who he actually is — he would still be unfit to be commander-in-chief. Allow me to dispense with the usual liberal pieties about his “racism” and “bigotry.” His numerous repulsive utterances aside, I see no evidence that Trump actually has any firm convictions — about race, creed, religion, politics, anything — outside himself.
Now that Trump has decided to ham-handedly pander to African Americans while going wobbly on deporting illegal immigrants, thereby undoing his main reason for getting in the presidential race in the first place, he has revealed himself to be every bit as insincere as Hillary Clinton. If Trump’s ardent AltRight fanbase, which values frog memes over policy, doesn’t now realize that they are just one more Trumpian long con, in his long list of them, they never will.
The real problem is that Trump has allowed his campaign to become a pawn of the Kremlin. There’s hardly any “campaign” to speak of. There’s about a platoon of full-time staff, there’s no national organization, no grass-roots anything, and hardly any advertising either. Yet what there is now openly utters rank Russian propaganda. Trump has finally gotten rid of the GRU flunky who was running the campaign, but there remains a whole retinue of people with troubling ties to the Kremlin surrounding the Republican nominee. To say nothing of Trump’s own mouthing of Moscow’s lies. Unwitting he may be, but Trump is unmistakably the Kremlin’s man. This situation is unprecedented in our country’s history and should worry all Americans, since Vladimir Putin’s Russia is no friend of ours.
It would be in the interests of America and the Republican Party for Trump to step down at once, to at least give the GOP a fighting chance to keep Clinton out of the White House. Of course, there’s zero chance that will happen, given the size of Trump’s ego, and his recent selection of hard-right propagandists to head his campaign into the home stretch gives a clear indication of where he’s going — and how unpleasant it will be.
Last week, from the cliff’s edge of collapsing poll numbers, Trump gave hints of a more sober, less hysterical self. There was even a vague apology of sorts for his past offenses. His campaign promised a revitalized effort without the personal attacks that are Trump’s actual brand. His representatives spent the weekend explaining the relaunch to the media. Then, early this morning, Trump was back to being himself, tweeting unhinged personal insults at members of the media whose coverage of The Donald has been deemed insufficiently fawning by The Donald. This will continue until November 8 and anybody who expects anything different is a fool.
What Trump’s game here is can’t be determined with certainty. Was his presidential run a publicity stunt, an effort to relaunch the Trump brand that inexplicably was taken seriously by the public? Is his quest for the White House really just the pilot episode of Trump’s next reality TV show? With Trump, anything is possible. All that can be said for certain is that Trump is doing incalculable damage to the Republican Party while his incendiary rhetoric about Democrats stealing the election, months before anybody has voted, may be endangering the Republic itself. We have here an assault on our democratic norms that should provoke outrage. This is a dangerous and irresponsible man.
Don’t waste your tears on the GOP, however. The Republican establishment brought this nightmare on itself. First, by ignoring the legitimate concerns of countless voters — about the country’s course, about jobs, about our withering identity as Americans — which opened the door for a conman to seduce them. Neither did the full cast of GOP presidential wannabes in 2016 cover itself with glory. At any point, any one of them — they were losing to Trump anyway — could have pointedly taken the reality TV star to task about his fraudulent campaign, thereby bursting his bubble before the cameras. None did. Last, the Republican National Committee has been derelict in not making a serious effort to defenestrate Trump while there was still time to put forward another candidate. Republicans will be slaughtered in November, thanks to Trump, and the GOP will bear a lot of the blame.
However, some sympathy is in order for Americans who have been conned by Trump. It’s understandable that many average citizens — feeling unloved by any political party, being ignored when not mocked by the media (which is eager to call them ignorant racists at any opportunity), looking forward to a future of declining prosperity and fragmenting community — would find Trump’s message’s congenial. Now, however, they need to face the painful fact that the Republican nominee meant none of what he said to them. They can be added to the list of Trump’s failed schemes — steaks, vodka, mortgages, casinos, his “university” — that are discarded when no longer needed.
No American who cares about our national security can vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Just because the former is a greater threat to our democracy does not make the latter acceptable. Former CIA officer Evan McMullin has thrown his hat in the ring and is running as an independent, offering an alternative on November 8 for those who care about our national security. McMullin offers an honorable option for those who cannot pull the lever for anybody named Clinton. I care a lot about honor and I will be voting for Evan. You should think about it too.
Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency entered a new crisis at the end of this week with the resignation of Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, amid allegations of dirty money and Kremlin connections.
Manafort was brought into the campaign in late March to give the Trump campaign focus as it prepared for the Republican party convention. His predecessor, Corey Lewandowski, possessed limited political experience and had been managing a sandwich shop before he was hired to head up Trump’s presidential bid.
Although Manafort possessed ample political experience, not all of it was welcome. The veteran 67-year-old Republican consultant had helped to elect Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, then George H. W. Bush in 1988, but he had not worked on a Republican presidential campaign since Bob Dole’s failed bid in 1996.
