Skip to content

EXCLUSIVE: NSA Chief Admits Trump Colluded with Russia

When will Admiral Mike Rogers say publicly what he told his agency’s workforce?

President Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, the FBI director, three weeks ago continues to reverberate in the KremlinGate scandal which threatens to consume the Trump administration. By abruptly removing Comey, then mangling his excuses for why he did so, Trump created a needless crisis for the White House which shows no signs of abating.

It was immediately obvious that Trump fired Comey because he feared what the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the president’s contacts with Russia might reveal – as the commander-in-chief has essentially admitted. Moreover, Trump’s inappropriate efforts to secure Comey’s personal “loyalty” had fallen flat – the FBI director rightly assured the president of his honesty but abjured any fealty to Trump personally – after which the president is reported to have developed a palpable fear of the incorruptible Bureau boss. To protect Team Trump, Comey had to go.

However, cashiering Comey was insufficient. True to form, Trump wanted to take the offensive against the FBI. According to multiple reports, the president approached top intelligence bosses to coax them into joining Trump’s personal war with Comey. In particular, Trump asked Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to go public in denying that Team Trump had any ties to Russia during the 2016 election campaign.

The president’s take on the FBI investigation is well known, thanks to his frequent tweets castigating it as “fake news,” a “hoax” and even a “witch hunt.” However, asking top intelligence officials to publicly attack the FBI and its director isn’t just unusual, it’s unprecedented. Even President Nixon, in the depths of the Watergate scandal which ultimately unraveled his administration, never went quite so far as to drag NSA into his public mess.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The West is Pushing Back on Kremlin Lies — Without America

Putin’s Fake News offensive against the West has generated resistance – but not in Washington

Last week I was in Prague, participating in the STRATCOM 2017 summit – and it was a week very well spent. Sponsored by the European Values think-tank, a top-notch Czech NGO devoted to defending liberal democracies, it brought together 330 experts from 29 countries to discuss the threat to all our societies presented by Russian propaganda and disinformation.

Fittingly hosted in Prague, which as I recently explained has a serious problem with Kremlin espionage and subversion, STRATCOM 2017 is unique in its size and scope, bringing together a diverse group of security practitioners, politicians, think-tankers, journalists, and related experts from across the Western world. In Prague, the meet and speak frankly under Chatham House rules, sharing ideas and best practices. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else – and certainly nothing remotely comparable in the United States.

That’s because America is several years behind Europe in grappling with the corrosive effects of Kremlin-pushed Fake News on our societies. As the summit made abundantly clear, this is a necessary fight if we want to protect Western democracy and civil society from Vladimir Putin’s disinformation machine and his helpers in our midst. However, it’s painful to admit that Washington really isn’t in this fight at all, more than three years after Putin seized Crimea, invaded Ukraine, and initiated Cold War 2.0. This, notwithstanding that Kremlin lies in recent years have played a noxious role in misshaping American politics and elections.

It’s worthwhile looking at what is going on elsewhere before we castigate our own government. At the national level, several European countries have established units to examine Russian Active Measures, to use the proper Chekist term; in some cases, they are engaged in counterpropaganda, debunking noxious lies emanating from Moscow which aim to dissolve the bonds of democratic societies. Having just witnessed France’s successful effort to defeat Russian spy-games designed to manipulate their presidential election, European eyes have now turned to Germany, which has national elections in September. Whether Berlin will be as adept as Paris at blunting Putin’s lie machine remains an open and very important question.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Putin’s Central European Spy Base

Why does the Kremlin have so many spies and secret operatives in the Czech Republic?

PRAGUE—The capital of the Czech Republic is indisputably one of the loveliest cities in Europe. Having avoided major bombing or combat in the Second World War, unlike most cities in the region, Prague remains a Baroque jewel, a stunning example of effective and charming urban planning in the late Habsburg Empire. It’s no wonder that tourists flock here from all corners of the globe. As do spies, many of them Russia.

Since the mid-1990s, the Czech Republic has been something of a playground for Russian spies – and most of them are in Prague. It’s not difficult to see why they’re here. As a member of both NATO and the European Union, the country is a tempting target for the Kremlin. Not to mention that Prague is a great place to live and work, there’s a pro-Russian element of the population (even after the Soviet 1968 invasion there inexplicably are still Czech Russophiles), there’s a lot of Russian business going on in the country, and Kremlin operatives gained a solid foothold here just after the Cold War, when it was easy.

Wisely, Prague after 1989 disbanded the Communist-era secret police and created entirely new intelligence structures, free of KGB influence. However, this fresh start meant that it took several years for neophyte Czech spies to learn their craft, and by the time they did in the mid-1990s, the Russians had put down impressive clandestine roots. As a result, Czech counterspies have played catch-up for the last two decades and never have been able to fully cope with the vast extent of Kremlin espionage and subversion in their country.

The numbers tell the tale. The Security Information Service (BIS in Czech) tracks Russian diplomats in the country closely, and there are an awful lot of them – 140 or so at any time. Almost 90 percent of them are at the Russian embassy in Prague, with the rest divided between consulates in Brno (the capital of the Moravia region) and Karlovy Vary (a spa town in western Bohemia that’s coincidentally a top destination for Russian mafiosi).

