6:46 AM 12/11/2017 – Morell: “I was deputy director of the CIA until August of 2013…”

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Morell:

“I was deputy director of the CIA until August of 2013—I didn’t see anywhere in those worldwide threat testimonies a warning about the possible use of social media to attack us. So, I think it’s a legitimate question.

And on the tactical question, my question is, when—and I don’t know the answer this—my question is, when did the intelligence community see the Russians messing around with social media in the election?

…it’s a failure of imagination that’s not dissimilar to the failure of imagination that we had for 9/11. 

So, it’s a useful critique of analysts. But the other important players here are intelligence collectors, right? So, the failure to see this coming, and the failure to take some time before you actually see what’s happening is also a collection failure. It means you haven’t penetrated the right places with the right assets—CIA and NSA are the two big ones here—to tell you exactly what the Russians are doing. So, it’s a couple of important failures there.” 

“Glasser: So, do you think that in making choices, we underestimated Russia and its return under Vladimir Putin?

Morell: I think yes. Right? I think in the early Putin days as president, and then certainly when Medvedev was president and Putin was prime minister, Russia was not what it is today. We were interacting with them in a much more normal way—we being the United States and Europe. It was only when Putin came back the second time as president, that the behavior started to turn, and turned significantly back towards what was essentially Russian behavior during the Cold War, which is challenge the United States everywhere you can in the world, and do whatever you can to undermine what they’re trying to accomplish. Do whatever you can to weaken them.

They’re being extraordinarily aggressive with regard to that. And that was a change. That wasn’t Vladimir Putin from day one.”

“Am I open to the possibility that there is a malign view? Absolutely. I don’t discard that. I’ve been criticized by some people on the left for saying I don’t see any evidence here of a crime.

I still don’t see any evidence of a crime.

It doesn’t mean there is any. I just don’t see it.”

“Glasser: Is ourselves. Do you think Donald Trump has been as bad as you feared?

Morell: I think that his instincts have been as bad as I feared. I think that we are very lucky to have people like Jim Mattis, and people like H.R. McMaster, and people like Dan Coats and others, who are able to pull him back from where his instincts are.

In some cases, they haven’t succeeded, like on Paris. In other cases, they pulled him halfway back, like on Iran. I think his initial instinct was rip up the deal. I think they pulled him back. I think on issues like Afghanistan, they’ve pulled him all the way back…”

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mikenova shared this story .

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The politics of spying in America has never been more intense. President Trump has taken to publicly bashing his intelligence agencies and continues, a full year later, to question their conclusion that Russia intervened in the 2016 U.S. election on his behalf. For their part, an array of career spooks have come out of the shadows where they spent their careers to challenge the commander-in-chief in once unthinkably public terms.

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Michael Morell is one of the career types who’s broken with decades of practice to confront Trump. A veteran of nearly three decades in the CIA, Morell rose from within the ranks to become the agency’s longtime deputy director, twice serving as its acting leader before retiring during President Barack Obama’s second term. In the summer of 2016, he broke with tradition to endorse Hillary Clinton over Trump, and he has continued to sound the alarm ever since.

But in a revealingly self-critical and at times surprising interview for this week’s Global POLITICO, Morell acknowledges that he and other spy-world critics of the president failed to fully “think through” the negative backlash generated by their going political. “There was a significant downside,” Morell said in the interview.

Morell, who grew up as a superstar CIA analyst and eventually graduated to become President George W. Bush’s personal daily intelligence briefer during the momentous events before and after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, was also reflective about the costs of the massive shift in emphasis toward counterterrorism after that attack – in particular, a failure to focus on the threat posed by a resurgent Russia under President Vladimir Putin until it was arguably too late.

The Russian 2016 hacking, Morell told me, was in fact a U.S. “intelligence failure” in multiple ways. It was, he argued, at the least “a failure of imagination that’s not dissimilar to the failure of imagination that we had for 9/11,” with America’s spy agencies apparently unable to have conceived of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and electronic hacking of Gmail being used to attack the country’s election.

But it was another kind of failure, too, Morell argued, of shifting money away from Russia and elsewhere in the name of fighting terrorism. “As we were trying to protect the country from terrorists,” he said, “we became more blind to what was going on in the rest of the world, both from a collection perspective and from an analytic perspective. And that was a cost…. When you make choices, you leave significant risk on the table.”

You can read the rest of our provocative conversation, which ranges from the internal debate over when Putin turned from frenemy to foe to whether Morell thinks Trump will ultimately be caught up in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s net, below.

***

Glasser: I’m Susan Glasser, and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. I’m delighted to tell you that our guest this week is Michael Morell, who has not once, but twice, been the acting director of the CIA and has emerged out of the shadows of the deep state, if you will, to become not only a very vocal public advocate for the intelligence community in these embattled times, but also something of a journalist and a creator of podcasts, as we’ll talk about, I’m sure.

But, of course, intelligence matters—which I believe is the name of your podcast—

Morell: It is the name of the podcast, yes.

Glasser: And is also really the subject of this conversation, as of most of your conversations, because it’s very rare that you have somebody who’s emerging—or at least, it would have been, until Donald Trump—to have somebody like you, who’s emerging from a three-decade-long career inside the intelligence community, to play such vocal and public role. Was there any particular sort of tipping point for you that made you think, “Well, I’m going to go public with this”?

Morell: So, there were really two moments here, right, for me. One was when I first left government, I did a 60 Minutes interview about my life inside CIA, and it’s something the agency thought that was a good thing to do, and I taped most of it before I left the agency. And I really liked it. And I, soon after that, joined CBS News as an on-air commentator on national security issues, and it resonated with me because I saw it in very similar terms to what I used to do for presidents. And I used to help–

Glasser: And you were the guy who literally gave the presidential daily briefing to George W. Bush, before and after 9/11?

Morell: Correct. For the entire year of 2001. And then, I had been involved in the publication of the president’s daily brief before that and after that. And of course, I briefed President Obama a lot when I was deputy director.

So, my fundamental job at the agency, as an analyst and then running the place, was to help the president think about the challenges we face in the world, right? And so, I saw my role on CBS, then, as helping the American people understand these incredibly complex challenges that we face. So, that was the first kind of public stepping out.

The second was in August of 2016, when I became political, when I endorsed Hillary Clinton with an op-ed in The New York Times, and that was a very difficult decision for me, because I had never been political before. I worked at this nonpolitical agency, bright red line between intelligence and policy, and intelligence and politics. So, I had never played that role before.

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But I was so deeply concerned about what a Trump presidency might look like from a national security perspective, and believed that there was such a gap between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump with regard to how well they would protect the country, that I thought it extremely important to come out and say that.

Glasser: Okay, so, flash-forward a year. Was that a mistake?

Morell: So, I don’t think it was a mistake. I think there were downsides to it that I didn’t think about at the time. I was concerned about what is the impact it would have on the agency, right? Very concerned about that, thought that through. But I don’t think I fully thought through the implications.

And one of the ways I’ve thought about that, Susan, is—okay, how did Donald Trump see this? Right? And from—it’s very important—one of the things we do as intelligence analysts is make sure that our guy—the president—understands the other guy. Right?

So, let’s put ourselves here in Donald Trump’s shoes. So, what does he see? Right? He sees a former director of CIA and a former director of NSA, Mike Hayden, who I have the greatest respect for, criticizing him and his policies. Right? And he could rightfully have said, “Huh, what’s going on with these intelligence guys?” Right?

Glasser: It embroiders his narrative.

Morell: Exactly. And then he sees a former acting director and deputy director of CIA criticizing him and endorsing his opponent. And then he gets his first intelligence briefing, after becoming the Republican nominee, and within 24 to 48 hours, there are leaks out of that that are critical of him and his then-national security advisor, Mike Flynn.

And so, this stuff starts to build, right? And he must have said to himself, “What is it with these intelligence guys? Are they political?” The current director at the time, John Brennan, during the campaign occasionally would push back on things that Donald Trump had said.

So, when Trump talked about the Iran nuclear deal being the worst deal in the history of American diplomacy, and he was going to tear it up on the first day—John Brennan came out publicly and said, “That would be an act of folly.” So, he sees current sitting director pushing back on him. Right?

Then he becomes president, and he’s supposed to be getting a daily brief from the moment he becomes the president-elect. Right? And he doesn’t. And within a few days, there’s leaks about how he’s not taking his briefing. So, he must have thought—right?—that, “Who are these guys? Are these guys out to get me? Is this a political organization? Can I think about them as a political organization when I become president?”

So, I think there was a significant downside to those of us who became political in that moment. So, if I could have thought of that, would I have ended up in a different place? I don’t know. But it’s something I didn’t think about.

Glasser: Well, it’s very interesting, because of course, there are so many things you don’t know at that moment in time, including, of course, I’m sure you assumed, along with everybody else, that Hillary Clinton was likely to be elected, and you saw this as contributing to that in some way. But it’s certainly relevant in the context of the situation we find ourselves in a year later. And, if it tends to embolden Trump in his critique of your former colleagues who are still serving in the intelligence agencies, and not only has this been a theme that he has struck repeatedly to criticize—but also to politicize this.

And inadvertently, perhaps, you or others who spoke out and have continued to speak out actually tend to underscore his feeling that there’s a political divide, and now you and others are on one side of it, and potentially all your former colleagues, and then he’s on the other side of it.

That was really underscored for me on his recent trip to Asia, when Donald Trump once again seemed to take Vladimir Putin’s side on the issue of Russian intervention in the election over the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence agencies. But it was so revealing when they tried to fix it—right?—and he sort of said, “Well, I’m in favor of the current intelligence agencies, but not the former ones.”

Morell: Yeah, and you can’t pick and choose like that. And when people in the intelligence community—particularly people in CIA, because for every other part of the intelligence community except CIA, you’re working for a cabinet member. At CIA, you are working for the president of the United States. That is your customer. Right?
00:08:03 So, when you see your customer questioning what it is that you are providing to him or her, and that person seems to be cherry-picking what they accept and what they don’t accept, it’s demoralizing. And when it’s demoralizing, people take actions, right? So, I live pretty close to the agency, and there’s a coffee shop between me and the agency, and I’ve met a number of agency officers in that coffee shop who have said to me, “I’m thinking about leaving.”