Manafort instead spent ample time overseas, serving as a fixer for various foreign governments – not all of them savory or democratic. Among the regimes Manafort worked for include anti-communist rebels in Angola, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Zaire’s notorious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Some of Manafort’s clients were worse than unsavory. He spent four years in the early 1990s lobbying on behalf of a Kashmiri advocacy group that FBI investigation determined was actually a front group for Pakistani intelligence, the notorious ISI. For helping Pakistan’s ISI, which is infamous for its support to jihadist terrorism, Manafort’s firm received $700,000.
Connections to the ISI should have been sufficient to raise uncomfortable questions about Manafort, but the cause of his downfall this week is his open ties to corrupt oligarchs and Kremlin fronts in Ukraine. That he had spent several years in Kyiv lobbying for Viktor Yanukovych, who served as the country’s president from early 2010 to early 2014, was hardly a secret.
Indeed, Manafort was critical to Yanukovych’s rise to power, since the American fixer coached the colorless Communist functionary in modern politics. After losing elections in 2004 to the Western-oriented Orange Revolution, Yanukovych understood he needed to update his look and his message. That was what Manafort was for.
The Republican consultant taught Yanukovych how to present messages to different audiences and it paid off when his client won the presidency in January 2010. However, once in power, Yanukovych ruled in a distinctly pro-Moscow fashion. It was no secret that the new president and his Party of Regions were clients of Vladimir Putin, whose security services, above all the Federal Security Service or FSB, were allowed free reign in Ukraine as long as Yanukovych ruled in Kyiv.
Manafort was there every step of the way, and if he objected to his client’s thuggish and corrupt ways, there is no record of it. Everything was fine until Yanukovych fell in February 2014 when he was impeached by parliament and popular protests convulsed the country. When Yanukovych’s thugs attacked protestors in Kyiv, killing nearly a hundred – some of the shooting of unarmed protestors was done by FSB operatives sent to Kyiv to bolster the ailing regime – his position became untenable and he promptly fled to Russia, where he remains.
It was widely known that Manafort spent a decade advising Yanukovych, yet that did not deter Trump from appointing him his campaign manager. For Trump, who openly admires Putin, perhaps Moscow links were considered a plus. Whispers continued that Manafort’s role in Kyiv, between oligarchs and Kremlin connections, was worse than publicly acknowledged.
Nevertheless, Manafort guided his new client through the Republican convention in Cleveland last month, winning him the party’s nomination. He stood by Trump as, post-convention, the newly-anointed nominee engaged in a remarkable bout of self-immolation, between insulting the family of a dead American soldier to asking the Kremlin to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. As Trump committed political suicide before the cameras, Manafort remained loyal and upbeat.
That said, the convention raised questions. In Cleveland, Trump operatives rewrote the Republican party platform, watering it down from promising to provide Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapons” to merely “appropriate assistance.” Although the Trump campaign denied it had a hand in this rewrite, this was quickly proven false. While some saw Manafort behind this change, he weathered that storm, though he was hardly helped by Trump’s bizarre on-camera insistence that Putin is not “in” Ukraine – despite the presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops in Crimea and the Donbas.
Then everything unraveled this week. First came reports that Manafort had been the recipient of vast largess by the Party of Regions. Anti-fraud investigators in Kyiv discovered a ledger showing that between 2007 and 2012, Manafort was promised $12.7 million in off-the-books cash payments by Yanukovych’s ruling party. At a minimum, Manafort had served as a foreign agent without registering as one, as required by American law. The documents appear authentic and, given the lawyerly evasiveness of Manafort’s denials, there’s no reason to doubt this story.
The scandal had not yet died down – including awkward questions about where this vast sum of money really came from – when worse appeared. Now we have learned that, during his years in Kyiv, Manafort’s translator and sidekick was Konstantin Kilimnik, who had spent several years with Russian military intelligence or GRU. Although Kilimnik made no effort to hide his Kremlin affiliation, he and Manafort became fast friends.
To anybody familiar with Russian intelligence, Kilimnik was very likely Manafort’s spy-handler. At best, he was an access agent for GRU, assessing the American for possible espionage. “There are no former intelligence officers,” as Vladimir Putin has stated, and one can only imagine the glee in Moscow when Manafort was appointed Trump’s campaign manager.
That role has ended with Manafort’s resignation. A shake-up this week reduced the seasoned fixer’s role as Trump tried to re-brand his damaged campaign to take on Hillary Clinton in early November. The exposure of Manafort’s long relationship with GRU was the final straw. Even Trump, for all his overt “bromance” with Putin, could not be seen to have such an obvious Kremlin proxy heading his campaign for the White House.
It is nevertheless shocking that Manafort burrowed his way into the Trump campaign as deeply as he did. There are lessons here for Europe – and especially Germany. America is only now experiencing what Europe has already gone through – a world where parties on both the left and the right are wooed by the Kremlin, which brings cash and favors.
