For the last few years, the media has been dominated by a number of sensational stories: that Trump colluded with Russia to influence the presidential election; that the Trump team was wiretapped by Obama intelligence officials; that Hillary used a private email server to transmit classified information; that Hillary and the DNC colluded with Russian sources to compile a dossier on Trump, and finally, that Russia acquired 20% of America’s uranium supply during the same time period $145 million miraculously appeared in the Clinton Foundation’s bank account. It all stinks to high heaven but it’s created a confusing array of facts that has bewildered most Americans. They all know something is seriously wrong with their country even if they can’t pinpoint exactly what the problem is.
But there is a common denominator in all these scandals or alleged scandals, and that would be the FBI and the actions they took or didn’t take. Indeed, it’s hard to not conclude that the agency’s actions in these events were improper if not illegal. If so, this validates the warnings by constitutionalists in the early 1900s that a federal police force would someday be used to prop up the ruling elites and attack those who dare challenge the establishment.
Under FBI Director James Comey, Hillary was allowed to escape prosecution, even though he presented compelling evidence that she committed numerous felonies by transmitting classified documents using her private email server. Comey also leaked classified information to a friend to be disseminated to the media, another felony, and his FBI was the recipient of a dossier full of sensational but false allegations traced to Putin-connected individuals. Instead of investigating the dossier’s sources, Comey used the phony intel as the basis for his allegation that the Russians intervened in our election, a charge later proven to be without factual basis. It also appears that Comey likely used the dossier’s claims to convince a FISA court to authorize a phone tap on various Trump aides and possibly even Trump himself.
Lastly, Comey refused to demand that the DNC hand over the computer servers they claimed were hacked by Russia, but nevertheless, he announced that the Russians had hacked into the DNC, thereby helping to create the phony Trump/Russia collusion narrative. But a group of cyber experts led by former high-ranking NSA cyber expert Bill Binney have concluded that the hack simply could not have occurred for technical reasons and that the leaked DNC emails had to come from an inside source. Regardless, for Comey to create a phony “Russia hacked the DNC” narrative without his agency ever analyzing the DNC server calls into question his honesty and his integrity.
On top of all that, former FBI director Robert Mueller — now Special Counsel — is investigating Trump for collusion with Russia when the evidence is now revealing that the only party that colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 campaign was the Democratic Party. But Mueller doesn’t have the integrity to widen his investigation to cover the Clinton/GPS Fusion/Russian dossier scandal but instead is spending millions on investigating alleged crimes by former Trump campaign workers that occurred years ago and had nothing to do with Trump, Russian collusion, or the 2016 election.
Lastly, when Mueller was FBI Director, he served on the board of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the agency that approved the sale of uranium to Russia by the Uranium One company only a short time after his own agency had arrested a Russian official attempting to bribe American uranium officials. But there is no record of Mueller warning his fellow CFIUS members about the illegal Russian efforts. It likewise begs logic to believe that Mueller knew nothing about the $145 million the Clinton Foundation received from Putin-connected sources shortly after the CFIUS vote. It is also inconceivable that Mueller, as FBI Director from 2001-2013, was not aware that the Clintons were using their foundation and Hillary’s Secretary of State position to operate a massive pay-to-play scam that went far beyond the Uranium One scandal.
It has become abundantly clear that Mueller is a partisan, as is Comey. Both of them have jeopardized national security in order to protect the Democratic Party. This is an unprecedented situation and both men should be investigated. Moreover, Mueller should be removed as the Special Counsel. The foxes are guarding the hen house.
Mueller and Comey have turned the FBI into a partisan force that ignores crimes by the left and fabricates crimes on the right such as the Trump/Russian collusion theory. Again, such corruption of the FBI was predicted by constitutionalists at the time the agency was formed. That time has arrived.
Within most conservative circles today it would be considered sacrilegious to argue in favor of abolishing the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Indeed, older Americans still think of the FBI as an agency full of incorruptible, efficient, clean cut guys in suits tracking down mobsters and exposing communist subversion. Younger Americans are influenced by popular shows such as television’s Criminal Minds, which, again, portray the G-Men as squeaky clean heroes.
However, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that this agency has become so politicized, so corrupt, and so large and bureaucratic that it may no longer be an effective agency. The time has come to discuss its abolition.
The FBI was started in 1935, although its predecessor — the Bureau of Investigation — was founded in 1908. In the early 1900s, crime was becoming more nationalized with multi-state mob crime families and the creation of large prostitution smuggling rings that crossed state lines. As a result, advocates of a federalized police force argued that a federal law enforcement agency was necessary in order to keep up with the criminals. The main argument was that the local police forces didn’t have the resources or the flexibility to investigate complex criminal cases or to chase mobsters from state to state.
But note that the FBI did not come into existence until 132 years after the country declared its independence. This was because the founders never envisioned a federal role for law enforcement. It is not one of the “enumerated” duties of the federal government listed in the constitution.
There were reasons for that. Our founders were skeptical of a large federal government and, indeed, not even the “federalist” faction argued for a federal law enforcement role. The Constitution’s authors all assumed that most of the country’s governing would be carried out by state and local governments; the Federal government was created simply to take care of things that states were not well suited to do, such as maintaining a military, minting currency, and negotiating trade treaties. Indeed, for most of America’s first century, the highest law enforcement officer was the county sheriff.
Except for treason, the idea of federal crimes was not even mentioned in the Constitution. Our founders had a healthy fear of America turning into a tyrannical government such as those which existed all over the world at the time. They wanted to maximize freedom; hence the Bill of Rights. They assumed the creation of a federalized police force would make it far easier for the federal government to abuse the rights of its citizens. This is why neither the Constitution, the ratification debates, nor the Federalistpapers ever mention anything about a federal law enforcement role. Nada. Nothing. Indeed, in FederalistNo. 45, James Madison specifically singles out “internal order” as an “unenumerated power” that must “remain in the state governments.”
In the last few decades, Congress has created over 3,000 federal crimes, thereby undermining the authority of local law enforcement and ultimately making the federal government more powerful and more prone to corruption and tyranny. As the late Washington Times columnist Sam Francis wrote, “Over the last 30 years or so, the creeping federal incursion into law enforcement has yielded some 140 agencies at the federal level that have such a role… but everyone knows the federal engulfment of law enforcement has failed miserably to control crime and make the country safe. That’s because, by its very nature, effective law enforcement is local.”
And there’s no doubt that national police forces in other countries have been used to transition a country to a dictatorship. Historian William L. Shirer wrote in his famous history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Rich, “On June 16, 1936, for the first time in German history, a unified police as established for the whole of the Reich — previously the police had been organized separately by each of the states …the Third Reich, as is inevitable in the development of all totalitarian dictatorships, had become a police state.”
But the FBI has never seemed concerned about its growing powers. Indeed, in the aftermath of WWII, the FBI was so impressed with Hitler’s police state, they secretly hired hundreds of Nazis as spies and informants. As Rutherford Institute president and conservative civil rights lawyer John Whitehead writes, the FBI “then carried out a massive cover-up campaign to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown. Moreover, anyone who dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.”