And my pushback to them is, “Your country needs you now more than ever. Don’t leave.” Right? But it does lead people to question whether or not what they’re doing is of value. And—look—working there is really hard. The problems are hard. They’re complex. They’re not easy to solve. Some of these targets where we’re trying to collect intelligence are extraordinarily difficult. People operate in very dangerous places. The hours are long. The pressure on families is really tough.

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And so, if you think what you’re doing doesn’t matter, because the president of the United States is selectively listening, it has impact.

Glasser: So, tell me about your views of the current director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo. It’s been reported that he’s a leading candidate to potentially become secretary of state when Rex Tillerson leaves, which is the subject, of course, of a big Washington parlor game.

But Pompeo has personally been undertaking the presidential daily brief, by all accounts, as much as six days a week, he’s leveraged that time with the president into a close relationship with the president. So, is that a normal role for the director of the CIA to be playing? Do you think that he has politicized the agency further by doing so?

Morell: I think that the relationship that Mike Pompeo has developed with the president is a very good thing. One of the most important things a director does is develop a relationship with the president that allows you to get your best information and your best analysis in front of the president. So, I actually believe that it’s Mike’s relationship with the president that has gotten the intelligence community and the CIA in the room almost every day of the week, and is getting them time, which gives the intelligence community—Susan—and the CIA the opportunity to tell the president what they think.

And I think without that relationship that the two of them have—which is why he’s the leading candidate to replace Secretary Tillerson—we might not be in the room at all. So, I think that is a very good thing. And one of the things that folks at CIA feel really good about is the fact that their director is getting them in the room every day.

Glasser: Do you think the director is presenting objective, unbiased analysis of situations like the Russia situation or the Iran situation to the president?

Morell: So, I’m not in the room.

Glasser: No, I know.

Morell: Obviously, I’m not in the room, but there’s really three people in the room. There’s the director, Mike Pompeo, and there’s the DNI, Dan Coats, and then there’s the briefer, somebody like me, right? What I did for George Bush, there’s a senior analyst who’s doing that for President Trump. He’s the one who actually does the briefing, and Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats, I would bet, do the color commentary, right? That’s the way it worked with me and George Tenet. I was the play-by-play guy and George Tenet was the color commentator.

I’m absolutely certain—because I know the person who’s briefing—I mean, I grew up with that person, worked with that person, have a hundred percent confidence that that person is presenting the intelligence in a nonpolitical, nonpartisan, nonpolicy manner. What Mike Pompeo might say, or Dan Coats might say is—no idea.

But I believe the views of the intelligence community are getting across. Whether the president is accepting them or not is really hard to say.

Glasser: Well, his public statements indicate that he’s not accepting them, at least in certain critical areas.

Morell: On certain cases, yes. Russia, for example.

Glasser: Russia. Okay. So, let’s talk about Russia. Dana Priest—a terrific journalist whom you know—just wrote a very critical and very interesting piece in The New Yorker, and she said Russia was an intelligence failure, the Russian intervention in our elections. That’s not really the widely accepted narrative, but I thought it was a powerful piece. Do you agree with that?

Morell: So, she had a couple of different themes, right? And I’d say charges, right? One was the intelligence failure. One was you didn’t brief Congress soon enough, right?

Glasser: Right.

Morell: On what you did know.

Glasser: And then there’s the question of the social media piece, and basically—

Morell: Right. So, let’s deal with just the intelligence failure piece. I think this is a legitimate question to ask. And I look at it from two perspectives. One, in the intelligence business, we think about warning in two ways: strategic warning—Al Qaeda wants to attack us in the United States, right? And tactical warning: they’re going to attack us next week using this method, right? Those are two different kinds of warning.

So, I have little doubt that we, the intelligence community, didn’t see from a strategic sense this particular—and I’m talking about social media here, the weaponization of social media—that we did see that coming. Susan, I went back and looked at all of the unclassified versions of the worldwide threat testimony that the DNI and the director of the agency and the director of DIA give every year, and I read all of those.

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I reread all of those. There’s a cyber section in every one, right? And the warnings are about—

Glasser: I remember Panetta, right? “The danger of a cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Morell: Right. “Cyber Pearl Harbor,” right. Attack on our infrastructure. I didn’t see anywhere in there—and this was criticism of myself, right, because I was deputy director of the CIA until August of 2013—I didn’t see anywhere in those worldwide threat testimonies a warning about the possible use of social media to attack us. So, I think it’s a legitimate question.

And on the tactical question, my question is, when—and I don’t know the answer this—my question is, when did the intelligence community see the Russians messing around with social media in the election?

And my question’s there because you remember the DNI—the Director of National Intelligence—and the Secretary of Homeland Security put out a public statement—

Glasser: On October 7.

Morell: Exactly. And it said two things. Right? The Russians used cyber to steal stuff from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta—Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager—and gave the embarrassing stuff to WikiLeaks, right? Which then used it against the secretary.

And then, two, tried to get into voting systems in the states. It didn’t mention anything about the use of social media to spread and amplify fake news. And so, I wonder, did they know about it at that point? Or did they not know about it at that point?

Glasser: Well, you know, it’s very interesting you raise this, because I think they didn’t. Because I did a very interesting interview of The Global POLITICO with Jim Clapper, who was the DNI at the time, who was the signatory, or was the issuer of that statement, along with Jeh Johnson—who I also interviewed on The Global POLITICO—I asked Clapper—this was quite recently, this fall—“What have you learned that you didn’t know before the election?” What have you learned from the disclosures that are coming out publicly, or in testimony and the like as this Russiagate investigation unfolds?

That was what he spotlighted for me, in our conversation. Just this fall he said, I learned the extent to which they were active on these platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which was not something I really was aware of. And I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing. He was the Director of National Intelligence.”

Morrell: You know what’s interesting is, if that’s true—and it certainly sounds like it is, based on your conversation with Jim, who is a wonderful man and is the best DNI that we’ve ever had, in my view—if that’s true, then it’s a failure of imagination that’s not dissimilar to the failure of imagination that we had for 9/11. Right?

Glasser: That’s right. And, by the way, another part of Dana’s critique is relevant here, which is the blind spot, or the failure of imagination at a time when we’ve invested literally billions of dollars—you know far better than I do—since 9/11, in our collection capabilities, in actually operationalizing the CIA, turning them into a fighting force; giving them capabilities you could have only dreamed of.

Are we too busy, basically, looking at satellite images of tanks when Facebook is the new Fulda Gap?

Morell: Let me say two things. One is, there’s a little bit of a danger in—and I’m correcting myself here a little bit—a little bit of a danger in overemphasizing the failure of imagination, which is an analytic thing. Right?

Glasser: Correct.
Morell: So, it’s a useful critique of analysts. But the other important players here are intelligence collectors, right? So, the failure to see this coming, and the failure to take some time before you actually see what’s happening is also a collection failure. It means you haven’t penetrated the right places with the right assets—CIA and NSA are the two big ones here—to tell you exactly what the Russians are doing. So, it’s a couple of important failures there.

The other way to answer your question, Susan, is that post-9/11, there was a huge flow of resources to counterterrorism. Not surprising. I mean, we moved hundreds of people internally. The collection resources were focused on counterterrorism. CIA got back into the paramilitary business in a way that it hadn’t been since the Office of Strategic Services days during World War II.

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All understandable, but with the implication that we moved resources that were focused on the rest of the world, to include places like Russia. So, as we were trying to protect the country from terrorists, we became more blind to what was going on in the rest of the world, both from a collection perspective and from an analytic perspective. And that was a cost.

One of the things I’d like to point out is that—the CIA’s a large place and the total number of employees there is classified, but to put it into perspective for you, in 1991 we had x employees. By 2001—10 years later—we had .75x, so a 25 percent decline. When I walked out the door in 2013, even with a significant ramp-up in resources post-9/11, we only had 1.1x. So, essentially the same number of employees in 2013 as we had in 1991, in a world that was much, much more complex, with many, many more issues.

How do you cover all of that in the way you have to to protect the country? And the answer is, you can’t. Right? You’ve got to make choices. And when you make choices, you leave significant risk on the table.

Glasser: So, do you think that in making choices, we underestimated Russia and its return under Vladimir Putin?

Morell: I think yes. Right? I think in the early Putin days as president, and then certainly when Medvedev was president and Putin was prime minister, Russia was not what it is today. We were interacting with them in a much more normal way—we being the United States and Europe. It was only when Putin came back the second time as president, that the behavior started to turn, and turned significantly back towards what was essentially Russian behavior during the Cold War, which is challenge the United States everywhere you can in the world, and do whatever you can to undermine what they’re trying to accomplish. Do whatever you can to weaken them.

They’re being extraordinarily aggressive with regard to that. And that was a change. That wasn’t Vladimir Putin from day one.

Glasser: Well, that’s very interesting you make that argument. My husband and I were stationed in Moscow during Putin’s first term in office, and then back here for the second term of Bush’s presidency on forward. And there’s a real debate, I would say, among Russia hands about that argument that you just made. That’s very interesting to me, because Russia did invade Georgia in 2008, before Putin returned officially to the presidency.
And I think the Obama White House arguably staked its Russia policy on the view that you are expounding, that somehow Russia was more amenable to us, and then with Putin’s return to power, that it changed in some marked way.

I’m not sure that I agree with that, but it’s interesting that you take a definitive position on it.

Morell: I think there’s a debate, but I feel pretty comfortable with the position I’ve taken. I think Georgia was a turning point. I think Georgia was a really important moment, and maybe that should have been the wakeup call, you know, that moment where he was willing to invade a neighbor.

Glasser: And also, what lessons he took or didn’t take from that Western response to that.

Morell: Or lack of Western response to that, right?

Glasser: Yes.

Morell: Absolutely.

Glasser: I think so. To me, that’s a very key moment.

Morell: And, the two things we just talked about go in parallel, right? And are reinforcing to each other. So, he takes an aggressive step and he doesn’t get any pushback; he doesn’t get anything to deter him. Right? And that’s been the history of this relationship, in my view, since Georgia. Right? Is, he does something that is damaging to our interests or the interests of our allies, and there’s not a response, and so he keeps going, and he keeps going, and he keeps going.

