Putin turns up the heat on Ukraine – again

Although seldom noticed by anyone west of Warsaw, there has been a war going on in Europe for almost five years now. It began in early 2014 with a Russian secret operation in mid-February that annexed Crimea and soon spread to overt Kremlin military intervention in eastern Ukraine as well. Serious fighting followed, and that conflict remains unfrozen and deadly.

While there has been no sustained combat in eastern Ukraine in years, neither is that front quiet. Kyiv has never accepted the Russian theft of Crimea and the “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk, Kremlin-run pseudo-states that serve as bases for Russian military units on Ukrainian soil. Those units regularly shell Ukrainian positions, because they can. Casualties are commonplace – a few at a time, on a sufficiently low-boil that the West makes little fuss – but hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded since 2015. Twelve were lost to Russian shelling, with five of them dead, on one bad day this August.

As is his wont, Russian President Vladimir Putin occasionally turns up the heat on Ukraine, because he can. The latest aggressive Kremlin provocation came on Sunday, when Russian Coast Guard vessels in the Black Sea attacked Ukrainian navy boats in the strategically vital Kerch Strait, which divides Crimea from Russia. For months, tensions have been rising around the narrow waterway, particularly since Moscow opened a bridge across it in May. This is the sole land connection between Russia and its Crimean reconquest and is therefore of preeminent importance to the Kremlin.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

Democrats Have Their Own Kremlin Influence Problem, Starting with Al Gore and Maxine Waters

Democrats now fervently believe that the White House is infected by illicit Russian influence since Donald Trump moved in almost two years ago. Democrats are ignoring that this isn’t the first time this has happened.

new poll indicates how far left-wing paranoia has run recently. When asked if “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected,” 67 percent of Democrats indicated that was “definitely true” or “probably true” while a mere eight percent said it was “definitely not true” (compared to 54 percent of Republicans).

One problem: While there is overwhelming evidence that Russian intelligence interfered with our 2016 election in terms of espionage and propaganda, venerable Kremlin spy techniques they term Active Measures speeded up for the online age, there’s zero evidence that Russians manipulated any vote tallies in 2016. Our Intelligence Community has examined this touchy subject closely and found, well, nothing. As an NSA official told me recently, “There’s just no ‘there’ there, no matter what MSNBC says.”

Read the rest at The Observer …

Mueller is coming – and Trump can do nothing to stop him

The central fact of Donald Trump’s presidency is that it was never supposed to happen. Running for the White House was a publicity stunt, The Donald’s biggest yet, a bold effort to pump up his brand several notches and get more money for his myriad gigs. It was never a serious run for office. Yet, somehow, it worked.

Anecdotal evidence abounds. There was the stunning lack of a bona fide victory speech on the night of November 8, 2016. What Trump delivered in response to his unexpected victory was incoherently ad hoc even for him. Winning was never part of the Trumpian plan. As Howard Stern, who has known our 45th president for decades, explained, ‘Believe me, nobody wanted Hillary to win more than Donald Trump.’

Being president is a massive hassle, no how much of a part-time job Trump has endeavored to make it, with vast blocs of nebulous ‘executive time’ on the presidential calendar. Worse, winning the White House has exposed Trump’s decades of shady dealings to serious investigation and exposure for the first time.

Conducting secret meetings with Kremlin representatives to get dirt on your political rivals is not something done by normal Western politicos, but Team Trump was never normal. By parleying with shady Russians in 2016 they were merely doing what they had done for many years. Why stop just because you’re running for president?

Read the rest at Spectator USA…

A Kremlin Spy Mystery in Vienna Shakes the World Capital of Espionage

For a century, Vienna has been the world capital of espionage. It’s a city of world-class mystery and intrigue, as depicted in countless spy novels and films. Vienna has it all: lovely vistas, great food and wine, affordable prices, and an extraordinarily permissive environment for espionage.

In Austria, you’re free to spy on nearly whomever you want, and there are plenty of targets. Everybody has an embassy in Vienna, plus it’s the second city of the United Nations. When it comes to espionage, the only way to get in trouble in Vienna is by spying on your hosts—and that’s just what the Russians got caught doing.

The recent arrest of a retired Austrian army colonel on charges of spying for Moscow has shed light on something nobody in Vienna or the Kremlin wanted discussed openly. The suspect, identified only as Martin M. due to stringent privacy laws, is facing a raft of charges. He stands accused of passing Austrian secrets to Russian military intelligence, that is GRU, for a generation.

The 70-year-old Colonel M., now retired in bucolic Salzburg, began spying for GRU in 1992 and his treachery continued until September of this year, well after his retirement from the military. He had been assigned to the headquarters of the defense ministry in Vienna, where co-workers described him as being “a U-Boat,” utterly nondescript, barely visible.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Team Mueller is Holding ‘Dozens of Sealed Indictments,’ According to Intel Source

For every day of his presidency—657 so far, if you’re counting—the issue of Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia has darkened the Oval Office door. Since May 17, 2017, when former FBI director Robert S. Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to unravel Trump’s secret Kremlin linkages, the president has seethed, his rage seeping into his tweets. From its first day, President Trump has wanted to quash the Mueller investigation, and now he’s making his move.

But is it already too late? There’s mounting evidence it is, specifically that Team Mueller is ready to strike imminently with indictments, no matter what the White House does.

