Here’s How the FBI Investigation Into Russia and Trump Campaign Actually Started

No story is hotter across America this Memorial Day weekend than what the Federal Bureau of Investigation did—and did not do—in 2016 about Russian connections to Donald J. Trump. As the summer enjoys its unofficial kickoff, headlines and social media are overflowing with accusations, of varying degrees of veracity, regarding FBI counterintelligence operations around President Trump two years ago, as he was campaigning to take the White House.

Of late, the president has taken to Twitter even more manically than usual, hurling invective at the FBI for its alleged illegalities toward him and his entourage. Over the weekend, “executive time” has birthed batches of presidential rage-tweets about the alleged “Spygate,” complete with Trump’s trademark unusual capitalizations and quotations. “With Spies, or ‘Informants’ as the Democrats like to call them because it sounds less sinister (but it’s not), all over my campaign, even from a very early date, why didn’t the crooked highest levels of the FBI or ‘Justice’ contact me to tell me of the phony Russia problem?” the president asked on Saturday, adding that “This whole Russia Probe is Rigged.” Trump piled on three more angry tweets on Sunday, including the bizarre question, “Who’s going to give back the young and beautiful lives (and others) that have been devastated and destroyed by the phony Russia Collusion Witch Hunt?”

Although it’s now evident that in mid-2016 the FBI used one or more informants to sniff around the Trump campaign, inquiring discreetly about connections to the Kremlin—a major concern for the Bureau when people with documented and troubling ties to Russia and its spy agencies like Carter Page and Michael Flynn appeared in Trump’s orbit—there was nothing untoward or disturbing about this. This is the FBI’s standard operating procedure in counterintelligence cases. Although Trump and his defenders have frequently stated that employing informants was illegal and scandalously inappropriate, that’s just one more Trumpian falsehood.

Read the rest at The Observer …

What the Hunt for a Top Nazi War Criminal Tells Us About Trump’s Russia Problem

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda guru, is infamous for his assertion that the bigger the lie, the more effective it is—particularly if you stick to it. It’s not hard to demonstrate that mixing fact and fiction together to spin a narrative, what is properly termed disinformation, can be mightily effective at removing inconvenient facts from public discourse.

With each passing day, President Donald J. Trump’s defense of his rumored Kremlin ties demonstrates this reality, while constituting a mounting exercise in what mental health professionals term projection. That is, rather than admit his own misdeeds, Trump merely passes them on to his accusers. Whereas the president for more than a year insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” with Moscow, of late he has taken to accusing Special Counsel Robert Mueller and those investigating him—particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation—of being the “real colluders,” as O. J. Simpson might put it.

In this telling, which the White House and its media minions push hard daily, Trump is the innocent victim of a far-reaching conspiracy conjured up by Democrats to keep him from winning the Oval Office in 2016. This plot allegedly consisted of invented evidence designed to malign the reality TV star-turned Republican nominee.

Facts are immaterial to this administration, however, and the painful truth understood by anyone versed in the ways of the Kremlin, particularly under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, is that the entire Trump campaign in 2016 was an extended exercise in collusion with Russia. While the details of quid pro quos are unknown to the public, that Trump’s run for the White House was chockablock with efforts to enlist Kremlin help needs to be explained.

Read the rest at The Observer …

New Evidence Shows Russia Played a Role in Plane Crash That Killed Poland’s Top Brass

The crash of a Polish Air Force Tu-154 airliner near the Russian city of Smolensk on April 10, 2010 stands as the most momentous air disaster in modern times. Although other crashes have claimed more victims—the death toll at Smolensk came to 96, all those aboard the doomed ship plus seven crew—those lost were the elite of Poland’s government. Among the dead were President Lech Kaczyński and his wife, much of the president’s staff, 18 parliamentarians, 10 generals and admirals representing Poland’s top military leadership, and many other political notables. The disaster decapitated Warsaw.

To make matters even more painful, President Kaczyński and his entourage died en route to a commemoration at Katyń, the forest in western Russia where, in the spring of 1940, Stalin’s secret police murdered 22,000 Polish military officers captured by the Soviets when they carved up Poland with Adolf Hitler the previous September. Here Moscow murdered Poland’s elite. Covered up by the Kremlin until after the Cold War (with help from the incurious West), Katyń lingers as an unhealed wound in the Polish psyche; the sudden death of so much of the country’s leadership on the way to that site of national martyrdom was too much for some Poles to bear.