Glasser: So, this is endlessly interesting to me to talk about Putin, but I want to cast it into the present a little bit more. So, he keeps going; he’s not only invading Ukraine, but much more aggressive in intervening in the elections, for example, of other countries on the periphery of Russia and Eastern and Central Europe, aggressive measures against neighbors in the Baltics, for example, in Estonia.

00 And so, that’s where you get this argument from many of my Russia-hand friends that, of course, this wasn’t something new, to intervene in the United States, and it’s exactly what he did in Poland, or in other countries. So that’s one bullet point on the question of our intelligence.

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The other question is, did we do things to kind of unilaterally disarm from an intelligence point of view, on Russia?

Morell: Well, I think Russia was one of the places that suffered from the loss of resources as they flowed to counterterrorism—no doubt in my mind. There were things with regard to Georgia, for example, that I can’t talk about specifically, but things we could not tell the president about what was happening in Georgia at the particular time that they were doing what they were doing because we had turned off systems that used to be turned on, because now they were focused on other parts of the world. Right?

Glasser: The eye had turned.

Morell: So, absolutely, that suffered. I think—and there were also things that we were doing as a country that he was misreading—Putin was misreading. So, I talked earlier about the importance of an intelligence officer being able to tell the president, “Here’s the other guy’s view.” Well, what’s Putin’s view of us? Right?
Putin’s view of us is that we want to undermine him, and that we are actively working to do so. Right? He really believes that. And he points to things that are absolutely true. The State Department pushing for democracy in Russia openly. And then he points to things that aren’t true, like the CIA was behind the street protests in Kiev that led to all the problems in Ukraine. Right?

That’s his worldview, is that we are trying to undermine him, and that we want him to go away, right? And so, when you think about it in those terms, what he’s doing against us—right? It’s kind of interesting, right? It doesn’t justify what he’s doing, but it certainly puts it in perspective.

Glasser: No, I think that’s a great point to make, and I think it’s so important. So, Russiagate? Or whatever we want to call it. I don’t know if you have a better name for it than that. Based on your intelligence analyst hat, looking at the dots that are out there—how do we construct a narrative around them that makes sense? Is there enough information to construct a narrative? What do you make of the evidence that’s public, recognizing that it’s a very small amount of the evidence, presumably?

Morell: The best place to start is with a caveat, is I have no insight into the FBI investigation or the two investigations being done by the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate. So, this is really me being an analyst, looking at everything that’s available, right?

The first thing I’d say is that there may be a benign explanation for all of this. What might that be? The benign explanation is that Vladimir Putin, understanding who Donald Trump was as a person, understanding how narcissistic he is, played to Donald Trump by saying he was a great guy—right? Had the potential to be a great leader, et cetera, et cetera.

And Trump responded exactly the way Putin wanted him to by reciprocating, right? Great leader, et cetera, et cetera. Right? Maybe what he did in Ukraine and Crimea was all right. Who are we to say? You know, Putin’s killed all these people, but so do we. You know, try to put this in perspective. Right? All of these things that Trump said could have been simply in response to Putin playing him, and playing his personality.

You know, when all that happened, of course, the media and the Clinton campaign jumped all over Donald Trump, right?—and said, “Boy, look at what this guy’s saying,” right? “This is inconsistent with the world in which we live in.” It is possible at that moment, that Steve Bannon and Steve Miller and Sebastian Gorka walked into Trump’s office in Trump Tower and said, “You know, you’re being criticized for what you said about Putin and Russia, but, boss, you’re right. Right? You’re absolutely right, and let us give you the intellectual context in which to think about this. And the intellectual context in which to think about it is, we actually need Russia as a partner, to push back against the two biggest threats that we see.”

Glasser: Right. China, yes.

Morell: Bannon, Miller and Gorka. China and Islamic extremism. And, Russia, a white, Christian country, fits—

Glasser: Their worldview.

Morell: Their worldview. Right? So, Putin might have played him, and then Bannon gives him an intellectual framework to say, “You’re right. Keep talking about this.” So, that is the totally benign view.

Am I open to the possibility that there is a malign view? Absolutely. I don’t discard that. I’ve been criticized by some people on the left for saying I don’t see any evidence here of a crime. I still don’t see any evidence of a crime. It doesn’t mean there is any. I just don’t see it.

Glasser: Including evidence of obstruction of justice?

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Morell: So, let’s talk about what I think the possibilities are, going forward. So, I would not be surprised if Bob Mueller concludes that the Trump campaign did not violate the law with regard to its interactions with the Russians. I’m really open to that possibility. Why? Because, as you know, The New York Times, The Washington Post, every media outlet that is worth its salt has reporters digging into this, and they haven’t found anything.
And I think that, had there been something there, they would have found something. And I think Bob Mueller would have found it already and it would have leaked.
So, I’m really open to the possibility that there’s no there there on a crime being committed by the campaign and the Russians. Right? That interaction leading to criminal charges.

The second point I’d make is that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were single individuals who were associated with the campaign who violated the law with respect to their interactions with the Russians on the election. Paul Manafort comes to mind. I think he has little to no integrity. There’s no way you spend that much time with the old Ukrainian government and not bump up against Russian intelligence officers a lot.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there were single individuals who faced criminal charges here with regard to their interactions with the Russians, and Paul Manafort’s a possibility. But that’s different than a conspiracy by the campaign, right?

The third thing I’d say is, every FBI investigation that I’ve ever had visibility into or been involved in, the people who they’re looking at actually don’t end up getting charged with the crime they were being investigated for. They get charged with something else. Right? And that something else in this case could be the laundering of Russian organized crime funds. And if that was done by the Trump organization—if that was done knowingly—it’s a criminal violation.

If it was done unwittingly, because you didn’t do the due diligence that’s required under U.S. law for where the money is coming from, from overseas—it’s a civil penalty. And the Trump organization gets fined. What the politics of all that is, I have no idea. That’s the third thing I’d say.

The fourth thing I’d say is, the obstruction of justice issue. In my view, when I read the statute, boy, it looks—you know, it looks like you could make a case. Now, the hard part is intent. Right? You have to intend to violate the statute. You have to intend to obstruct justice. That’s the difficult piece to prove here.

You need something on paper, or you need somebody who heard the president say something about what he was trying to do here, or you need him to tell you that. Right? Well, he’s not going to do that. And so, while it looks like it to all of us, that that’s what he was trying to do—you’ve got to get to that intent part, and that’s what’s hard from a criminal perspective.

Glasser: So, well, it goes to Donald Trump’s state of mind, which is the other question I would ask you, with your intelligence analyst hat on. If you were the presidential daily briefer for Emmanuel Macron, or Vladimir Putin, for that matter—what would you tell that president about our president?

Morell: What I would say is—you know, I worked for 33 years at CIA. I watched a lot of foreign leaders. There’s a spectrum of narcissism among human beings. Right?
Glasser: Foreign leaders often—leaders have a lot of it.

Morell: Leaders of any country, right? They have a lot of it. Right? They are one or two standard deviations to the right of the mean. President Trump is no different from that, and in fact, he might be three or four standard deviations out. Right?
So, what I would say is, “Play to his narcissism. Play to his narcissism.” I think some leaders have done that exceptionally well. I think Prime Minister Abe of Japan has done it. I think Xi Jinping has done it. I think Macron has done it. There are some leaders who simply can’t bring themselves to do it, like Angela Merkel. She just—bless her heart—she can’t bring herself to do it.

But, play to his narcissism. Tell him he’s great. Tell him you want to help him. And then leave the details of the policy to your ministers. Right? So, from ministers to U.S. Cabinet officials, leave the details. Don’t talk about details with the president, just—

Glasser: Pretend you agree. Well, is it narcissism? Is it something more than that, though? Do you believe there’s some sort of an impairment?

Morell: I don’t know. I think narcissism itself is an impairment. Right?

Glasser: Speaking of—by the way, the mental state of people—there’s been a little bit of a controversy this year about Kim Jong Un and whether the United States government assesses him to be crazy in some way, or a rational actor. And there was an interesting testimony at an open conference by a CIA analyst, who said he is a rational actor.

Morell: Yes.

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Glasser: But Donald Trump disagrees. What do you think?

Morell: He is. He is most definitely a rational actor. Within his worldview, right?

Glasser: Right.

Morell: And his worldview is not that different from Putin’s. His worldview is that the United States wants to overthrow him.

Glasser: Is out to get him, yeah, which is not wrong.

Morell: No. No, it is wrong. It is wrong. The United States of America doesn’t care whether there’s a North Korea. Right? The United States wants Kim Jong Un to stop his behavior that is threatening to us. If he does that, he is welcome to stay up there and run North Korea for as long as he wants. That is our view.

We are not trying to reunite the peninsula on the South’s terms. We are not trying to drive him from power. Right? We’re not.

Glasser: But, as a matter of policy, though, I believe it is our policy that we are very sorry for the people of North Korea that they live in such a totalitarian dictatorship.

Morell: Absolutely, but our—

Glasser: And we would prefer for their sake that they not live under it, but we’re not pursuing a policy of active regime change. That’s the difference.

Morell: Correct. Correct.

Glasser: I do believe it is our policy, actually, to oppose the North Korean regime, not just on nuclear weapons, but—

Morell: But across the board, right. But the most important stuff—

Glasser: Fair enough. I just wanted to clarify that we do actually care about the people of North Korea.

Morell: Yes, we do. Yes, we do. But the most important thing here, right—I mean, we care about human rights—the most important thing here is protecting U.S. cities from nuclear attack.

Glasser: Yes. We can definitely all agree on that.

Morell: Yes.

Glasser: Definitely. Well, I’m glad you clarified that point, though, on Kim Jong Un, because you do see that recur over and over again as an issue. I know we’re running out of time here.

So, we’ve talked Russia; we’ve talked Russiagate. Are there things that worry you, or that keep you up at night, that you think we are not paying attention to because we’re so obsessed with things like Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and whether we’re going to have a nuclear war with North Korea, and Russia?