All the same, the feat was impetuous even for Trump. He could not wait even one day, dropping his bomb on Wednesday afternoon, on the heels of his wild, angry press conference about the midterm elections. Although Tuesday’s midterms were hardly the personal success that Trump presented them as—with the Democratic takeover of the House muted by GOP gains in the Senate—the hotly desired Democratic Blue Wave never quite swelled. The midterms were a setback for the White House, but hardly an unprecedented one. Barack Obama in 2010 and Bill Clinton in 1994 took worse midterm hits and got reelected.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Mystery of Donald Trump’s Secret Kremlin Ties Just Got a Lot Deeper

Many Americans regard President Donald Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin as uncomfortably cozy. Some, top intelligence officials among them, believe our president has a concealed relationship with Russia, and that it’s nothing new.

To anyone versed in counterintelligence, Trump’s summer 1987 inaugural visit to the Soviet Union, ostensibly to develop Moscow’s never-developed Trump Tower, looks like Ground Zero. The KGB habitually monitored visits by Western VIPs, and since Trump’s junket came by invitation of the Soviet foreign ministry, it’s certain that his trip did not escape the KGB’s attention.

KGB veterans have said as much. Oleg Kalugin, once the youngest general in the KGB and an expert on counterintelligence, confirmed to author Craig Unger “that Trump had fun with lots of girls during that trip and he was almost certain that the KGB had kompromat [compromising material] on that.” Since Kalugin spent several years in the 1980s as the deputy chief of the KGB’s office in Leningrad—a city visited by Trump in 1987—it’s safe to assume that his comment was not speculative.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Yes, Mr. President, the Kremlin Murders Its Enemies—Even in the USA

On 60 Minutes Sunday night, President Trump finally admitted that Vladimir Putin “probably” murders his opponents abroad, but he insisted the Kremlin wouldn’t do such a thing in the United States. Many in U.S. intelligence would disagree.

The mystery on everyone’s mind right now is the October 2 disappearance of the Saudi journalist-turned-dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. As I explained in my last column, there’s good reason to believe that Khashoggi, a legal resident of the United States, was murdered by Saudi intelligence, a conclusion that looks firmer with each day he fails to appear.

Khashoggi’s disappearance is a problem for the White House, given the close relationship between the Trump administration and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Kingdom’s de facto leader, whose dislike for the dissident was no secret. Worse, the National Security Agency gave the White House advance warning that the Saudis planned to harm Khashoggi, but Team Trump apparently did nothing (or at least nothing effective) to protect the doomed journalist.

Read the rest at The Observer …

NSA: White House Knew ‘Disappeared’ Saudi Dissident Was In Danger. Why Didn’t They Protect Him?

What did U.S. intelligence and the White House know about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi—and when did they know it? Those are the Top Secret questions haunting Washington right now. A National Security Agency official tells me that the codebreakers, as usual, have some answers.

For a week, the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi has been one of the world’s top news stories, a bona fide international mystery. A prominent Saudi journalist with deep connections to the Kingdom’s leadership circles, the 59-year-old Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and has not officially been seen since.

While the Middle-Eastern rumor mill can’t agree whether the unfortunate man was murdered or merely abducted, few expect to see Khashoggi alive and well again. At a minimum, he has been disappeared, to use the jargon of repressive regimes. Turkish authorities claim that Khashoggi was killed then dismembered inside the consulate, like something out of a low-budget horror movie, while unconfirmed rumors assert that the missing man is being held against his will in his home country, having been smuggled out of Turkey by Saudi intelligence. In any event, the Khashoggi case has become a sore point between Ankara and Riyadh, as well as a black eye for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its allegedly reformist leadership.

Read the rest at The Observer

Why the FBI’s Kavanaugh Investigation is a Minefield—for the FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation occupies an exalted and somewhat awkward position in American society. It’s simultaneously our lead federal law enforcement agency, with a broad remit, and our main domestic intelligence agency. The FBI catches Mafiosi, bank robbers, spies and terrorists, among other duties. Its national security activities are protected by a steep wall of classification. Although it rankles the FBI and its defenders, using the term “secret police” to describe the storied Bureau is not inaccurate.

One of the FBI’s missions, which is little understood by the public, is its role in conducting background investigations of senior executive branch officials. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, currently besieged by allegations of sexual misconduct, successfully passed no less than six FBI “BIs” (as they’re called in the trade) during his federal career in Washington, which stretches back to the early 1990s.

Since such BIs include a comprehensive look at the applicant’s personal and professional life, to include finances, foreign contacts, illegal activities, addictions, and even mental fitness, how someone as manifestly unfit as Judge Kavanaugh—if you believe the evolving Democratic accusations against him—could have passed FBI muster six times does seem more than a little odd.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Putin’s Killer Spies Have Finally Gone Too Far

Ever since the near-fatal poisoning in March of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the bucolic English city of Salisbury, suspicion has focused on the Kremlin for the brazen crime. Employing Novichok, a weapons-grade nerve agent, to strike down the Skripals was astonishingly aggressive even for Moscow, which in recent years has been on a global killing spree of an audacity and lethality not witnessed since the days of Joseph Stalin.

The British government has consistently pointed the finger at the regime of President Vladimir Putin. Armed with intelligence as well as forensic evidence that established Moscow’s likely culpability, little more than a week after the failed hit, Prime Minister Theresa May denounced Moscow’s efforts to dodge responsibility and expelled 23 Russian diplomats—in reality, spies—from Britain. The gravity of the Skripal case has only grown since, not least because almost four months after the attack, poison left behind by the assassins struck down two innocent Britons, one of whom, Dawn Sturgess, died from exposure to Novichok.

This week, the May government put the case back on the front pages by publicly outing Kremlin agents as the Salisbury assassins. The prime minister named two Russian spies, Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as the “officers of the Russian military intelligence service” wanted for the crime, adding, “This was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

Read the rest at The Observer