From the outset, right-wing allies of the fallen president smelled a rat—a Russian rat, that is. Poles know their neighbor well, and Kaczyński had no illusions about Vladimir Putin’s thuggish regime. It seemed beyond suspicious that Poland’s government died in a disaster on Russian soil—particularly when the Kremlin is led by a man who came of age in the KGB, the very same people who executed and covered up the Katyń massacre.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Why Did the US Ambassador to Germany Defend a Human Trafficker?

It’s no secret that the Trump administration, in office for almost 16 months now, has a devilish time filling top positions. An unprecedented number of plum jobs in our nation’s capital, including senior ones of the kind that Beltway wannabes fight hard for, don’t have people in them. Here, White House laziness and its selection of troubled candidates who have difficulty getting confirmed have both played a role. It seems likely that some of these jobs may never get filled as long as Donald Trump is our president.

Even many ambassadorships remain unoccupied. Seemingly, it’s the Washington custom to dole these out to friends and major donors rather quickly but even here Team Trump has been lackadaisical about appointments. Take the case of Germany, a key ally and the European Union’s most important country. Only this week did our new ambassador report for duty in Berlin, following an extended confirmation saga that lasted nearly a year.

The Senate was in no hurry to give the nominee, Ric Grenell, its endorsement, leading to right-wing charges that this had something to do with the fact that Grenell is openly gay. There’s no evidence for that accusation, and it’s not exactly clear why it took the Senate so long to approve Grenell, though it may have something to do with his lack of diplomatic qualifications.

Trump appointed him because he was an early endorser of his candidacy, and Grenell, a Fox News regular, has been a vehement public defender of the increasingly beleaguered White House. His sole relevant experience was serving as spokesman for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2008. In that role, Grenell, a right-wing ideologue, was noted for his tenaciousness with the media, leading some of them to memorably describe him as “unbearable,” “rude,” “arrogant,” and a “bully.”

Read the rest at The Observer …

Forget Pee-Pee Tapes: the Kremlin Just Dropped a Bigger Bomb on the White House

As long as suspicion has surrounded President Donald Trump regarding his secret ties to Russia—that is, every day of his presidency—lurid rumors have swirled about what unpleasant things the Kremlin might know about the Oval Office’s current occupant. In particular, tabloid-worthy speculation has it that the president’s unseemly personal habits were caught on video during his November 2013 visit to Moscow.

This, of course, is the notorious “pee-pee-tape” floated by Christopher Steele, the former British spy whose 2016 dossier has been the source of so much gossip and controversy in our nation’s capital. As I’ve previously explained, there’s no reason to doubt that the Russians indeed possess compromising information on Trump, given the many trips to that country he’s made over the last 31 years, but scandalous adult videos are perhaps the least of the president’s worries when it comes to Kremlin kompromat.

It’s Trump’s shady business dealings and how they connect to powerful Russians that constitute the real scandal here. While it’s likely that the president has had some sort of less-than-above-board relationship with Moscow’s intelligence agencies for many years, as I recently elaborated, a Bondian secret agent he certainly is not. KremlinGate is fundamentally a long-term financial-cum-influence scandal with an element of espionage thrown in—not the other way around.

That said, during the presidential campaign, Team Trump made multiple hush-hush outreaches to the Kremlin, most of them inept and bumbling, which raise glaring questions for anyone versed in counterintelligence. None of these clandestine parleys has gotten more attention than the June 9, 2016 meeting held in Trump Tower in Manhattan between a top Team Trump delegation (including Donald Trump, Jr. and Paul Manafort, Trump’s then-campaign manager who has an inordinate degree of dubious Kremlin links) and several Russians, led by Natalya Veselnitskaya, a lawyer known in Moscow for her links to Kremlin power circles.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Kremlingate Is Really Just Watergate for Morons—With Russians

The scandal surrounding President Donald Trump and his reputed secret ties to the Kremlin has swirled around him since before his inauguration 15 months ago. For his entire presidency, just what the commander-in-chief’s relationship with Moscow—no friends of ours, no matter how ardently Trump wants the Russians to be—actually it has hovered darkly over the Oval Office, never moving on. It’s no wonder the president has rage-tweeted so frequently about the investigation into his Russian links, proclaiming NO COLLUSION! too many times to count anymore.

That said, the public still has no concrete idea of what lies at the heart of the Department of Justice’s classified inquiry of Trump’s secret ties to the Russians that’s led by Robert Mueller, the former FBI director. That investigation, which has access to vast amounts of top-secret intelligence from American and allied spy agencies, has been run with a degree of security seldom witnessed in Washington, D.C., with leaks from Team Mueller being few and far between.