Morell: I’m smiling because—so, when I was deputy director, and I would do public events, or go to college campuses and talk to people and so forth and so on, I would always get asked what’s the one thing that keeps you up at night? Right? And I felt when I was in the job of deputy or acting director that I needed to answer it with a national security answer. So my answer was always terrorists with nuclear weapons. Right? That’s what keeps me up at night. And it still does. I still worry about that. Both Al Qaeda and Isis and other groups have said, “We’d like to get our hands on weapons of mass destruction, and we would use them.”

But the thing, Susan, that really keeps me up at night is that, at the end of the day the most important determinant of a country’s national security is the health of its economy and its society. Right? So, the thing that really keeps me up at night is the dysfunction in Washington that makes it impossible for people to come together and to compromise and make decisions that move our economy and our society forward. That is the most dangerous thing that we face.

I think Senator Corker essentially said that a couple weeks ago. Right? The biggest threat to the United States is us.

Glasser: Is ourselves. Do you think Donald Trump has been as bad as you feared?

Morell: I think that his instincts have been as bad as I feared. I think that we are very lucky to have people like Jim Mattis, and people like H.R. McMaster, and people like Dan Coats and others, who are able to pull him back from where his instincts are.

In some cases, they haven’t succeeded, like on Paris. In other cases, they pulled him halfway back, like on Iran. I think his initial instinct was rip up the deal. I think they pulled him back. I think on issues like Afghanistan, they’ve pulled him all the way back to—I think his initial instinct on Afghanistan was to get out, and they pulled him all the way back to a long-term commitment.

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So, I think that his instincts are what I feared. We’re very lucky to have people who are willing to take on his instincts and to debate and question him to the point where he is willing to change his mind.

Glasser: Well, the question is also, if he’s going to change his mind, or do it only for a short amount of time. Jerusalem is another example of something where maybe people thought he’d changed his mind because he didn’t do it right at the opening strokes of January 20th, as he initially planned to do. But then you see, ten months later, that he is not really deterred from what was his—

Morell: Right. And I would probably—I mean, I don’t know what the internal debates were, but I would bet his national security team was undoubtedly unified in not thinking this was a good idea.

Glasser: Well, that’s right. And that’s the other thing we’ve learned that we didn’t know a year ago. Which was that, Trump placed great faith, on one hand, in all these big, brawny, military officers, current and former, but on the other hand, we’ve learned in a year that he’s willing to disregard their professional advice.

Morell: And I think there’s examples on both sides, right? I think that in some cases—look, it’s difficult over time to fight every day, to struggle every day with your boss. And it can wear you down. Right? And I hope that people like Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster and John Kelly aren’t getting worn down.

Glasser: Well, you know, it’s interesting. While we were sitting here in this conversation, I just got an email saying that Dina Powell, the president’s deputy national security sdvisor, and by all accounts played a key early role. She was a Bush administration veteran, has been someone who has been helpful in translating General McMaster to Trump and his circle, is leaving. And so, another interesting data point.

Morell: We don’t know why she’s leaving, right, but that would be an example of getting worn down to the point where you lose somebody of Dina’s talent, worldview, perspective, that is consistent with, in my view, the right worldview, that the U.S. has to play a leadership role in the world—that maybe she’s gotten worn down.

Glasser: Well, not to mention the fact, I have to say, every time I look at a picture of a Trump meeting with a major foreign leader, especially like in the Middle East, Dina’s the only woman at the table. Always. Always. And so, who knows what that would be?

So, a final thought as we leave this really stimulating and interesting conversation. We’ve been pretty Russia-focused today, but I do love that you’ve jumped on over to the side of the fence and after three decades in the most secretive and closed organization in the United States, you are now a host of your own podcast. You’re a public commentator. You’re a journalist. What’s it like to be on the other side of the First Amendment?

Morell: I believe deeply in the role of the media. I just finished watching Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War.

Glasser: The Vietnam series—I’m halfway through.

Morell: I think it should be required watching for every American. Right? And what you see when you watch that is multiple presidents not only making the wrong decision, but actually lying to the American people. And the role of the media in making transparent the decisions the government is making and why they’re making them is extraordinarily important to our democracy. And it is very, very important that that Fourth Estate be vibrant and strong, very, very important.

And I’m worried about that a little bit. My college son a few months ago sent me an email and said, “Dad, you need to read this book on Hugo Chavez.” And he said, “You need to read it because the parallels between Chavez and Trump are striking.” So I got the book and I read it. And there’s some parallels, and there’s some similarities, and there’s as many differences, I thought. But there was something that really struck me, and it has to do with the media business.

And what struck me was that, when Hugo Chavez first got elected there was no political opposition. It had faded away. There was no opposition leader to stand up and paint a different future for Venezuela, one that challenged Chavez’s future. And, as a result of there being no political opposition, the Venezuelan media became the political opposition. And in becoming the political opposition, it lost all of its credibility with the Venezuelan people. Sound familiar?

Glasser: Yes.

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Morell: So, I think that as important as the media’s role is here—and it’s probably more important today than it ever has been, given where we are—the media has to absolutely make certain that they are playing this straight. Right? And that they aren’t taking sides in any way.

Glasser: You know, I’m so glad you brought this up, and I think this is a very powerful point. And really, this has been one of my favorite episodes, I think, of The Global POLITICOI’m really grateful to you for spending the time with us.

Our guest this week at The Global POLITICO, Michael Morrell, former director of the CIA, and all-around smart guy.

Morell: Susan, great to be with you. Thank you.

Glasser: Thank you to our listeners, as well. You can listen to us at The Global POLITICO on your favorite podcast platform, iTunes or anything else. You can email me any time—and I do love to hear from you. I’ve heard from a lot listeners over time. sglasser@politico.com. I think we’re well over the 2 million listeners downloaded mark. I hope you can pass on the word about The Global POLITICO and keep listening to us well into 2018, and beyond. Thank you.

Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.

Ex-Spy Chief: Russia’s Election Hacking Was An ‘Intelligence Failure’ – Politico
 

mikenova shared this story from Russian Intelligence services and organized crime – Google News.


Politico
Ex-Spy Chief: Russia’s Election Hacking Was An ‘Intelligence Failure’
Politico
Subscribe to The Global POLITICO on Apple Podcasts here. | Subscribe via Stitcher here. The politics of spying in America has never been more intense. President Trump has taken to publicly bashing his intelligence agencies and continues, a full year 
Poll: Percentage of Americans Identifying As Republican Has Dropped Since Trump Won
 

mikenova shared this story from Donald Trump.

The biggest dip is among white women, the Gallup survey found.

Was Trump SoHo Used to Hide Part of a Kazakh Banks Missing Billions?
 

mikenova shared this story .

For eight years, Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank has waged a legal war on three continents against former Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov. It’s a clash that has featured death threats, a hack of Kazakh government computers and at least $4 billion in missing bank assets. Now, court cases playing out on both sides of the Atlantic could pull back the curtain on whether some of those funds wound up in properties developed by former associates of Donald J. Trump.

BTA Bank, once the Central Asian nation’s biggest lender, has accused Ablyazov of embezzling billions of dollars’ worth of mines, hotels, shopping centers and other assets in the former Soviet bloc between 2005 and 2009. Even as the lender sought to recover those holdings, Ablyazov and members of his family were funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into properties in Europe and the U.S., including three condominiums in a 46-story luxury development in lower Manhattan known as Trump SoHo, court documents allege.

Ablyazov enlisted his son-in-law, Iliyas Khrapunov, to help him conceal his assets, according to sworn statements from former associates of the fugitive financier. The previously reported purchases in Trump SoHo, developed by Bayrock Group LLC in partnership with the Trump Organization, were made by members of Khrapunov’s family, the bank has alleged in court documents. Khrapunov also worked on a separate deal with Felix Sater, a former Bayrock executive and onetime adviser to Trump.

And, in a new wrinkle, emails reviewed by Bloomberg News show that BTA Bank’s current chairman, Kenges Rakishev, the man who’s now pursuing Ablyazov, considered buying a stake in Trump SoHo in 2012.

The Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan, on April 4, 2016.

Photographer: Todd Heisler/The New York Times via Redux

Sitting in a studio apartment in Paris a few blocks from the Louvre on a balmy October afternoon, looking relaxed in a blue blazer with brass buttons, a white shirt and jeans, Ablyazov, 54, said he didn’t steal anything from BTA Bank. He also said he knows nothing about links to Trump or his former partners. “First of all, I can account for my whereabouts during this time,” he said with a laugh. “I was in jail.”

But the purported Trump link may figure in litigation underway in London and New York. In its quest to recover assets, BTA Bank has sued Ablyazov and Khrapunov family members in both cities. As the cases unfold, the bank’s lawyers plan to show how they used a constellation of shell companies to hide and launder assets. One in particular has come into focus: Swiss Development Group SA, a Geneva-based firm allegedly used to violate British court orders freezing those assets. In three days of hearings in London in November, lawyers for Khrapunov and BTA Bank sparred over the credibility of a key witness, a Ukrainian woman who once worked with Ablyazov but, the bank says, has revealed secrets of Ablyazov’s alleged laundering.

The cases could shed light on how cash flowed between Kazakhstan and the U.S. in the past decade, a time when Trump and his partners were soliciting investments in the East. It’s a period that Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, is looking at as he examines evidence of possible money laundering and other financial malfeasance by some former associates of the president.

Kazakh investors were drawn to the allure of the Trump brand and a country with the rule of law, according to Kate Mallinson, a partner at Prism Political Risk Management Ltd. in London and an expert on Kazakhstan. “The Kazakhs learned from Russia that a Trump property was a safe place to park your money for a while,” she said, pointing out that capital flight from the country, fueled by political uncertainty, probably reached a peak in 2012.

“If the president oversteps this line, I am warning you that I will spend my last cent to take this regime down”

The Trump Organization hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with the BTA Bank litigation. The company’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, said it “had nothing to do with the sale of units in Trump SoHo,” which were handled by Bayrock, and had never done any business in Kazakhstan or had any dealings with Ablyazov or Khrapunov. On Nov. 22, the Trump Organization said it sold its management and licensing agreement and the president’s name would be removed from the building.