But long before the rise of Hitler, America’s founders understood that the more locally controlled law enforcement is, the more accountable they are, whereas, a federal police force tends to be abused by a central government and is largely unaccountable to local and state governments. Indeed, it is unsettling to review the long list of incidents in which the FBI abused the rights of Americans and was clearly used by one political faction or another to carry out police state-like tactics. Let’s take a trip down memory lane:
Prosecuting Opponents of World War 1. President Woodrow Wilson used the FBI’s predecessor to illegally harass and prosecute thousands of peaceful opponents of World War 1, a war most conservatives would argue America had no business entering.
COINTELPRO. This was the FBI’s covert internal security program in the 1950s and ’60s, created to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” groups and individuals the government deemed to be enemies. It was carried out under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover with the consent of Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Congressional hearings found that “Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that … the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association…” Many conservatives of the day cheered on COINTELPRO since it targeted Marxists and antiwar groups, but that cheering ended when the FBI set its sights on the right.
FBI Preparations for Martial Law. MuckRock, a group that exposes governmental corruption, obtained a 1956 FBI document via a FOIA request that described the FBI’s plans to implement martial law and round up dissidents in the event of nuclear war. The document, titled “Plan C,” states that ‘”as of April 17, 1956, 12,949 individuals were scheduled for apprehension in an emergency.” The FBI’s secretive list of “anti-government” citizens they felt needed to be rounded up has never been revealed but it’s clear the FBI was keeping files on anti-government individuals.
The Ruby Ridge Murders. In 1992, a BATF informant convinced former Green Beret Randy Weaver to sell him two shotguns which had barrels shortened illegally, thus creating the pretext for the FBI to launch a military-style assault on Weaver’s remote Idaho cabin, eventually killing his wife and fatally shooting his son in the back. The FBI agents violated numerous rules of engagement and an Idaho jury found Weaver innocent of almost all charges. According to author James Bovard, “Judge Lodge issued a lengthy list detailing the Justice Departments misconduct, fabrication of evidence and refusal to obey court orders.” No one was held accountable; indeed the agent in charge, Larry Potts, was promoted to FBI Deputy Director.
The Waco Massacre. In 1993, 76 citizens — including 26 children — were burned to death when the FBI laid siege to a Branch Davidian compound in Waco on the grounds they believed cult leader David Koresh possessed unauthorized weapons. However, there was no reason for the FBI to use police state tactics. Koresh visited town almost every week and could have easily been arrested during these excursions. Six years later the FBI admitted during the course of a civil lawsuit that the tear gas it fired into the compound was, in fact, pyrotechnic tear gas, which, probably caused the fire that killed most of the people. The shells were even stamped with a fire warning. Moreover, a law enforcement infrared video revealed muzzle flashes from the FBI’s positions, so contrary to the FBI’s testimony that they did not fire “a single shot,” it appears its snipers were shooting people as they tried to escape the compound. Indeed, a Policy Analysis report by the Heritage Foundation stated that “numerous crimes by government agents were never seriously investigated or prosecuted” and therefore, “the people serving in our federal police agencies may well come to the conclusion that it is permissible to recklessly endanger the lives of innocent people, lie to newspapers, obstruct congressional subpoenas, and give misleading testimony in our courtrooms.”
Helping Bill Clinton Collect Dirt on his Enemies. Often referred to as “Filegate,” in 1993-94, the FBI willingly turned over as many as 900 background check files on Republicans to the Clinton White House. Nothing came of the investigation into this as the Clintons claimed it was all a big mistake. Right.
Project Megiddo. This was another shady FBI project, launched in 1999, created for the purpose of monitoring groups on the right, such as constitutionalists, devout Christians, anti-tax activists, anti-UN and pro-gun groups and individuals, all considered by the FBI to be budding terrorists. Such descriptions cover just about everyone on the right. It is not known if Project Megiddo violated the rights of individuals as the FBI did with previous similar programs, such as COINTELPRO, but it’s likely. Not surprisingly, much of the info used by Project Megiddo was fed to them by hysterical leftist groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), as even the FBI has publicly acknowledged. Shameful.
Use of Criminals as Undercover Agents. Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead writes, “FBI agents are also among the nation’s most notorious lawbreakers. In fact, in addition to creating certain crimes in order to then ‘solve’ them, the FBI also gives certain informants permission to break the law… USA Today estimates that agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day. Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums.”
Operation Vigilant Eagle. This FBI program initiated in 2009 targeted anti-government activists such as Tea Party activists and, alarmingly, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are, as one FBI document states, “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering for the psychological effects of war.” The purpose of this program was allegedly to counter terrorism, but there’s not a shred of evidence veterans are more prone to terrorism than any other citizen. Nonetheless, the FBI actually claimed that veterans who challenge the government are suffering from “Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).” One of the program’s first targets was 26-year-old decorated Marine veteran Brandon Raub. Due to posting anti-government statements on his Facebook page, the FBI arrested Raub with no warning, labeled him mentally ill and placed him in a psych ward against his will. Thankfully, Rutherford Institute attorney John Whitehead intervened and secured his release. Whitehead writes that he “may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully ‘disappeared’ by the government.” And this has happened to other veterans. If the FBI paid as much attention to jihadists as it does to military veterans, it would have stopped every domestic terror plot!
Targeting Pro-Lifers. In 2010, The FBI held a joint training session on terrorism with Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. The main message of the seminar was that all pro-lifers are potential terrorists, an outrageous allegation. Indeed, material passed out by the pro-aborts at the seminar listed three pages of “anti-abortion web sites,” including those of National Right to Life, Concerned Women for America, the American Center for Law and Justice, and Human Life International. None of those groups advocate violence. This is another example of how the FBI allows itself to be used by the left to go after its enemies. Similarly, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the FBI created a project called VAAPCON to create files on pro-life religious leaders such as Rev. Jerry Falwell. Indeed, Judicial Watch, representing Falwell, sued the Clinton White House, seeking info on the project, but all the files mysteriously disappeared, Clinton style.
The IRS Scandal. The government watchdog group, Judicial Watch, obtained documents revealing that the FBI was involved with the illegal IRS effort to investigate — and thus silence— around 500 conservative and Tea Party groups during Obama’s 2012 reelection. Perhaps the worst use of the IRS in American history, this was about manipulating the 2012 presidential election and the FBI was complicit in this abuse of governmental power. As JWs Tom Fitton writes, “Both the FBI and Justice Department collaborated with Lois Lerner and the IRS to try to persecute and jail Barack Obama’s political opponents.”
FBI Worked With the SPLC. For much of the Obama era, the FBI listed the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on its website as part of its effort to combat “hate crimes.” However, many of the groups identified by the SPLC as “hate groups” are not. One example is the Family Research Council, a mainstream pro-family organization. As a result of the FBI’s promotion of SPLC’s phony hate group list, a shooter entered FRC’s headquarters in 2012, wounding the front desk security guard and attempted to slaughter all the FRC employees. He was subdued by the wounded guard. Indeed, the SPLC believes all Christian groups that oppose the gay agenda or abortion are “hate groups,” a bizarre notion that has never been condemned by the FBI even though it did, in 2014, quietly drop the SPLC from its website.