In that incestuous company town on the Potomac, the gold standard for scandal for the last 45 years has been Watergate, the infamous imbroglio that took down President Richard Nixon. In a ham-handed effort to cover up a relatively minor, if embarrassing crime—a black-bag break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s office at the eponymous Watergate complex—the Nixon administration tied itself in illegal knots that eventually became unstuck and doomed them. “It’s the cover-up that gets you, not the crime,” became the pol’s mantra after Watergate, leading to suspicions now that Team Mueller will go after Team Trump for obstructing justice before anything else.

This is plausible. It’s certainly easier to prove obstruction than unraveling a complex, multi-year criminal conspiracy for a jury. Regardless, there are significant differences between Watergate and Kremlingate that need to be clarified. While Nixon liked to complain about the partisan “witch hunt” out to get him, just like the current Oval Office occupant, Tricky Dick was a skilled political operator, a savvy veteran of Washington wars. In contrast, Reality TV Don is an utter political neophyte who came to the White House with no apparent understanding of how the U.S. government works; worse, he seems to have learned precious little over the last 15 months of increasingly part-time work as the commander-in-chief.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Desperate for Dirt on Western Intelligence Agencies, Russia Just Makes It Up

Western intelligence has been a target of Kremlin spies for penetration and disruption for a full century now, since the Bolshevik coup took power in Russia. For a hundred years, Russian spies—Chekists, to use the proper term that’s cited proudly by President Vladimir Putin, the chekist-in-chief—have sought to win the SpyWar against the West by besting our spies in the endless, dimly lit struggle between espionage agencies. Moscow’s victories in recent years, above all the Snowden Operation and the resulting espionage-propaganda offensive against the Democrats in our 2016 election, have been without precedent in the annals of Kremlin espionage.

Nevertheless, triumphant Chekists aren’t resting on their laurels. Their dishonest propaganda (properly termed disinformation) aimed at harming and discrediting Western intelligence continues unabated. As the head of counterintelligence for the U.S. Intelligence Community recently explained, Edward Snowden’s stolen trove of more than a million classified documents continues to be released, bit by bit, nearly five years after the defector landed in Moscow, doing more damage to American and Western intelligence than ever.

Western counterintelligence—that is, the people and agencies who protect Western secrets and try to prevent foreign espionage—have always been of high interest to the Kremlin and its special services. Throughout the Cold War, the KGB tried hard to penetrate Western counterintelligence agencies, frequently with an alarming degree of success, and it poured out a constant stream of vitriol and insults, often fact-free, aimed at discrediting Western counterspies.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Spy Brief: Dead Drop, 20 April 2018

[premo-gate]

It’s time for another TSB Dead Drop of interesting, provocative, thought-provoking, and sometimes even humorous intelligence and security stories from around the world which you might have missed … enjoy!

Extraordinary rendition? Wait, I thought the US IC did that – and it’s bad, very bad, a serious no-no. Apparently not for Turkey.

Some deets on GCHQ’s recent massive cyber attack on ISIS to degrade that awful terror group’s online capabilities.

Confirmed: Russian intelligence (GRU) was spying on Sergei Skripal and his daughter for at least 5 years before their attempted assassination in Salisbury.

Repeat after me: Overthrowing Gadhafi was a terrible, rotten, no-good idea for Europe and the West. (Told ya!)

What exactly is USCYBERCOM supposed to be doing – and where does NSA stop and CYBERCOM start? Well, aren’t those good questions …

ETA – once one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups – is set to announce its formal dissolution. (Confession: I forgot they still existed at all, even on paper.)

GCHQ boss calls out Russia for “industrial scale disinformation,” says Kremlin “blurring boundaries between criminal and state activity.”

Planting deza, fake news, smearing Hillary with Russian lies – gosh, that sounds like a dry-run for 2016, wouldn’t you say, Paulie?

Turkish intelligence (MIT) global campaign to kidnap – sorry, extradite – Gülenists reaches central Africa. Mike Flynn was not available for comment.

Per above, MIT states it’s “packaged up and delivered 80 FETÖ (Fethullahist Terror Organisation) members from 18 countries,” boasts: “FETÖ are in panic in Pennsylvania.”

Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies just celebrated their 70th birthday. What does their future look like?

Most Israeli spooks really, really dislike Bibi. Like, really-really.