Sater and his lawyer didn’t respond to emails seeking comment. Khrapunov, 33, declined in an October interview in Geneva to comment on his relationship with Sater or Bayrock. He said he managed his own family’s investments legally and denied that SDG was a front for his father-in-law or that he had laundered any ill-gotten gains.

“The only reason they’re going after me is that I intervened to help get Mukhtar out of prison and his wife and daughter out of Kazakhstan,” Khrapunov said. “That was the turning point after which they unleashed hell on me.”

Ablyazov also rejected the bank’s claim that he deputized Khrapunov to hide his assets. “Iliyas has nothing to do with my property,” he said.

A boyish-faced man with a passion for chess and a knack for eluding adversaries, Ablyazov is at the center of an asset hunt that has stretched from Almaty to Moscow to London and New York. When he was in a French prison from 2013 to 2016 fighting extradition to Russia on fraud charges, he fashioned a chess set out of paper and played games against himself. As the months ticked by, he wrote a treatise on the Old Indian Defense, a chess gambit designed to lull an opponent into overconfidence and make him vulnerable to counterattacks.

It appears to have worked as well for him in the legal world as on the chessboard. Ablyazov was charged with financial crimes in Russia and Ukraine. He was convicted in absentia of embezzlement in Kazakhstan and sentenced to 20 years in prison. British courts ruled he misappropriated more than $4 billion from BTA Bank, and a U.K. judge found him in contempt for violating a freeze on his assets. In 2015, Manuel Valls, then France’s prime minister, signed an order extraditing Ablyazov to Russia, where charges are still pending.

And yet, after all that, the bank has recovered less than $500 million. A French administrative court canceled the extradition decree last December, finding that Russia sought him for “a political purpose,” leaving Ablyazov a free man in Paris.

Ablyazov, who held a majority stake in BTA Bank, said in the interview that he legally owned the properties and stakes in companies he acquired during his spell as chairman. He said he earned $200 million in 2007 from his investments and that his net worth in 2009 was $6 billion. While he held his assets in shell companies in Cyprus and other offshore havens, he said he wasn’t fleecing the bank — he was trying to keep them out of the hands of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president since 1991.

Nazarbayev has long hated him, Ablyazov said, because he has supported opposition groups and media outlets. A theoretical physicist and former minister of energy, Ablyazov did time in Nazarbayev’s jails as a political prisoner in the early 2000s. After taking control of BTA Bank in 2005, he said he spurned demands from Nazarbayev to give him a stake in the lender as an act of tribute. Certain the government was going to nationalize the bank, Ablyazov fled for the U.K. in January 2009. But he didn’t go quietly.

“When the plane passed over Russian territory and entered European airspace, I telephoned Nazarbayev’s assistant,” Ablyazov recalled. “I told him, ‘There’s no way you can stop the plane now. I know Nazarbayev intends to seize the bank. If the president oversteps this line, I am warning you that I will spend my last cent to take this regime down.’”

Ablyazov arrives under police protection at a courthouse in Lyon, France, for a hearing in his appeal trial regarding his extradition to Russia, on Oct. 17, 2014.

Photographer: Philippe Merle/AFP/Getty Images

It was a declaration of war, and that’s what Ablyazov got. Over the next few years, the bank filed 11 civil actions in the U.K. against Ablyazov and his associates. It hired investigative firms led by former members of the British Special Forces and the CIA to track his movements and those of his family members.

Scotland Yard warned Ablyazov in 2011 that it had information indicating his life was in danger, though police officers couldn’t identify the plotters. The next year, he slipped out of the U.K. and went underground. While in hiding in May 2013, the Kazakh government forcibly returned his wife and daughter to Almaty from Rome in an apparent attempt to pressure him to turn himself in. After an uproar over what United Nations human rights officials called an “extraordinary rendition,” Kazakhstan permitted them to return to Italy seven months later.

“The charges laid against me are false, artificial and wrong,” Ablyazov said in Paris. “This is not a commercial dispute but a political persecution.”

Nonsense, said Rakishev, the current BTA Bank chairman. Sipping coffee at a conference table in his seventh-floor office at the lender’s headquarters in Almaty, the 38-year-old financier said the case isn’t about politics — it’s about money. There’s ample evidence Ablyazov used the lender like his personal piggy bank, Rakishev said.

That’s also the government’s view. “Ablyazov through his crimes did significant damage to BTA Bank and its depositors, as well as to the state,” Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice said in an email. It denied accusations that Nazarbayev is hounding Ablyazov for his politics.

While at BTA Bank, Ablyazov sold billions of dollars of bonds and borrowed from banks including Credit Suisse Group AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Then he turned around and used a unit inside the bank called UKB6 to lend money to investment projects throughout the former Soviet bloc, according to judgments entered by U.K. courts.

The borrowers were shell companies controlled by Ablyazov, the judges concluded. They said he siphoned so much capital out of BTA Bank that by the time the global financial crisis struck in 2008, the lender was crippled. The government nationalized BTA Bank in February 2009, and a few months later it defaulted on more than $12 billion of debt. Since then, the bank has been trying to recover whatever it can.

Rakishev, who has interests in mining, energy and banking in Kazakhstan, said the biggest challenge for him is Ablyazov’s allegation of political persecution. “But my task is recovering assets,” he said. “There is a business part of this issue that is clear and understandable. If Ablyazov is sure that he earned the money correctly, then he should come to court and prove it.”

Both sides will get the chance to prove their cases in the civil proceedings in London. In three days of hearings last month, Khrapunov’s lawyers asked the court to throw out a 2015 order that froze his assets, a decision that would be a blow to the bank’s efforts to recover its money.

At the center of the case is Ukrainian lawyer Olena Tyschenko, who was detained in Moscow in 2013 on suspicion of laundering money for Ablyazov. She agreed to cooperate with BTA Bank in exchange for the bank not pressing Russian authorities to prosecute her. Tyschenko said Khrapunov was helping his father-in-law and had been tapped to “take over all of his business,” according to a sworn affidavit from Chris Hardman, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells representing the bank.

Khrapunov’s lawyer Charles Samek urged the court not to rely on Tyschenko’s statements. “The evidence is false,” Samek said. “It’s clear that the bank was intimately involved in her arrest and detention and in the criminal proceedings against her.”

Another BTA Bank lawyer, Stephen Smith, said the bank had cooperated with Russian prosecutors but hadn’t instigated the investigation. “The bank doesn’t have the power to put people in a Russian jail,” Smith argued.

Judge Andrew Smith is expected to rule on the matter by early next year, and a trial in the case is scheduled for 2019.

“This is not a commercial dispute but a political persecution”

Ablyazov and Khrapunov may have more ammunition. In 2014, hackers penetrated the databases of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice and captured 69 gigabytes of emails and documents, including confidential communications between BTA Bank’s lawyers and government officials on how to fight Ablyazov.

The British courts have admitted the material in the so-called Kazaword hack in the pending litigation. Khrapunov and Ablyazov plan to use the documents to show the bank’s asset-recovery case is a smokescreen for Nazarbayev’s politically motivated pursuit of them, a strategy that paid off in France.

Rakishev counters that Khrapunov is behind the hack. A Kazakh news site financed by Ablyazov in the past published many of the documents. “Who is the biggest benefactor of publication?” Rakishev said. “Iliyas and Mukhtar.”

Khrapunov said he had nothing to do with the attack. But, he said, “it is a relief that the truth is finally out about the extent of Kazakhstan’s corruption and persecution of my family.”

Educated at Le Rosey, a Swiss boarding school that attracts Russian elites unfazed by the six-figure annual tuition, Khrapunov hikes in the Alps and lives in a village on the shores of Lake Geneva. With an Interpol-distributed arrest warrant from Kazakhstan hanging over him, Khrapunov, a Swiss citizen, hasn’t crossed the border in four years. Lunching on grilled fish and tomato juice at a sidewalk cafe in Geneva, he came across as an easygoing man on holiday, not the adjutant of a shadowy offshore financial empire.

Yet starting in 2011, Khrapunov turned SDG into a machine for laundering his father-in-law’s wealth, according to a sworn statement filed in court by Nicolas Bourg, a Belgian businessman who had worked at SDG. In that 2016 declaration, Bourg stated that Khrapunov directed him to set up a real estate fund as an SDG subsidiary. He said he created a series of investment entities in Luxembourg that all answered to Khrapunov, and ultimately to Ablyazov.

Khrapunov, who denied the allegations, also helped launder about $300 million for his father, Viktor Khrapunov, who’s accused of embezzling the money from Almaty when he was its mayor from 1997 to 2004, according to a lawsuit the city and BTA Bank filed in federal court in New York in 2015. Both Khrapunovs, who have been indicted for fraud and other charges by Kazakh prosecutors, say the allegations are politically motivated.

Iliyas Khrapunov first crossed paths with Sater around 2008. Sater and Bayrock founder Tevfik Arif had been hopscotching from Moscow to the Cote d’Azur hitting up oligarchs for investments in Trump-branded projects since 2004, according to a person who worked at Bayrock at the time.

With his Brooklyn accent and outer-borough savvy, Sater had a gift for schmoozing investors, the person said. He clicked with Trump, and the two met often at Trump Tower to talk business. Bayrock and the Trump Organization had projects percolating in New York, South Florida, Phoenix and Denver, and were even eyeing one in Moscow. In 2008, SDG and Bayrock joined forces to turn the Hotel du Parc on Lake Geneva into 24 “ultra-luxury” residences, according to court documents in the U.S. and a Bayrock presentation.

Khrapunov family members purchased three condominiums in Trump SoHo in 2013 for a total of $3.2 million, according to lawsuits filed by BTA Bank in federal courts in New York and California. All three units were sold by 2015, two of them at a loss, public records show.

Khrapunov did a separate deal with Sater, a Russian-born dealmaker who served time in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass in a bar fight and later pleaded guilty to taking part in stock swindles with Russian organized-crime figures. To stay out of prison, he worked as an informant to U.S. prosecutors investigating the mob’s role on Wall Street.