Data Mining Innocent Americans. In 2013, Bloomberg exposed the FBI’s data mining project carried out on hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of whom were not guilty of any crimes.
Raids on Homes of Anti-Government Activists. Repeatedly, the FBI has raided homes on the flimsiest of evidence. In 2014, it raided the home of prepper Martin Winters, claiming he was some kind of domestic terrorist. But nothing was found aside from food stocks and other survivalist gear. Then there’s Terry Porter, also a prepper, whose house the FBI raided in 2012 using twice as many agents as in the Branch Davidian raid. Again, nothing alarming found there. Since when did anti-government preppers become terrorists? The FBI raids group meetings as well, such as when it raided a Republic of Texas secessionist movement meeting in 2015. No one was arrested because no one did anything illegal. But once again, the FBI treated a handful of elderly men discussing constitutional issues as a terrorist plot.
Fraudulent Forensics. Special Agent and whistleblower Frederic Whitehurst revealed in 2015 that FBI crime lab technicians routinely testified falsely about crime lab samples throughout the 1980s and 1990s. As former Judge Andrew Napolitano writes, “its agents and lab technicians who examine hair samples testified falsely in 257 of 268 cases that resulted in convictions. Of the convictions, 18 persons were sentenced to death, and of those, 12 have been executed.” Yes, innocent people died, thanks to the FBI.
FBI High School Informer Network. In 2016, the FBI launched an effort to enlist the help of high school students to ostensibly identify terrorists, but the FBI documents in question reveal they were also urging students to report on anti-government groups such as libertarian and constitutional groups. This effort is shockingly similar to the informant networks set up by the KGB in the USSR and the Stasi in East Germany.
The FBI Record on Fighting Terrorism.
Many Americans assume, however, that at least in the area of Islamic terrorism, the FBI has kept Americans largely safe. Not so fast. The record doesn’t quite show that. In fact, the agency has blundered many terrorism investigations and thus jeopardized the security of Americans. Examples:
- In 2009, Islamist Nidal Hasan fatally shot 13 people at the Fort Hood Military Base, but his radical associations and open support for jihad were previously known by the FBI. It even had emails in which Hasan stated he wanted to kill his fellow soldiers. Indeed, records show that not only was there reluctance by officials to drum Hasan out of the military — for political reasons — but he was promoted at every opportunity.
- In 2013, local officials caught seven foreign Muslims trespassing after midnight onto Quabbin Reservoir, a critical Northwest drinking reservoir. The FBI took over the case but let the trespassers go because they believe them to be just “tourists.” Yes, just midnight tourists. Only a few months earlier, another terrorist had been arrested for planning to poison a different reservoir.
- In 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds more. Russian intelligence warned the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the agency even interviewed him, but it appears the FBI determined that Russia’s intelligence was not accurate. Until the bombs went off.
- In 2015, when the government watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained documents confirming that ISIS terrorists were crossing the Mexican/Texas border, concerned FBI agents held meetings at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez with Mexican officials. But not to figure out a plan to deal with such crossings, but rather to deny these allegations and to determine who leaked the info to JW. Forget the message and attack the messenger. What a great counter-terrorism strategy.
- In 2015, the FBI failed to prevent the San Bernardino terror attack by an Islamic couple from Pakistan connected to an Islamic terrorist group whose files were among those purged earlier by the FBI, thereby making it nearly impossible for the agency to detect this pair.
- In 2015, two Islamic terrorists attacked a Muhammad art expo in Garland, Texas, but the FBI actually had an informant at the scene with the terrorists, but it never bothered to warn the expo’s organizers of the impending attack. Apparently, the agency didn’t want to blow the informant’s cover! Fortunately, security guard Bruce Joiner shot and killed both shooters before they could get inside the exhibition hall. Joiner wonders why the FBI would allow this attack to transpire, stating “That’s not the kind of thing we do in the United States with our citizens.”
- In 2016, Islamist Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people at an Orlando nightclub. While the FBI did investigate him for 10 months it closed his file because it believed he was “being marginalized because of his Muslim faith.” Seriously.
- The FBI has flat out denied that Las Vegas shooter Steven Paddock has any Islamic terror connections, but the reality is it really doesn’t know enough about him to make such a claim. Indeed, ISIS never takes credit for attacks that are not its own and on three occasions, it has announced Paddock was connected to ISIS. It even revealed Paddock’s Islamic name: Abu Abdul Barr al-Amriki. Also, Paddock made trips to the Middle East. Given the FBI’s record, ISIS’s statements may be more credible than the FBI’s denials.
- The latest terrorist incident in New York City was also bungled. Months before Sayfullo Saipov mowed down over 20 people, the FBI interviewed him because it knew he was connected to two men with terrorist connections. As such, his visa should have been revoked and he should have been deported, but the agency didn’t even open up a file on him.
- Finally, the 9/11 terrorist attack itself could have been prevented by the FBI. It had enough intel to connect the dots but didn’t. Many of its pre-9/11 reports on al Qaeda were lost or not shared with the proper people. One was a memo by Phoenix FBI Agent Ken Williams, describing suspected al Qaeda members training at U.S. flight schools. How could that not result in a full scale investigation? And Special Agent Mark Rossini sent a message to FBI headquarters warning that 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar had a multi-entry visa to enter the U.S. before 9/11. But that cable went “missing” when Congress held hearings on how our intelligence agencies manage to completely miss so many obvious clues.
And there are many other examples that can’t be cited here due to lack of space, but it’s difficult to find a domestic terrorist investigation that the FBI hasn’t screwed up. The above incidents alone cost the lives of almost 3,200 Americans. One would think that in the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI would make an effort to become more efficient when it comes to counter-terrorism, but with the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the FBI not only remained overly bureaucratic but became hyper politically correct.
Incredible as it may seem, in 2011, Obama’s FBI Director, Robert Mueller, met with a coalition of radical Islamic groups and agreed to purge thousands of files “offensive” to Muslims. Judicial Watch said the “purge is part of a broader Islamic ‘influence operation’ aimed at our government and constitution.”
In other words, the FBI caved in to groups that do not have our best interests at heart. Indeed, two of the groups Mueller met with, ISNA and CAIR, were unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terror funding case. Many terror experts believe this purge crippled the FBI’s abilities to detect some of the terror plots that occurred during the Obama years. Due to its desire not to offend Muslims, the FBI jeopardized the lives of many Americans.
Conservatives Should Quit Defending the FBI
The FBI has a long history of being used by various administrations to harass certain groups and individuals, or, conversely, to allow certain groups and individuals to commit crimes without fear of prosecution. The FBI is supposed to uphold the Constitution but instead has repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of Americans. This politicization has cost many Americans their lives and their freedoms. The abuse listed here is not comprehensive but it’s enough, one would think, to make conservatives think twice about defending this agency’s police state tactics.
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal has reported that “nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database,” even though most of them have not been convicted of a crime. Does anyone really believe our founding fathers would be fine with such sweeping federal law enforcement powers?