Pentagon quietly explains that President Trump lied to the American public: ISIS is not yet defeated, in fact this fight is far from over. Oh.

So, um, what happens if Beijing decides to make Taiwan their Crimea? That’s a really good question …

A rare bit of detail on Australia’s emerging offensive cyber capabilities. Canberra’s investing heavily there, especially in ASD (Australia’s NSA).

Charges laid in case of Beijing spy caught in Sweden spying on the Tibetan diaspora. Nobody tell Richard Gere.

New Slovak PM says his country is not a “mafia state” despite recent murder of journalist and his fiancée. We’ll see.

More revelations about just how dirty Northern Ireland’s Dirty War really was at the peak of The Troubles.

Germany is alarmingly pro-Russian on many issues. Austria’s even worse – a brief explainer on why that is.

New head of Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) is a retired army general who formerly headed Swiss military intelligence.

[/premo-gate]

 

 

 

 

 

Fox News’ Kremlin Ties Go Much Deeper Than Just Sean Hannity

A few days ago, I addressed the troubling issue of Sean Hannity, the Fox News star, and his hidden ties to the Trump administration. With the revelation that Hannity shares an attorney with the president—namely the disgraced Michael Cohen, who’s now a key player in the Department of Justice’s investigation of the White House and its secret Kremlin links—it’s high time to ask exactly what sort of “journalism” Hannity is pushing at Fox News.

Moreover, when coupled with my previous revelations of Hannity’s “reporting” of rancid disinformation scripted by Russian intelligence as “news,” plus his clandestine relationship with WikiLeaks—said by President Donald Trump’s own CIA director to be a Kremlin front—Fox News is making itself a player not just in the Trump administration, but a target of any fair and balanced investigation of it. As I stated:

With the revelation that Cohen has been Hannity’s attorney, in some fashion that neither of them wished to disclose, it is even more imperative that Fox News explain why it keeps a Kremlin propagandist without any semblance of professional ethics on the air. If they fail to do so, that network is exposing itself to counterintelligence scrutiny as well.

To the surprise of nobody who has observed that network in action, Fox News quickly decided that Hannity’s ethical missteps regarding Cohen were no big deal. Per its statement on the case: “We have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support.” Nevertheless, the network’s own media analyst explained that Hannity was clearly in the wrong, ethically speaking, by commenting many times on-air about Cohen, invariably favorably, without divulging his relationship with him.

Read the rest at The Observer ...

Sean Hannity Takes Center Stage in Trump’s Kremlin Drama

Yesterday’s drama at the U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan unfolded beyond the wildest dreams of countless observers. One week earlier, federal agents executed multiple raids on Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime attorney, fixer and factotum. Granted unusually broad remit, FBI agents seized years of records of all kinds from Cohen’s home, office and hotel room—a development that seems to have terrified the Oval Office, based on President Donald Trump’s especially unhinged rage-tweets in response.

The Department of Justice quickly ascertained that when it came to his work for the Trump Organization, Cohen wasn’t much of a lawyer, rather a clean-up man for Trump’s missteps with women and the arranger of unsavory business deals with an assortment of dubious characters, many of them from the former Soviet Union. Cohen’s court appearance yesterday was guaranteed to be a barn-burner, given the Trump consigliere’s over-the-top media antics, to say nothing of the presence in court of Stormy Daniels, the adult actress and former Trump paramour who claims to have taken a $130,000 payment from Cohen to purchase—or at least rent—her silence for the 2016 election.

But Stormy, whose public telling of her tale sent Cohen down the road to perdition, turned out not to be yesterday’s big draw. Instead, it was Cohen himself and his suspiciously short client list. Trump was Client Number One, as everyone knew, while it recently emerged that Number Two was Elliott Broidy, a venture capitalist, Trump backer, and Republican macher whom Cohen assisted by arranging a $1.6 million hush-deal with a Playboy model who claimed Broidy had impregnated her. When this payoff came to light last week, Broidy resigned from his senior post with the Republican National Committee.

But who was Client Number Three? Cohen desperately did not want to reveal that, but when pressured by Judge Kimba Wood, his legal team disclosed that it was none other than Sean Hannity, the right-wing talker, Fox News stalwart and Trump superfan. A collective, audible gasp overtook the courtroom as this bombshell eclipsed even the presence of Stormy Daniels in a pink suit. Suddenly, Sean Hannity found himself right in the middle of the president’s legal drama. The Fox News star had taken his vociferous support for Donald Trump to the level of sharing his dodgy attorney.

Read the rest at The Observer …