By 2013, an SDG subsidiary called Triadou had invested more than $114 million in four projects in the U.S., according to a company financial report, none of them connected to Trump. That April, Triadou used a shell company to purchase a foreclosed shopping center outside Cincinnati for $30 million, court documents show. The money came from an entity called Telford that was controlled by Ablyazov, Bourg said. Sater helped manage the deal. Sater has since worked as a consultant helping BTA Bank’s asset-recovery program, according to a person familiar with the arrangement.

“This case has been a civil war played out in the courts”

In 2012, before the Khrapunovs bought the three Trump SoHo condos, Rakishev was approached about purchasing a stake in the building and perhaps even the whole tower. Ever since Trump had unveiled plans for the tower in 2006, the developers had struggled to sell its 380-plus units. On Feb. 27, 2012, Rakishev received an email from Keith Rubenstein, founder of New York real estate investment firm Somerset Partners, suggesting that Trump SoHo might be available in a “distressed sale.”

“Don’t love the location, but at the right price could be interesting,” Rubenstein wrote in an email seen by Bloomberg News. “Shall we take a look at this together?”

Rakishev liked the idea. “Can we look with detail and most important is price?” he replied.

One of Rubenstein’s associates sent Rakishev a spreadsheet that showed the development had sold less than a quarter of its units and had lost $3.6 million on its food and beverage services in 2011, according to the documents seen by Bloomberg News. Rakishev said he doesn’t recall reviewing the deal. A spokesman for Rubenstein declined to comment.

Two years later, Rakishev acquired control of BTA Bank in a series of transactions with Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund. Today, the bank is little more than a holding company, and its primary business is recovering the assets allegedly taken by Ablyazov.

As for Ablyazov, he hasn’t let go of his dream of toppling Nazarbayev. He’s trying to resurrect Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, once the country’s biggest opposition group, and he regularly posts anti-Nazarbayev jeremiads on his Facebook page.

“The main task,” he said, “is to replace the dictatorial regime in Kazakhstan and build a country on the model of America and Europe.”

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice may have other ideas about Ablyazov’s future. Last month, Muratkhan Tokmadi, a wealthy businessman, said in a documentary broadcast on Kazakh television that in 2004 he murdered Erzhan Tatishev, BTA Bank’s co-owner and first chief executive officer, at the direction of Ablyazov.

Tatishev was killed by a gunshot during a wolf hunt on Kazakhstan’s southern border. For years, the shooting was believed to have been an accident. But in the documentary, Tokmadi said Ablyazov instructed him to make it “look like an accidental killing.”

Prosecutors have opened an investigation. Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice told Bloomberg News that Tokmadi has agreed to cooperate.

“Now they will accuse me of murder,” Ablyazov said in Paris, adding that he had never met Tokmadi.

A murder charge against Ablyazov would just be the latest twist in a saga that has already featured a cyberattack, a fugitive banker and links with Trump’s real estate empire.

“For years, this case has been a civil war played out in the courts,” said John Howell, a British financial-crime consultant who assisted BTA Bank in its efforts to uncover whether Ablyazov committed fraud. “Now, with a criminal case potentially coming in, the hunt for BTA’s assets may pick up new momentum.”

— With assistance by David Voreacos

Stratfor describes Russia and China allying against America
 

mikenova shared this story from Fabius Maximus website.

Summary: The world’s nations are forming new alliances. Last month we looked at the Saudi-Israel alliance. Here Stratfor looks at major nations allying against America (other powers always organize against a hegemon), starting with Russia and China. How this plays out will shape the 21st century.

Russia-China Alliance

“The Rise of a Not-So-New World Order”

BY SARANG SHIDORE, SENIOR GLOBAL ANALYST, AT STRATFOR.

HIGHLIGHTS.

  • Despite lacking an official alliance, Russia and China have acted virtually in lockstep on many major security issues.
  • Russia seems to have largely accepted the reality of China’s rising power — an acceptance that is key to the formation of a compact between the two countries.
  • The country most likely to join the Sino-Russian compact is Iran.

STRATFOR’S REPORT.

For decades the United States has sat atop a unipolar world, unrivaled in its influence over the rest of the globe. But now that may be changing as a new, informal alliance takes shape between China and Russia. The two great powers have a mutual interest in overturning an international order that has long advantaged the West at their own expense. And as the Earth’s sole superpower turns inward, they will seek to carve out bigger backyards for themselves. Will their marriage of convenience once more give rise to the bipolarity that characterized the Cold War, or will it unravel in the face of a natural rivalry rooted in geopolitics?

AN INFORMAL ALLIANCE EMERGES.

First, a few observations about the Cold War. The multidecade conflict was much like the classical great-power contests that have taken place since the advent of the modern nation-state: Two blocs of roughly equal power (NATO and the Warsaw Pact) participated in a continuous arms race, waged proxy wars and engaged in the politics of securing spheres of influence.

But the Cold War also contained some striking new elements. Chief among them were the feud’s pervasive reach into most sovereign states, the presence of nuclear weapons, the two participants’ radically different economic and political systems, and the missionary zeal each superpower had for exporting its ideology worldwide. Moreover, membership within each alliance was sizable and stable, though developing countries occasionally shifted their loyalties after a revolution or military intervention by the United States or the Soviet Union.

On their face, any parallels between today and the Cold War of decades past seem overblown. The United States leads most formal alliance structures; Russia and China have no obvious ideology to export; and variations of capitalism have won out worldwide, leading to a deeply integrated global economy. Furthermore, Russia and China appear to have too many conflicts of interest to form an enduring partnership.

A world held in a hand

A closer look at recent events, however, suggests otherwise. Despite lacking an official alliance, Russia and China have acted virtually in lockstep on many major security issues. Both were first neutral, then opposed to, NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. Both have taken nearly identical positions on the Syrian conflict and cybergovernance at the United Nations. Both have issued a joint proposal to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula by freezing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for halting joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Both are firmly opposed to undermining the Iranian nuclear deal. And both have lobbied against U.S. missile defenses in Central Europe and Asia, as well as the Western doctrine of intervention known as “responsibility to protect.” Meanwhile China — a well-known defender of the principle of national sovereignty — has been noticeably silent on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

At the same time, Beijing and Moscow have symbolically demonstrated their compact in the realm of defense. They have conducted joint military exercises in unprecedented locales, including the Mediterranean Ocean and the Baltic Sea, as well as in disputed territories, such as the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea. Weapons deals between them are likewise on the rise. Russian arm sales to China skyrocketed in 2002. After temporarily dropping off between 2006 and 2013 amid suspicion that China was reverse-engineering Russian platforms, Russia’s sales to China resumed. Moscow agreed to sell its most sophisticated systems, the Su-35 aircraft and the S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, to its Asian neighbor.

The two great powers have signed several major energy deals of late, too. Russian oil has made up a steadily growing share of China’s energy portfolio for years, and in 2016 Russia became the country’s biggest oil supplier. China, for its part, has begun to substantially invest in Russia’s upstream industry while its state-run banks have heavily bankrolled pipelines connecting the two countries. Beijing, for instance, recently acquired a large stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft. Russian exports of natural gas, including liquefied natural gas, to China are climbing as well. These moves are rooted in grand strategy: Russia and China are privileging each other in energy trade and investment to reduce their dependence on locations where the United States is dominant.

With their robust indigenous defense industries and vast energy reserves alone, China and Russia satisfy the basic requirements of presenting an enduring challenge to the United States. But both have also begun pushing for greater financial and monetary autonomy by distancing themselves from the dollar-dominated order of international trade and finance. China has already partially seceded from the SWIFT system of global banking transactions by creating its own system, CIPS. Russia is following suit, and it too has started to build an alternative network. Moreover, the Chinese yuan recently entered the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights currency basket. Now most Asian currencies track far more closely with the yuan than the dollar in value.

China plans to introduce an oil futures contract in yuan that can be fully converted to gold as well. This, along with Beijing and Moscow’s decision to boost their gold reserves, suggests that they may be preparing to switch to a gold standard someday. (The convertibility of gold is an important intermediate step toward boosting investor confidence in an up-and-coming currency like the yuan, which still suffers from many constraints such as illiquidity and significant risk in its country of origin.) The seriousness of their effort indicates their determination to move away from a system ruled by the U.S. currency.

Of course, China and Russia still suffer huge deficits with respect to the United States in technology, innovation and global force projection. But the gap may be closing as China makes substantial investments into sunrise technologies such as renewable energy, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

Plus, the projection of power to every corner of the globe probably isn’t their immediate goal. Rather, the two powers seem to be aiming for maximum autonomy and a proximate sphere of influence that encompasses Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia. They also seek to overhaul international rule-making with the intention of gaining greater influence in multilateral institutions, securing vetoes over military interventions, increasing global governance of the internet (albeit for their own self-interest), ending U.S. pressure regarding democracy and human rights, dethroning the reigning dollar and accounting for their interests in the design of the global security order.

A DURABLE MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE.

China and Russia are not natural allies. They have a long history of discord and at least three areas of conflicting interests: overlapping backyards in Central Asia, competition in arms sales and a growing asymmetry in power that favors Beijing.

Over the years, the two countries have taken on somewhat distinct roles in Central Asia. Russia has become the leading security guarantor in the region by founding the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a formal alliance with a mutual self-defense clause, and by building military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Russia has also integrated Kazakhstan into its air defense system. By comparison, China is rapidly emerging as the leading energy and infrastructure partner in the region. The country’s Belt and Road Initiative is well underway, and several oil and natural gas pipelines connecting China to its Central Asian neighbors are already functional. That said, both powers have a stake in the region’s security and economic integration, as evidenced by the presence of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union and the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization there.

Despite their dependence on China and Russia, Central Asian states still enjoy considerable autonomy and cannot be deemed satellites of either great power. The recent resistance of Kazakhstan, a CSTO member, to Russian pressure to deploy troops to Syria is a case in point. Of the five Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are most closely intertwined with China and Russia; Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have kept a greater distance.

The dynamic Chinese economy’s steady outpacing of its Russian counterpart would ordinarily cause deep consternation in Moscow. However, Russia seems to have largely accepted the reality of China’s rising power — an acceptance that is key to the formation of a compact between them. Beijing, for its part, has tactfully walked back from its historical claims to Outer Manchuria, paving the way for the settlement of its long-standing border dispute with Moscow. China has also worked to keep its economic competition with Russia from degenerating into political antagonism.