The aforementioned conservative civil rights attorney, John Whitehead, summarizes today’s FBI: “In additions to procedural misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, the FBI’s laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, and harassment.” President Harry Truman once said, “We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is trending in that direction.” And that was 72 years ago.
It’s Time to Turn Over FBI Investigations to the States
If the FBI was abolished and its workload turned over to the states, it would not be as difficult as some would portray it. Indeed, what most Americans don’t realize is that almost every state already has a state version of the FBI. New Mexico has the New Mexico State Police, the Golden State has the California Bureau of Investigation, Texas has both the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Georgia has the Georgia Bureau of investigation. (One can view the list here.)
Moreover, all these agencies are equipped with crime labs and the latest forensic tools. At one time, such tools were prohibitively expensive for state police agencies to acquire, but technological advances have brought the cost of such equipment down, resulting in most states having the latest forensics equipment that at one time was monopolized by the FBI. For example, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is famous for its forensic work: “The Division of Forensic Sciences envisions a future in which we continue to build and develop an internationally recognized forensic laboratory system that partners with governmental and private entities….”
Today, much of the FBI’s work entails the investigation of federal crimes committed within one state. There is no reason why the states can’t handle these investigations and if the case does happen to cross over into other states, then the states simply coordinate. Those days in which a criminal would escape the law by crossing a state line are long gone. Indeed, that practice was one of the reasons why the FBI was created, but with today’s advances in communication technology, that simply doesn’t happen anymore. All states today have the technology to easily track criminals as they cross state lines and it’s not difficult for two states or more to work together in the apprehension of a criminal. Already, states today cooperate on a wide array of governmental actions; there is no reason why they can’t coordinate on a police investigation or criminal apprehension.
Some of the FBI’s workload involves complex white collar cases such as tax evasion, money laundering, bank fraud, and commodities fraud, but if a state police agency feels it doesn’t have the expertise to investigate such crimes, it can enlist the assistance of existing agencies that already investigate such crimes. The IRS, Securities Exchange Commission, Treasury Department and the Secret Service all have investigative branches that handle different aspects of financial crimes.
Then, of course, there are the federal crime data bases largely maintained by the FBI, including the National Crime Information Center database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the Integrated Fingerprint Identification System, and the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). These databases should be turned over to the Department of Justice, which, in part, already play a role in maintaining them. More importantly, the state police agencies will need to be given ready access to these databases if they are to take on cases formerly handled by the FBI.
State law enforcement agencies are not perfect but it is far more difficult for the federal government to politicize the actions of a state agency. Moreover, it is much easier to hold state agencies accountable for any abuses they commit, just by virtue of being closer to the people.
Indeed, with access to federal crime data bases, most state police agencies have the capability to handle cases the FBI now handles, including domestic terrorist investigations. It’s a good bet that, given the FBI’s record on terrorism, the states will do a better job at stopping and preventing terrorism.
America’s founders were wise men and they knew not to make law enforcement a federal responsibility. They foresaw how the federal government could use a national police agency to play favorites, wreck havoc on our democratic institutions, and ultimately move us closer to a police state. The only question that remains is whether any politician will have the guts to initiate discussion on abolishing the FBI.
by Masha Gessen
Riverhead, 515 pp., $28.00
Early in Vladimir Putin’s first presidency I spoke to a Moscow banker, with reason to care on this point, who said he detected no trace of anti-Semitism in Putin personally, but that Putin would encourage popular anti-Semitism in a second if he thought that doing so would serve his interests. So far, Putin has not felt the need to demonize Russia’s Jews. He has instead identified the enemy within as Russia’s homosexuals, whose persecution is one of the main themes of The Future Is History, Masha Gessen’s remarkable group portrait of seven Soviet-born Russians whose changing lives embody the changing fortunes and character of their country as it passed from the end of Communist dictatorship under Mikhail Gorbachev to improvised liberalism under Boris Yeltsin and then back to what Gessen sees as renewed totalitarianism under Putin.
Two of Gessen’s central characters, Masha* and Lyosha, were born into the educated middle class of the 1980s. Two more characters of the same generation have lives touched by great privilege: Seryozha is the grandson of Alexander Yakovlev, who was Gorbachev’s close adviser and a longtime member of the Central Committee; Zhanna is the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, a minister under Yeltsin and a dissident murdered under Putin. All four are encountered first in childhood and referred to throughout by their childhood names. Three characters appear first as adults, with private and public lives. Alexander Dugin is a philosopher who develops an ideology of Russian exceptionalism that wins him fame and favor under Putin. Lev Gudkov is a sociologist who seeks to model the emerging new Russia. Marina Arutyunyan is a psychologist who reestablishes the practice of psychoanalysis in Russia after its disappearance under communism.
Gessen’s deft blending of these stories gives us a fresh view of recent Russian history from within, as it was experienced at the time by its people. It is a welcome perspective. In turbulent periods, anything seems possible. Only with hindsight does causality creep in, and with it the illusion of inevitability. The infinite possibilities of the moment are lost. Through the eyes of her characters, Gessen manages to restore those possibilities, to convey how it felt to imagine that life in the new Russia could go in any direction.
The tension between experience and hindsight is there within Gessen’s writing. She alternately zooms in on the lives of her characters and zooms out to give more general accounts of the major events of the time—the putsch against Gorbachev in 1991, Yeltsin’s shelling of the Russian White House in 1993, the reelection of Yeltsin as president in 1996, the handover of power to Putin in 2000, and so on. How familiar these events appear when Gessen arranges them in their historical order, and how unfamiliar they appear when we see them as fragments of experience. On one side is the historian explaining the rise of Putin as a logical reaction to the failings of Yeltsin. On the other is Masha’s mother, wondering how on earth that dull man she met while selling insurance in St. Petersburg a few years back is now the prime minister.
Gessen was born in Moscow, emigrated to America with her family as a teenager in 1981, and returned to Russia ten years later to pursue a distinguished career as a journalist and LGBT activist. She came back to America in 2013, fearing that if she stayed in Russia, official hostility toward homosexuals could result in her children being seized by the state. Russia’s persecution of homosexuals is the strand of Gessen’s book that shows Putin at his cruelest. She arranges this narrative around Lyosha, who was born near Perm in 1985, and who was fifteen, on holiday in Crimea, when he recognized himself as gay:
When he saw other boys, teenagers like himself or young men, dressed, like he was, in only a pair of small black bathing trunks, he felt heat shoot excruciatingly through his body and a thrilling invisible shiver set in. It happened every day after that first time…. I am a pervert, he thought. I am sick. I am the only person in the world who feels this way.
The early post-Soviet period was not the very worst of times to be gay in Russia. Between 1989 and 1994, according to surveys conducted by the Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, support for “liquidating deviants” fell from 31 percent to 23 percent. It fell again to 15 percent in 1999, shortly before Lyosha had his realization. Homosexuality was no longer illegal. Teachers and doctors could talk about it if they wanted to. Lyosha did not much want to talk, but after a horrible beating from a local thug who was tipped off by a suspicious classmate, he opened up to a school counselor and discovered the liberating power of a sympathetic ear. He returned energized to his studies, graduated with distinction, and came out.