Read the rest at The Observer …

The East-West SpyWar as Viewed from Putin’s Doorstep

There is cause for optimism in the West about resisting Russia – but not too much, yet

TALLINN—This is the NATO capital closest to Mother Russia. Estonia is not, as Team Trump stalwart Newt Gingrich bizarrely put it last year, “in the suburbs of St. Petersburg,” yet it is undeniably too close to Russia for the comfort of many Estonians. Gingrich’s comment made Estonians – and plenty of other Europeans – wonder about the commitment of then-candidate Trump to NATO and collective security.

Those fears have been ameliorated somewhat by now-President Trump’s recent statement that NATO, which he only a few months ago derided as “obsolete,” is suddenly no longer so. Instead the Atlantic Alliance is now a “bulwark of international peace and stability,” according to Trump, who didn’t explain how NATO had miraculously changed so quickly. This is reassuring to our European partners, particularly the ones living close to Russia, yet puzzling all the same.

This sense of befuddlement was front and center at this year’s Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn, the preeminent security get-together in northern Europe. It attracts politicians, security practitioners, think-tank wonks, and journalists from all over the world. With the departure of the remarkable Toomas Ilves from Estonia’s presidency last fall after a decade in the job, there were questions about the conference’s future, given how strongly Ilves had sponsored the event, seeing it as an important anchor for his embattled little country in Western political and security structures.

Read the rest at The Observer …

This Can’t End Well for Trump

Dismissing FBI Director Comey didn’t make the Russia problem go away—it made things worse

President Donald Trump’s surprise firing of FBI Director James Comey late on Tuesday took Washington and the whole country by storm. The White House cashiering the man in charge of investigating the president’s connections to the Kremlin hardly constitutes a normal turn of events in our nation’s capital, and Trump’s high-stakes gamble brought inevitable comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s infamous Saturday Night Massacre in late October 1973.

Where this all ends now is anyone’s guess, though Trump’s firing his secret police chief unavoidably will bring scrutiny to issues—above all his links to Russia—which the president is desperate to make disappear. Indeed, it was Comey’s refusal to ignore Team Trump’s Russia problem that led to his brusque dismissal by Trump’s bodyguard-turned-factotum. In Los Angeles when he got the news from television, the FBI director was so stunned that at first he thought it was a prank.

However, the White House was deadly earnest about defenestrating Comey, whose refusal to toe the Trump line on the Kremlin proved his undoing. In particular, his unwillingness to say three magic words—“There’re no ties”—and thereby take the heat off the president regarding Russia drove Trump to distraction. Press reports portray a White House in crisis over Kremlingate. Politico captured the administration’s panic with this insider depiction of the president:

Read the rest at The Observer …

Putin Declares War on the West

Kremlin efforts to sway France’s election failed—but Russian spy-games are far from over

A presidential candidate loathed by Moscow suffers a massive cyber-attack by Russian spies. Purloined emails that are embarrassing for the front-runner are dumped online by Kremlin fronts. Political chaos ensues as Vladimir Putin prepares to reap his reward.

That’s what happened in France a couple days ago. And if all this sounds familiar to Americans it should, since this is precisely the clandestine playbook employed by Kremlin spies against Hillary Clinton last year. However, this time the outcome was very different – and far less edifying to Moscow.

Marine Le Pen, Putin’s openly favored candidate, lost to Emmanuel Macron, the youthful centrist who became the impromptu white knight of everyone in France who wanted to halt Le Pen and her far-right National Front. In fact, yesterday’s election was a total blow-out.

In Sunday’s second-round of the presidential vote, Macron got 66 percent against just 34 percent for Le Pen, an almost two-to-one advantage. Of France’s 102 départements (roughly counties in American terms), Le Pen took only two. Although Macron was leading in late polling, few expected this kind of massive loss for the National Front, which has surged in recent years thanks to its Trump-like populist appeal: anti-immigrant, anti-European Union, and unabashedly pro-France and its sovereignty.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Putin-Proofing the Balkans: A How-To Guide

The West needs to accept its mistakes in Southeastern Europe and correct them—before the Kremlin does

In my last column, I explained how rising tumult in the Balkans threatens to bring chaos and war to that troubled region again, in a repeat of the violent 1990s—and perhaps even worse. Russian meddling in the region promises to push fragile and impoverished societies over the edge, a prospect which threatens all Southeastern Europe. As I concluded:

It is therefore in the West’s interest to tamp down festering crises in the Balkans—above all in Macedonia—before they get out of hand. That will require keeping Russian malfeasance in the region to a tolerable level, yet it will also require NATO and the EU to confront the reality that the solutions they imposed on the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are no longer functioning. Indeed, they constitute a big part of the problems imperiling Southeastern Europe today.

But how to Putin-proof the Balkans before something awful happens? Blunting Kremlin spy-games is the first task at hand, and here NATO security services can assist local partners in unmasking Russian espionage, propaganda and subversion. The Atlantic Alliance must help Southeastern Europe resist aggressive moves like the violent coup plotted by Putin’s spies against Montenegro a few months ago.

That’s the easy part, however. The real challenge facing the West is undoing the damage we inadvertently wrought on the wreckage of Yugoslavia nearly a generation ago. NATO, led by Washington, deserves credit for entering the Bosnian war in earnest in 1995 and putting an end to that fratricidal nightmare. We did better in Kosovo four years later, stopping that ugly ethnic war before outright genocide materialized.
Read the rest at The Observer …