Russia is still wary of China, though. Against the wishes of Beijing, which has a long-standing competition with New Delhi, Moscow supported and facilitated India’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Kremlin also keeps close ties to Vietnam and maintains an ongoing dialog with Japan. However, Russia has also compromised with China on some of these matters, including by agreeing to Pakistan’s simultaneous admission to the bloc. It has also limited its cooperation with Tokyo, dragging its feet in settling its Kuril Islands dispute with Japan.

These concessions indicate Moscow’s pursuit of a hedging strategy, not a balancing one. If Russia were truly trying to balance China, their rivalry in Central Asia would take on a security dimension, resulting in factionalization or, in the worst-case scenario, wars between their local proxies. So while some structural tension certainly exists between China and Russia and could lead to a security rivalry in the long run, their leaders have actively managed and largely contained it thus far. This marriage of convenience will likely prove lasting, given its goals for dramatically transforming the international system. And even if a formal Russia-China alliance never comes to pass, the durability of their partnership already makes it feel like one in many ways. That the two countries feel no need to formalize their alliance, moreover, indicates that informality will increasingly serve as a template for strategic partnerships in the future.

THE RESURGENCE OF THE MIDDLE.

Could an alignment between Russia and China expand to new states? The country most likely to join their compact is Iran. A revolutionary state with deep enmity for the United States and its allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran has a strong desire to rewrite the rules of the current global order. As China’s Belt and Road Initiative has taken off, Chinese investment in Iran has started to rise. And though Iran and Russia have their differences, their security interests have recently aligned. In the Syrian civil war, for instance, they have closely coordinated their air and ground operations over the past two years. Iran, meanwhile, would add to the two great powers’ energy heft and welcome any attempt to shift global energy markets away from the dollar. Under the current circumstances, Iran has every reason to strengthen its strategic ties with Russia and China, even as it woos global investors.

Iran isn’t the only core state candidate that may join the Sino-Russian compact. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a formidable gambit, partly intended to draw several states into its orbit. Among them are Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Thailand. All of these nations, in theory, could join the Sino-Russian core. Still, it is doubtful whether most will. Turkey, a member of NATO, has worked more closely with Russia and Iran in the past few months to manage the Syrian conflict, and it is heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies. But Turkey will find it difficult to abandon its commitments to NATO; instead it will most likely play a transactional game with all three powers.

On the Asian continent, it is in Sri Lanka’s and Bangladesh’s best interests not to antagonize their next-door neighbor, India, by tilting too far toward China. Moreover, Myanmar has a complex history with China, while Thailand is a U.S. treaty ally that lately has sought a middle ground between Washington and Beijing. Pakistan has been close to China for decades while maintaining an intense (if transactional) security relationship with the United States and complicated ties with Iran. If relations between Islamabad and Washington as well as New Delhi and Beijing deteriorate sharply, Pakistan may find that aligning with Russia and China brings more benefits than costs. But when all is said and done, any attempt to transform the Sino-Russian compact into an expansive, international alliance would encounter massive roadblocks.

LOOKING AT AMERICA’S ALLIANCES.

Meanwhile, all is not going as planned within the United States’ own bloc. Washington’s treaty ally, South Korea, staunchly opposes any U.S. military action against North Korea. The United States’ ties with another major partner, Turkey, are deteriorating. The Philippines is trying to balance between the United States and China, as is Thailand. Australia is increasingly torn between its deep economic dependence on China and its commitments to the United States. Wide rifts have opened between the United States and Europe over trade, climate action and Iran. Hungary has moved closer to Russia as populist nationalism — in some cases laced with support for Russian President Vladimir Putin — rises across the Continent. Then there is Germany, which the United States has long worried is less than fully committed to balancing against Russia. On top of all this, a nationalist upswing in U.S. politics has made the superpower more hostile to trade agreements and foreign entanglements.

On the other hand, the United States is bolstering its security relationship with India and Vietnam, finding ready partners against China and Russia in Japan and Poland, respectively, and enjoying the prospect of a post-Brexit United Kingdom that is more beholden to Washington than ever before. With a population of more than a billion people, India’s future is particularly consequential to the global order — but only if it can transcend its many domestic challenges. And though India could become a core member of the U.S.-led bloc in the future, its historical autonomy and deep defense ties with Russia could limit just how close New Delhi can get to Washington and Tokyo.

Added to these factors are the non-state challenges to state power that have emerged since the 1990s and now show no sign of going away. Giant technology corporations, criminal networks, transnational terrorist groups, global civil society and growing environmental threats often weaken the system of sovereign nation-states, and they will continue to do so in the years to come.

TWO POLES, MUCH SMALLER THAN BEFORE.

The upshot of these changes is that bipolarity, though not inevitable, is likely a foundational feature of the future. But it would be much diminished, compared with that of the Cold War — a “bipolarity-minus” of sorts. Each side in such a world would boast a much smaller set of core members: Russia, China, probably Iran and plausibly Pakistan, on one side, and the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, probably Japan and plausibly India and Australia on the other.

Though all other powers may lean in one direction or another, they would have more malleable relationships with each bloc and with each other. At the same time, there would be ample space for non-state actors and fluid minor coalitions to try to maximize their own freedom by, among other things, limiting the intensity of bipolarity among the great powers. Core states would have to work that much harder to win over the many swing states scattered across the globe, and alignment based on specific issues will become the norm. Existing institutions of global governance will either become moribund or will shrink as competing institutions with different approaches form and gain traction.

The Cold War years offered a faint preview of this world. The Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77 influenced issues such as decolonization, foreign aid and disarmament, while OPEC briefly shook the world with an oil embargo. Core bloc members occasionally demonstrated radical autonomy — the Sino-Soviet split of 1959, “goulash communism” in Hungary and Ostpolitik in West Germany are only a few examples. Still, these deviations never seriously undermined the global system, dominated as it was by two superpowers.

Today a new constraint on the emergence of true bipolarity exists: the intertwining of the U.S. and Chinese economies. Interdependence determinists will argue that such ties are incompatible with bipolarity and will ultimately prevent it. However, the limited nature of a bipolarity-minus world may allow the phenomena to coexist, albeit uneasily, as they did in a highly interdependent Europe before World War I. Alternatively, the United States and China may reorder their supply chains to reduce this interdependence over time. Technological advances are already shrinking these supply chains, a trend that could accelerate if the United States becomes far more protectionist.

If the future does indeed hold a bipolar-minus world, the United States may not be ready for it. To be prepared, Washington would have to recalibrate its strategy. In a world in which many major powers are uncommitted and have large degrees of freedom, tools like open-ended military interventions, unilateral sanctions, extraterritoriality and hostility to trade will likely yield diminishing returns. By comparison, incentivization, integration, innovation and adroit agenda-setting can be smarter and more effective options. The United States historically has been a pioneer of these approaches, and it may prove able to wield them persuasively once again. But perhaps most important, the superpower will have to resolve its internal polarization if it hopes to position itself as a cohesive leader of the international community. Only then will it once again become, as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan so eloquently put it, “a shining city upon a hill.”

THE RISE OF A NOT-SO-NEW WORLD ORDER
IS REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION OF STRATFOR.

——————————————

Sarang Shidore

About Sarang Shidore

Sarang Shidore is a Senior Global Analyst at Stratfor. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he conducts policy research. His areas of focus include international relations and energy/climate policy, and he has several peer-reviewed publications in these areas.

Stratfor-Worldview

About Stratfor

Founded in 1996, Stratfor provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world. By placing global events in a geopolitical framework, they help customers anticipate opportunities and better understand international developments. They believe that transformative world events are not random and are, indeed, predictable. See their About Page for more information.

For More Information

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TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CHINA’S NEW SILK ROAD…

See Tom Miller’s China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building along the New Silk Road. From the publisher …

“Under Xi, China is pursuing an increasingly ambitious foreign policy with the aim of restoring its historical status as the dominant power in Asia. From the Mekong Basin to the Central Asian steppe, the country is wooing its neighbors with promises of new roads, railways, dams, and power grids. Chinese trade and investment presents huge opportunities for China’s neighbors, and its ability to build much-needed infrastructure could assist in the development of some of the world’s poorest countries.

“Yet China’s rise also threatens to reduce its neighbours to the status of exploited vassals. In Vietnam and Myanmar, resentment of Chinese encroachment has already incited anti-Chinese protests, and many countries in the region are seeking to counterbalance its influence by turning to the US and Japan. Combining a concise overview of the situation with on-the-ground reportage from over seven countries, China’s Asian Dream offers a fresh perspective on one of the most important questions of our time: what does China’s rise mean for the future of Asia and of the world?”

Stratfor describes Russia and China allying against America – Fabius Maximus website (blog)
 

mikenova shared this story from Russia influence in Eastern Europe – Google News.


Fabius Maximus website (blog)
Stratfor describes Russia and China allying against America
Fabius Maximus website (blog)
Rather, the two powers seem to be aiming for maximum autonomy and a proximate sphere of influence that encompassesEastern Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia. They also seek to overhaul international rule-making with the intention of gaining and more »
Pirro: FBI, DOJ Need a ‘Cleansing’ With People ‘Taken Out in Cuffs’
 

mikenova shared this story from Breitbart News.

by Trent Baker9 Dec 20171,245

Saturday during her opening statement for Fox News Channel’s “Justice,” host Jeanine Pirro took aim at the FBI and the Department of Justice, both of which she said needed a “cleansing.” She added it should end with people like FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI special counsel Robert Mueller taken away in handcuffs.

“There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice– it needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired, but who need to be taken out in cuffs,” Pirro began her opening statement.

Pirro likened the political corruption to that of a third-world country.

“I, for one, am tired of investigations [and] politicians posturing — something more has to be done,” she said. “The stench coming out of the Justice Department and the FBI is like that of a third-world country where money and bullies and clubs decide election. It all started with cardinal [Jim] Comey destroyed our FBI with political hacks to set events in motion to destroy the republic because they did not like the man we chose to be our president. Well, it is time to take them out in cuffs.”