Lyosha built an academic career as a pioneer of gender and LGBT studies at Perm University, but when government-sanctioned hate campaigns made his work impossible and put his life in danger, he left the country. The sadistic murder in 2013 of a young gay man in Volgograd made a deep impression on him, and Gessen’s account of it will make a deep impression on you too. Whatever Putin’s legacy, it includes—among other results of his state-approved homophobia—three bloody beer bottles and one dead boy.
Demonizing homosexuality is, most obviously, a way for Putin to assert Russia’s superiority over the West. The West’s acceptance of homosexuality is given as proof of its moral and social collapse. Putin also sees, correctly, that the equality of all sexual orientations is widely proclaimed in the West but not uniformly accepted, allowing Russia to pose as a beacon of hope for Western reactionaries. To make homosexuality seem truly evil even to Russians who had ceased to think of it as such, Putin conflated it with pedophilia. If, in the age-old anti-Semitic narrative, “they” were conspiring to steal the nation’s money, in Putin’s anti-gay narrative “they” are conspiring to steal the nation’s children.
As Gessen recounts, Putin encountered few obstacles in selling this notion to the public. Politicians competed to imagine new crimes with which LGBT people could be charged and new punishments for them. Even to contest the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia marked the objector as a friend of the pedophile conspiracy. The crudeness and viciousness of views expressed in parliament and the media verged on the medieval. According to Dmitry Kiselev, a host on state-owned television: “If [gays] should die in a car accident, we need to bury their hearts underground or burn them; they are unsuitable for the aiding of anyone’s life.”
I suppose it is worth pointing out that just as my banker friend did not think Putin to be personally anti-Semitic, so I doubt that Putin hungers to murder homosexuals with his own bare hands. He might even enjoy the company of a gay grandson. When Oliver Stone asked him a question about gay rights in a recent series of interviews, Putin responded much as a middle-aged Western male might have responded forty years ago, jocularly and gingerly:
Putin: Sometimes I visit events where people publicly declare that they’re homosexuals, these events are attended by such people and we communicate and have good relations.
Stone: Is that true in the military as well?
Putin: There’s no restriction.
Stone: No restriction in the military? I mean, if you’re taking a shower in a submarine and you know he’s gay, do they have a problem with that?
Putin: [laughs] Well, I prefer not to go to the shower with him. Why provoke him?
At such moments, thinking of a young man on a park bench in Volgograd with three beer bottles up his rectum, you have to wonder about the mixture in Putin’s character of the stupid, the brilliant, the evil, and the naive.
While Lyosha very wisely gets out of Russia, Seryozha gets by there, Zhanna gets on, and Masha gets involved with the 2011 protest movement organized by Boris Nemtsov—Zhanna’s father—and by Alexei Navalny, a younger dissident. It is an uneasy alliance. Navalny is a nationalist, whereas Nemtsov is the last and best survivor of Yeltsin-era liberalism, perhaps the last true liberal to have held any meaningful political power in Russia. When Nemtsov is murdered within sight of the Kremlin in 2015, apparently for his opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Zhanna blames the killing squarely on Putin. Others report that Putin is both surprised and angered by Nemtsov’s murder, less because he has any affection for Nemtsov than because a high-profile assassination in the center of Moscow is a direct challenge to his own monopoly on violence.
The outlier among Gessen’s seven is Alexander Dugin, the only one to favor repression, to reject freedom, to want more and better Putinism. He is too big and too strange to fit easily into the story, and instead haunts its margins. Dugin has always seemed to me a bogus thinker, a fantasist, an opportunist. But others take him seriously, and he emerges from Gessen’s account as a prodigious consumer and manipulator of philosophy and political science.
Dugin was expelled from college and has been deeply influenced by Heidegger and Hitler. He’s allegedly capable of learning a new European language in two weeks merely from reading books in that language. He appropriates the arguments of the Russian Eurasianists, including the émigré linguist Nikolai Trubetskoy and the Soviet ethnographer Lev Gumilev, to the effect that Russia’s geographical sprawl between Europe and Asia gives the nation a unique, non-Western character. Russia is not a country, but a civilization. The Russian identity belongs not to the Russian Federation but to the “Russian World,” and the West is the natural enemy of the Russian World.
Dugin had his wilderness years in the 1990s, but with the arrival of Putin his influence rocketed. His Eurasian Youth Union marched through Moscow. He was given a teaching job at Moscow State University. When, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin referred on television to “a Russian person, or, to speak more broadly, a person of the Russian World,” Dugin’s happiness was complete. He was putting words into Putin’s mouth that articulated in a suitably lofty manner their common vision of ethnic, cultural, and religious Russian supremacy. Dugin wants his Russian World to be totalitarian, which is to say, a world in which the state polices everybody’s thoughts as well as everybody’s actions. He opposes universal human rights and the rule of law as alien ideas from the hostile West.
Gessen claims in her title that Russia is already totalitarian. I imagine that Dugin would disagree. And from a different perspective, so would I. Take, for example, Gessen’s account of a moment after Masha has been arrested as a political protester in 2012. Under prolonged police investigation, she goes to stay in her mother-in-law’s dacha outside Moscow. The neighboring dacha belongs to a senior police officer called Natalia. The two fall into conversation:
“Hey, you are part of the Bolotnoye case, aren’t you,” she asked when they were having a cigarette Masha’s first night at the dacha. It was cool and quiet and you could see the stars.
“Yeah,” said Masha.
“Who is your investigator?”
“Ah, Timokha!” Natalia’s voice sang with the joy of recognition. “He is one of mine. I had to send three people. It’s a big case. He doing his job?”
“Oh, he is doing his job, all right.”
“Good. Say hi to him there.”
That is not my idea of how life proceeds in a totalitarian society. I sense in this brief exchange humanity and sincerity on both sides. I do not want to generalize too much from this. Many horrible things happen in Russian police stations. But totalitarianism ought surely to be total, if only among the police.
The idea of categorizing dictatorships as either authoritarian or totalitarian is a twentieth-century one. Totalitarianism took as its examples Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The distinction was of practical significance during the cold war, when there was a political need in the West to distinguish between cruel regimes that the US supported (Pinochet’s Chile, the Shah’s Iran) and cruel regimes that the US opposed (China, the USSR). The former were deemed authoritarian, the latter totalitarian. Totalitarian regimes were beyond hope of improvement; authoritarian regimes were not.
If we accept the distinction between an authoritarian desire to control behavior and a totalitarian desire to control thought, then, as Gessen shows, Russia crossed that line some time ago under Putin. But what if you set Russia alongside North Korea? Putin wants all Russians to think like him, whereas Kim Jong-un would rather his subjects not think at all. That is not a very encouraging distinction, but at the darker end of government, it is surely one worth maintaining.