Germany, with its rich reservoirs of Russlandversteher, is especially vulnerable. On the left, Die Linke retains longstanding ties to Moscow, with whom it shares antipathy toward NATO and the Americans. On the rising right, where Merkel’s failed refugee policies provide fodder for Kremlin propaganda every day, the AfD and others more extreme court Russian favor and sponsorship as Germany looks towards national elections next year.
The case of Paul Manafort demonstrates how Moscow uses money and connections to influence Western politics – even in the United States. The West’s political class is vulnerable to Russian exploitation. Manafort’s demise this week is a rare case when the public gets to see this messy reality exposed. Germany is no different – and Germans who value their democracy will pay attention as 2017 approaches.
(This article appeared in German in BILD — you can read it here.)
The National Security Agency can’t catch a break. Over three years ago, Edward Snowden, an IT contractor for the agency, defected to Moscow with more than a million classified documents. Since then, Snowden’s vast trove has been used to embarrass NSA about the extent of its global espionage reach.
I’ve been warning from Day One that the Snowden Operation was a Russian propaganda ploy aimed at inflicting pain on NSA, America’s most important spy agency, and its global alliance of espionage partnerships that’s been the backbone of the powerful Western intelligence system since it helped defeat the Nazis and Japan in World War II.
Western intelligence bosses recently have become open about stating what they’ve known for years, that Snowden is a Kremlin pawn designed to inflict pain on Russia’s adversaries in the SpyWar. There’s no doubt that’s the case, especially since the Kremlin now has admitted that Snowden is their agent.
For more than three years NSA has been subjected to an unprecedented stream of leaks about myriad Top Secret intelligence programs. Although Snowden claimed his motivation was to protect the civil liberties of fellow Americans by exposing secrets, it’s impossible to miss that well over 95 percent of the programs he’s compromised are purely involved with foreign intelligence. The impact of all this on agency morale has been devastating and NSA is in a state of crisis thanks to Snowden.
This week things took a marked turn for the worse, however, with the exposure of highly sensitive NSA hacking tools on the Internet by a murky group calling itself “The Shadow Brokers” which announced it planned to sell programs purloined from the agency. Like clockwork, NSA’s public website crashed and stayed down for almost a full day. Although there’s no indication this was linked to The Shadow Brokers, the optics for NSA were terrible.
Read the rest at The Observer…
The news keeps getting worse. Alarming evidence of how deep the Kremlin’s got its tentacles in Washington mounts by the day. Large-scale hacking by Russian cyber-warriors didn’t just hit the Democratic National Committee, it stole emails from a wide array of top power-players, including the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO’s military boss.
Systematic Russian cyber-attacks on the DNC and related political targets in Washington were detected over a year ago by the National Security Agency, which monitors foreign cyber shenanigans, but the highly classified nature of this intelligence made it difficult to alert Congress about Kremlin espionage.
That the Russians stood behind this operation, using well-known hacking cut-outs, was established early by NSA. “It was the Kremlin, we had them cold,” explained an NSA official with direct knowledge of the case: “Moscow didn’t care we knew, they were unusually brazen.”
Although Democrats were the main focus of this espionage effort, prominent Republicans got hit too. Sen. John McCain was a target of the Russians, which is no surprise given his reputation as a hardliner on Kremlin matters. When President George W. Bush stated that he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy…I was able to get a sense of his soul,” McCain famously retorted, “I looked in Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters—a K, a G, and a B.”
Under President Putin, Moscow again refers to United States as their Main Adversary, just as the KGB did during the last Cold War, and there can’t be many American politicians that Putin and his Kremlin loathe more than straight-talking John McCain.
Read the rest at The Observer…
He’s done it again. A couple weeks ago, it seemed that Donald Trump’s gaffes would be difficult to top. First the Republican nominee encouraged the Russians to steal Hillary Clinton’s missing emails—a criminal act of espionage. Then he repeatedly attacked a Muslim Gold Star immigrant family whose Army officer son was killed in Iraq.
Yet Trump’s managed to top even those virtuoso own-goals. His sly encouragement of Second Amendment enthusiasts who might want to assassinate the Democratic nominee caused outrage and encouraged mounting defections from the GOP over Trump’s lack of self-control. It’s never a good day in politics when the Secret Service must have a word with a candidate about assassinating his rival.
Now he’s blown past even that low point by stating that President Obama is the founder of the Islamic State, the notorious ISIS. Wednesday night at a spirited Florida rally, Trump said, “In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama… He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS… I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”
Although this wasn’t the first time Trump has pointed a finger at Obama and Clinton as having created ISIS, the emphasis he placed on saying “founder” repeatedly caught the attention of the commentariat. Even some Trump supporters were more than a little taken aback by the GOP nominee’s gleeful tarring of the president as an alleged jihadist.
Thursday morning Hugh Hewitt, a well-known Republican commentator who’s backed the GOP nominee, interviewed Trump and gave him a golden opportunity to repudiate his incendiary words. Trump did nothing of the sort, instead doubling down on his accusation. The exchange was so shocking it’s worth quoting at length:
Read the rest at The Observer…