One problem with trying to understand totalitarianism is that, to the extent it succeeds, it is impenetrable to outsiders. Everything that is said and thought is the product of propaganda. Lev Gudkov, the sociologist in Gessen’s book, has a lucid account of this problem that merits quoting at some length, in Gessen’s paraphrase:
Looking from the outside in, one cannot see, for example, whether people attend a parade because they are forced to do so or because they so desire. Researchers generally assumed one or the other: either that people were passive victims or that they were fervent believers. But on the inside, both assumptions were wrong, for all the people at the parade…and for each one of them individually. They did not feel like helpless victims, but they did not feel like fanatics either. They felt normal. They were members of a society. The parades and various other forms of collective life gave them a sense of belonging that humans generally need…. They would not be lying if they said that they wanted to be part of the parade, or the collective in general—and that if they exerted pressure on others to be a part of a collective too, they did so willingly.
Another problem with trying to arrive at an account of totalitarianism—at least from a Western point of view—is that totalitarian societies are by definition the enemy, so we are not terribly interested in what their better points might be. “After the fall of the Soviet Union made it easier to study the country that had been,” Gessen writes, referring to the work of Sheila Fitzpatrick and others, “academics began noting how much richer private life had been in the USSR than they had once thought, how inconsistent and how widely disregarded the ideology, and how comparatively mild police enforcement became after Stalin’s death.”
This seems to be borne out by the lives of Gessen’s older characters. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, long before Gorbachev cracked open the old certainties, Arutyunyan the psychologist and Gudkov the sociologist were finding that Soviet academia allowed them a fair amount of room to maneuver, as long as this was exercised discreetly and deniably. For example, although you could not study the problems of Soviet society (Soviet society had only solutions), you could still study sociology so long as you pretended to be denouncing Western sociological theories, or if you called it something else. Gudkov’s mentor, Yuri Levada, was allowed to set up a department within the Academy of Sciences called the Institute for Concrete Social Studies. I also admire Gessen’s line that “the Soviet system offered not a vision of the future but the ability to know one’s future, much as tradesmen did in feudal times, and to make very small-scale, manageable decisions about the future.” If this was totalitarianism, you start to see why so many Russians wanted Putin to turn the clock back.
Gudkov argues that, in fact, the clock never moved. It was always striking thirteen. Institutions and systems designed for a totalitarian Soviet Union survived with little or no change into the new Russian state, encouraging totalitarian behavior to return through them. Elections became public displays of support for the regime, just like parades. Public protest was more frequent in Putin’s Russia than it had been in the Soviet Union, but only because the regime had reached a new understanding that street demonstrations changed nothing—on the contrary, they helped to maintain the existing order. Dissidents revealed themselves and were arrested. The rest of society was reassured by the regime’s show of power in shutting the demonstrations down.
Gudkov fears that the Soviet system has reshaped the Russian national character to such an extent that Russians can willingly recreate a totalitarian society among themselves even without compulsion from the state to do so. A corollary of that argument is that Russia can have a totalitarian society even without a totalitarian state—a useful formulation if one takes the view that the ultimate aim of the Putin regime is the accumulation of wealth even more than the accumulation of power. Thus Gessen, when she discusses the ideas of the Hungarian political scientist Bálint Magyar, can speak of Russia as a “mafia state ruling over a totalitarian society.”
With all due respect to Gessen and to Gudkov, the term “totalitarian” is being used loosely here. It may be useful to invoke the prospect of totalitarianism as a rhetorical way of alerting Russians to the fact that their government is a danger to themselves and to others. But to claim that Russia is already totalitarian is to absolve Russians in general from what is done in their name by proposing that they have been indoctrinated into acquiescence. One risks imagining a Russian nation which, freed from thought control, reveals itself to be liberal and freedom-loving. This is exactly the mistake that Westerners made when Soviet communism was on its last legs thirty years ago—and when, as Gessen so poignantly shows, what was revealed was the appetite for a newer and better dictator.
My own view of Putin is that he came to power fully intending to be an authoritarian leader but also to allow some small degree of pluralism in politics and some larger degree of liberalism in private life and business, on the purely pragmatic grounds that he knew from Soviet times the weakness of totalitarianism. He would rather be Lee Kuan Yew than Robert Mugabe. But he found it personally intolerable to be criticized, let alone thwarted, so freedom to oppose him politically soon disappeared. Economics was a closed book to Putin when he took power, but he came to understand that a thriving market economy required a well-functioning rule of law capable of constraining even government—and that was the death knell for the market economy. Freedom in private life lasted rather longer, but was eventually curtailed, most obviously in the sexual domain, when the stagnating regime needed new ways to mobilize popular support.
The theater and film director Andrei Konchalovsky, quoted by Christian Neef in Der Spiegel, sees roughly the same trajectory in Putin’s career, but attributes it to pressure from below:
Putin initially thought like a Westerner, but ultimately realized why every Russian ruler struggles to lead this nation: Because its inhabitants, in accordance with an unshakable tradition, freely delegate all their power to a single person, and then wait for that power to take care of them, without doing anything themselves.
We are close here to the dilemma of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “The Solution,” about the anti-Communist uprising in East Germany in 1953, and a thought that must have struck every observer of Russia at some time or other:
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
It was 1984 and General Vladimir Alexandrovich Kryuchkov had a problem. The general occupied one of the KGB’s most exalted posts. He was head of the First Chief Directorate, the prestigious KGB arm responsible for gathering foreign intelligence.
Kryuchkov had begun his career with five years at the Soviet mission in Budapest under Ambassador Yuri Andropov. In 1967 Andropov became KGB chairman. Kryuchkov went to Moscow, took up a number of sensitive posts, and established a reputation as a devoted and hardworking officer. By 1984, Kryuchkov’s directorate in Moscow was bigger than ever before—12,000 officers, up from about 3,000 in the 1960s. His headquarters at Yasenevo, on the wooded southern outskirts of the city, was expanding: Workmen were busy constructing a 22-story annex and a new 11-story building.
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In politics, change was in the air. Soon a new man would arrive in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s policy of detente with the West—a refreshing contrast to the global confrontation of previous general secretaries—meant the directorate’s work abroad was more important than ever.
Kryuchkov faced several challenges. First, a hawkish president, Ronald Reagan, was in power in Washington. The KGB regarded his two predecessors, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as weak. By contrast Reagan was seen as a potent adversary. The directorate was increasingly preoccupied with what it believed—wrongly—was an American plot to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR.
It was around this time that Donald Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence. How that happened, and where that relationship began, is an answer hidden somewhere in the KGB’s secret archives. Assuming, that is, that the documents still exist.
Trump’s first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987 looks, with hindsight, to be part of a pattern. The dossier by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele asserts that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for “at least five years” before his stunning victory in the 2016 US presidential election. This would take us back to around 2011 or 2012.
In fact, the Soviet Union was interested in him too, three decades earlier. The top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit. With assistance from the KGB. It took place while Kryuchkov was seeking to improve the KGB’s operational techniques in one particular and sensitive area. The spy chief wanted KGB staff abroad to recruit more Americans.
In addition to shifting politics in Moscow, Kryuchkov’s difficulty had to do with intelligence gathering. The results from KGB officers abroad had been disappointing. Too often they would pretend to have obtained information from secret sources. In reality, they had recycled material from newspapers or picked up gossip over lunch with a journalist. Too many residencies had “paper agents” on their books: targets for recruitment who had nothing to do with real intelligence.
Kryuchkov sent out a series of classified memos to KGB heads of station. Oleg Gordievsky—formerly based in Denmark and then in Great Britain—copied them and passed them to British intelligence. He later co-published them with the historian Christopher Andrew under the title Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations 1975–1985.
In January 1984 Kryuchkov addressed the problem during a biannual review held in Moscow, and at a special conference six months later. The urgent subject: how to improve agent recruitment. The general urged his officers to be more “creative.” Previously they had relied on identifying candidates who showed ideological sympathy toward the USSR: leftists, trade unionists and so on. By the mid-1980s these were not so many. So KGB officers should “make bolder use of material incentives”: money. And use flattery, an important tool.
The Center, as KGB headquarters was known, was especially concerned about its lack of success in recruiting US citizens, according to Andrew and Gordievsky. The PR Line—that is, the Political Intelligence Department stationed in KGB residencies abroad—was given explicit instructions to find “U.S. targets to cultivate or, at the very least, official contacts.” “The main effort must be concentrated on acquiring valuable agents,” Kryuchkov said.
The memo—dated February 1, 1984—was to be destroyed as soon as its contents had been read. It said that despite improvements in “information gathering,” the KGB “has not had great success in operation against the main adversary [America].”
One solution was to make wider use of “the facilities of friendly intelligence services”—for example, Czechoslovakian or East German spy networks.
And: “Further improvement in operational work with agents calls for fuller and wider utilisation of confidential and special unofficial contacts. These should be acquired chiefly among prominent figures in politics and society, and important representatives of business and science.” These should not only “supply valuable information” but also “actively influence” a country’s foreign policy “in a direction of advantage to the USSR.”
There were, of course, different stages of recruitment. Typically, a case officer would invite a target to lunch. The target would be classified as an “official contact.” If the target appeared responsive, he (it was rarely she) would be promoted to a “subject of deep study,” an obyekt razrabotki. The officer would build up a file, supplemented by official and covert material. That might include readouts from conversations obtained through bugging by the KGB’s technical team.
The KGB also distributed a secret personality questionnaire, advising case officers what to look for in a successful recruitment operation. In April 1985 this was updated for “prominent figures in the West.” The directorate’s aim was to draw the target “into some form of collaboration with us.” This could be “as an agent, or confidential or special or unofficial contact.”
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The form demanded basic details—name, profession, family situation, and material circumstances. There were other questions, too: what was the likelihood that the “subject could come to power (occupy the post of president or prime minister)”? And an assessment of personality. For example: “Are pride, arrogance, egoism, ambition or vanity among subject’s natural characteristics?”
The most revealing section concerned kompromat. The document asked for: “Compromising information about subject, including illegal acts in financial and commercial affairs, intrigues, speculation, bribes, graft … and exploitation of his position to enrich himself.” Plus “any other information” that would compromise the subject before “the country’s authorities and the general public.” Naturally the KGB could exploit this by threatening “disclosure.”
Finally, “his attitude towards women is also of interest.” The document wanted to know: “Is he in the habit of having affairs with women on the side?”
When did the KGB open a file on Donald Trump? We don’t know, but Eastern Bloc security service records suggest this may have been as early as 1977. That was the year when Trump married Ivana Zelnickova, a twenty-eight-year-old model from Czechoslovakia. Zelnickova was a citizen of a communist country. She was therefore of interest both to the Czech intelligence service, the StB, and to the FBI and CIA.
During the Cold War, Czech spies were known for their professionalism. Czech and Hungarian officers were typically used in espionage actions abroad, especially in the United States and Latin America. They were less obvious than Soviet operatives sent by Moscow.
Zelnickova was born in Zlin, an aircraft manufacturing town in Moravia. Her first marriage was to an Austrian real estate agent. In the early 1970s she moved to Canada, first to Toronto and then to Montreal, to be with a ski instructor boyfriend. Exiting Czechoslovakia during this period was, the files said, “incredibly difficult.” Zelnickova moved to New York. In April 1977 she married Trump.
According to files in Prague, declassified in 2016, Czech spies kept a close eye on the couple in Manhattan. (The agents who undertook this task were code-named Al Jarza and Lubos.) They opened letters sent home by Ivana to her father, Milos, an engineer. Milos was never an agent or asset. But he had a functional relationship with the Czech secret police, who would ask him how his daughter was doing abroad and in return permit her visits home. There was periodic surveillance of the Trump family in the United States. And when Ivana and Donald Trump, Jr., visited Milos in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, further spying, or “cover.”
Like with other Eastern Bloc agencies, the Czechs would have shared their intelligence product with their counterparts in Moscow, the KGB. Trump may have been of interest for several reasons. One, his wife came from Eastern Europe. Two—at a time after 1984 when the Kremlin was experimenting with perestroika, or Communist Party reform—Trump had a prominent profile as a real estate developer and tycoon. According to the Czech files, Ivana mentioned her husband’s growing interest in politics. Might Trump at some stage consider a political career?
The KGB wouldn’t invite someone to Moscow out of altruism. Dignitaries flown to the USSR on expenses-paid trips were typically left-leaning writers or cultural figures. The state would expend hard currency; the visitor would say some nice things about Soviet life; the press would report these remarks, seeing in them a stamp of approval.
Despite Gorbachev’s policy of engagement, he was still a Soviet leader. The KGB continued to view the West with deep suspicion. It carried on with efforts to subvert Western institutions and acquire secret sources, with NATO its No. 1 strategic intelligence target.
At this point it is unclear how the KGB regarded Trump. To become a full KGB agent, a foreigner had to agree to two things. (An “agent” in a Russian or British context was a secret intelligence source.) One was “conspiratorial collaboration.” The other was willingness to take KGB instruction.
According to Andrew and Gordievsky’s book Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, targets who failed to meet these criteria were classified as “confidential contacts.” The Russian word was doveritelnaya svyaz. The aspiration was to turn trusted contacts into full-blown agents, an upper rung of the ladder.
As Kryuchkov explained, KGB residents were urged to abandon “stereotyped methods” of recruitment and use more flexible strategies—if necessary getting their wives or other family members to help.
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As Trump tells it, the idea for his first trip to Moscow came after he found himself seated next to the Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin. This was in autumn 1986; the event was a luncheon held by Leonard Lauder, the businessman son of Estée Lauder. Dubinin’s daughter Natalia “had read about Trump Tower and knew all about it,” Trump said in his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal.
Trump continued: “One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government.”
Trump’s chatty version of events is incomplete. According to Natalia Dubinina, the actual story involved a more determined effort by the Soviet government to seek out Trump. In February 1985 Kryuchkov complained again about “the lack of appreciable results of recruitment against the Americans in most Residencies.” The ambassador arrived in New York in March 1986. His original job was Soviet ambassador to the U.N.; his daughter Dubinina was already living in the city with her family, and she was part of the Soviet U.N. delegation.
Dubinin wouldn’t have answered to the KGB. And his role wasn’t formally an intelligence one. But he would have had close contacts with the power apparatus in Moscow. He enjoyed greater trust than other, lesser ambassadors.
Dubinina said she picked up her father at the airport. It was his first time in New York City. She took him on a tour. The first building they saw was Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, she told Komsomolskaya Pravdanewspaper. Dubinin was so excited he decided to go inside to meet the building’s owner. They got into the elevator. At the top, Dubinina said, they met Trump.
The ambassador—“fluent in English and a brilliant master of negotiations”—charmed the busy Trump, telling him: “The first thing I saw in the city is your tower!”
Dubinina said: “Trump melted at once. He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive. He needs recognition. And, of course, when he gets it he likes it. My father’s visit worked on him [Trump] like honey to a bee.”
This encounter happened six months before the Estée Lauder lunch. In Dubinina’s account she admits her father was trying to hook Trump. The man from Moscow wasn’t a wide-eyed rube but a veteran diplomat who served in France and Spain, and translated for Nikita Khrushchev when he met with Charles de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace in Paris. He had seen plenty of impressive buildings. Weeks after his first Trump meeting, Dubinin was named Soviet ambassador to Washington.
Dubinina’s own role is interesting. According to a foreign intelligence archive smuggled to the West, the Soviet mission to the U.N. was a haven for the KGB and GRU (Soviet military intelligence). Many of the 300 Soviet nationals employed at the U.N. secretariat were Soviet intelligence officers working undercover, including as personal assistants to secretary-generals. The Soviet U.N. delegation had greater success in finding agents and gaining political intelligence than the KGB’s New York residency.
Dubinin’s other daughter, Irina, said that her late father—he died in 2013—was on a mission as ambassador. This was, she said, to make contact with America’s business elite. For sure, Gorbachev’s Politburo was interested in understanding capitalism. But Dubinin’s invitation to Trump to visit Moscow looks like a classic cultivation exercise, which would have had the KGB’s full support and approval.
In The Art of the Deal, Trump writes: “In January 1987, I got a letter from Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, that began: ‘It is a pleasure for me to relay some good news from Moscow.’ It went on to say that the leading Soviet state agency for international tourism, Goscomintourist, had expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a hotel in Moscow.”
There were many ambitious real estate developers in the United States—why had Moscow picked Trump?
According to Viktor Suvorov—a former GRU military spy—and others, the KGB ran Intourist, the agency to which Trump referred. It functioned as a subsidiary KGB branch. Initiated in 1929 by Stalin, Intourist was the Soviet Union’s official state travel agency. Its job was to vet and monitor all foreigners coming into the Soviet Union. “In my time it was KGB,” Suvorov said. “They gave permission for people to visit.” The KGB’s first and second directorates routinely received lists of prospective visitors to the country based on their visa applications.
As a GRU operative, Suvorov was personally involved in recruitment, albeit for a rival service to the KGB. Soviet spy agencies were always interested in cultivating “young ambitious people,” he said—an upwardly mobile businessman, a scientist, a “guy with a future.”
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Once in Moscow, they would receive lavish hospitality. “Everything is free. There are good parties with nice girls. It could be a sauna and girls and who knows what else.” The hotel rooms or villa were under “24-hour control,” with “security cameras and so on,” Suvorov said. “The interest is only one. To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future.”
These dirty-tricks operations were all about the long term, Suvorov said. The KGB would expend effort on visiting students from the developing world, not least Africa. After 10 or 20 years, some of them would be “nobody.” But others would have risen to positions of influence in their own countries.
Suvorov explained: “It’s at this point you say: ‘Knock, knock! Do you remember the marvelous time in Moscow? It was a wonderful evening. You were so drunk. You don’t remember? We just show you something for your good memory.’”
Over in the communist German Democratic Republic, one of Kryuchkov’s 34-year-old officers—one Vladimir Putin—was busy trying to recruit students from Latin America. Putin arrived in Dresden in August 1985, together with his pregnant wife, Lyudmila, and one-year-old daughter, Maria. They lived in a KGB apartment block.
According to the writer Masha Gessen, one of Putin’s tasks was to try to befriend foreigners studying at the Dresden University of Technology. The hope was that, if recruited, the Latin Americans might work in the United States as undercover agents, reporting back to the Center. Putin set about this together with two KGB colleagues and a retired Dresden policeman.
Precisely what Putin did while working for the KGB’s First Directorate in Dresden is unknown. It may have included trying to recruit Westerners visiting Dresden on business and East Germans with relatives in the West. Putin’s efforts, Gessen suggests, were mostly a failure. He did manage to recruit a Colombian student. Overall his operational results were modest.
By January 1987, Trump was closer to the “prominent person” status of Kryuchkov’s note. Dubinin deemed Trump interesting enough to arrange his trip to Moscow. Another thirtysomething U.S.-based Soviet diplomat, Vitaly Churkin—the future U.N. ambassador—helped put it together. On July 4, 1987, Trump flew to Moscow for the first time, together with Ivana and Lisa Calandra, Ivana’s Italian-American assistant.
Moscow was, Trump wrote, “an extraordinary experience.” The Trumps stayed in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel, at the bottom of Tverskaya Street, near Red Square. Seventy years earlier, in October 1917, Lenin and his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had spent a week in room 107. The hotel was linked to the glass-and-concrete Intourist complex next door and was— in effect—under KGB control. The Lenin suite would have been bugged.
Meanwhile, the mausoleum containing the Bolshevik leader’s embalmed corpse was a short walk away. Other Soviet leaders were interred beneath the Kremlin’s wall in a communist pantheon: Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov—Kryuchkov’s old mentor—and Dzerzhinsky.
According to The Art of the Deal, Trump toured “a half dozen potential sites for a hotel, including several near Red Square.” “I was impressed with the ambition of Soviet officials to make a deal,” he writes. He also visited Leningrad, later St. Petersburg. A photo shows Donald and Ivana standing in Palace Square—he in a suit, she in a red polka dot blouse with a string of pearls. Behind them are the Winter Palace and the state Hermitage museum.
That July the Soviet press wrote enthusiastically about the visit of a foreign celebrity. This was Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist and journalist. Pravda featured a long conversation between the Colombian guest and Gorbachev. García Márquez spoke of how South Americans, himself included, sympathized with socialism and the USSR. Moscow brought García Márquez over for a film festival.
Trump’s visit appears to have attracted less attention. There is no mention of him in Moscow’s Russian State Library newspaper archive. (Either his visit went unreported or any articles featuring it have been quietly removed.) Press clippings do record a visit by a West German official and an Indian cultural festival.
The KGB’s private dossier on Trump, by contrast, would have gotten larger. The agency’s multipage profile would have been enriched with fresh material, including anything gleaned via eavesdropping.
Nothing came of the trip—at least nothing in terms of business opportunities inside Russia. This pattern of failure would be repeated in Trump’s subsequent trips to Moscow. But Trump flew back to New York with a new sense of strategic direction. For the first time he gave serious indications that he was considering a career in politics. Not as mayor or governor or senator.
Trump was thinking about running for president.