Follow Trent Baker on Twitter @MagnifiTrent

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Pirro: FBI, DOJ Need a ‘Cleansing’ With People ‘Taken Out in Cuffs’ – Breitbart News
 

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Breitbart News
Pirro: FBI, DOJ Need a ‘Cleansing’ With People ‘Taken Out in Cuffs’
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Saturday during her opening statement for Fox News Channel’s Justice, host Jeanine Pirro took aim at the FBI and the Department of Justice, both of which she said needed a cleansing. She added it should end with people like FBI deputy director and more »
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Notable surgeon who treated Bono commits suicide: NYPD
 

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A notable Manhattan surgeon who treated U2 singer Bono after a serious bicycle accident was found dead in his Upper East Side apartment from an apparent suicide, officials said Sunday.

Dr. Dean Lorich, 54, was found by his 11-year-old daughter lying face up on the bathroom floor of his Park Avenue home with a knife sticking out of his chest around 1 p.m., authorities said.

The girl ran downstairs and told the doorman, who called 911, police said.

Police said Lorich’s wife and older daughter were out at the time.

There were no signs of forced entry. It appears he did not leave a suicide note.

Police are still investigating.

Lorich was the associate director of the Orthopedic Trauma Service at Hospital for Special Surgery and the Chief of the Orthopedic Trauma Service at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Hewas in charge of caring for Bono following a 2014 bicycling accident in Central Park.

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Firing Mueller would be disastrous; discrediting him is impeachment politics
 

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Short of impeaching President Trump, does anything excite Democrats, the Resistance, and NeverTrumpers like the prospect of the president firing special counsel Robert Mueller? Firing Mueller would, or course, be the quickest way for Trump to get impeached, which might explain a certain air of anticipation in discussions of whether — some prefer to say when — Trump will sack the prosecutor leading the Trump-Russia investigation.

There has been a lot of news and commentary recently interpreting criticism of Mueller by a number of pro-Trump media voices as an effort to encourage Trump to fire Mueller, or lay the groundwork for firing Mueller, or somehow start the process of getting rid of him.

“Overarching message to President Trump from pro-Trump talk shows: ‘Mueller is out to get you. He must be stopped,'” CNN’s Brian Stelter tweeted on Friday. In response, the NeverTrump former conservative radio host Charlie Sykes added, “Concerted effort to (1) discredit Mueller investigation, (2) lay groundwork for firing him.”

“YOU’RE FIRED!” reads the anticipatory cover of the Weekly Standard, over a photo of Mueller.

There are plenty of other similar messages.

But there is another way to look at the recent wave of Mueller criticism: It’s all politics. The overriding purpose of the anti-Mueller Trump defenses is not to goad the president into firing Mueller, which would be a disastrous act that could spell an early end to Trump’s presidency. Instead, the overriding purpose is to discredit the Mueller investigation in the expectation that the probe will ultimately lead to articles of impeachment filed against the president in the House of Representatives. If that happens, and the impeachment goes to the Senate for trial, Trump, like President Bill Clinton before him, will have a ready, cable TV-tested line of defense focusing on the unfairness of the prosecutor. The audience for that defense would be Republican senators who will vote for or against the articles of impeachment.

Firing Mueller would be insane. Discrediting him is pure impeachment politics.

The current debate over whether Trump can be indicted for obstruction of justice is a sideshow. It’s very, very likely Mueller subscribes to the view that the president cannot be indicted while in office and that impeachment — a political process — is the constitutionally-prescribed way of dealing with presidential misconduct.

That means it is far more likely that Mueller, if he felt he had evidence that could serve as the basis for impeachment, would write a report laying out that evidence. Justice Department regulations creating the special counsel office require that at the end of the investigation he give the attorney general “a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the special counsel.” That report might be detailed, or it might be general, but if Mueller outlines any wrongdoing by the president, it will undoubtedly end up in the House Judiciary Committee, where articles of impeachment originate.

If Republicans control the House, it’s highly likely that nothing will happen. If Democrats are in control, Trump could well be impeached. And if the House impeaches Trump, the Senate will hold his trial, where it will require 67 votes to convict and remove him from office. And that’s where the discrediting will come in.

Remember the words of Bill Clinton. In the early days of the Lewinsky scandal, Clinton asked his pollster Dick Morris to survey whether Americans would want him impeached if he had lied under oath. Morris found that yes, the public would favor impeachment. To which Clinton famously replied, according to Morris: “Well, we’ll just have to win, then.”

Clinton’s way to win was a furious and sustained attack on the judicially-appointed independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, and the federal prosecutors and investigators working for him.

On February 8, 1998, for example, a New York Times headline on the Lewinsky matter read: “President’s Aides Expand Offensive to Counter Starr; Urging Inquiry on Leaks; Prosecutor Is Denounced as ‘Corrupt’ and Accused of Leading ‘Witch Hunt.'” It’s a headline that would have worked on many, many days in the Lewinsky battle.

Some of the attacks were silly — as when Clinton ally James Carville called Starr a “nicotine-stained tobacco lawyer.” Others were serious, as when Clinton pushed his own Justice Department to investigate the independent counsel. But silly or substantive, the attacks continued unabated until the Senate decided not to convict Clinton in February 1999.

The Senate trial, by the way, was a pointless exercise. The Senate’s 45 Democrats decided in advance that they would under no circumstances vote to convict Clinton, which meant there was no way for Clinton’s accusers to get 67 votes for conviction. When the House impeachment managers showed up with their case against the president, the Senate humored them for a while and then put an end to it. Clinton won.

Now, Trump allies are beginning to attack Mueller. They got a later start than Clinton’s allies did, but they are also operating in a much faster-paced media environment than the Clinton era. They can catch up fast.

They also have another thing going for them: The Mueller team deserves some of the criticism it has been receiving. Not only does Mueller himself arguably have a conflict — he has what has been called a close, “brothers in arms” relationship with former FBI Director James Comey, the key figure in the obstruction of justice part of the Trump-Russia probe — but he has hired lawyers and investigators who actively supported and defended Hillary Clinton in recent times. The FBI’s Peter Strzok was bounced from the Mueller investigation for anti-Trump and pro-Clinton texts exchanged with an FBI lawyer, who also left the Mueller Team. Top prosecutor Andrew Weissmann heaped praise on Justice Department official Sally Yates for defying Trump, and also attended Clinton’s election-night “shattered glass ceiling” party in New York. Other Mueller prosecutors defended the Clinton side in the email investigation, and one, Jeannie Rhee, “defended the Clinton Foundation against racketeering charges, and represented Mrs. Clinton personally in the question of her emails,” noted the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel.

“Imagine Dem response if Trump’s personal lawyer hired to investigate Hillary,” tweeted Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who writes for National Review.

The bottom line: There’s a case to be made against Mueller.

It’s not possible to say whether the Trump strategy will work, or even be needed, because there are just too many moving parts at the moment. Mueller might not take any action touching directly on the president. The House might decline to impeach him. Even if the House did impeach, the Senate might pre-emptively make a trial moot, as it did in 1999. It’s just impossible to know.

But there is one huge difference in the Clinton and Trump strategies, and it does not work in Trump’s favor. Clinton attacked Starr from a position of popularity. Clinton’s job approval rating was around 60 percent in the Gallup poll when the Lewinsky scandal began. It was about 68 percent when the Senate voted not to remove him from office. Impeachment is a political process, so of course Clinton was going to win.

It’s an understatement to say Trump’s numbers are nowhere near Clinton’s. The president is at 35 percent job approval in Gallup now, and has never been higher than 45 percent. And along with that unpopularity — driving some of that unpopularity — is a hostile and negative press. (In the Lewinsky matter, much of the mainstream media megaphoned Clinton’s campaign against “Inspector Javert” Starr.) Put low popularity and an unfriendly press together, and it seems unlikely Trump could set off any wave of public disapproval of Mueller the way Clinton did with Starr. Instead, if there were an impeachment trial, Trump would have to focus on raising doubt about the prosecutor’s tactics among the 34 Republican senators he needs to vote to keep him in office.

That’s what the attacks on Mueller are about. And that’s why they will continue. Impeachment politics start early.

Peter Strzok: Former FBI agents defend Mueller’s top agent
 

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Robert MuellerRobert Mueller Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

  • Allies of President Donald Trump have been attacking special counsel Robert Mueller’s team amid revelations of potential political biases.
  • One veteran agent was removed from Mueller’s team over the summer after the Justice Department learned of text messages that could be perceived as anti-Trump.
  • Former FBI agents say the attacks on Mueller’s team are “nonsense.”

Attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators escalated sharply last week, culminating in a partisan haranguing of the FBI director on Thursday over the perceived missteps of his predecessor.

Conservative and far-right media outlets, already skeptical of Mueller’s probe into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, grew louder in their calls for FBI Director Chris Wray to either clean house or for Mueller to resign. It came after news that two special counsel investigators at one point exhibited perceived political bias.

Trump again characterized the criminal justice system as “rigged” during a rally in Florida on Friday, echoing comments he made last weekend following former national security Michael Flynn’s guilty plea as part of Mueller’s probe.

“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday ‘interrogation’ with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times,” Trump tweeted last Saturday. “And nothing happens to her? Rigged system, or just a double standard?”

Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, implored Wray during a hearing on Thursday to “repair the damage done by” former FBI Director James Comey. And he took a shot at Mueller’s investigation, questioning “the magnitude of insider bias” that exists on his team.

Former FBI agents who spoke to Business Insider this week characterized the outcry as “nonsense” aimed at discrediting an investigation that has dogged Trump and the GOP more broadly for over a year.

Frank Montoya, Jr., a former FBI special agent who served as the Director of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, was blunt.

“There is a lot of anger in the FBI (the entire intelligence community, for that matter) over how this president will say nary a negative word about the Russians, but will insult us every chance he gets,” he said.

‘Moscow was happy, I’m sure’

trump comeyGetty

Peter Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who was among those overseeing the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year, was abruptly removed from Mueller’s Russia probe in late July and relegated to the human resources department.

Neither Mueller nor the Justice Department have commented on Strzok’s sudden demotion. But he was apparently removed as part of a broader investigation into the bureau’s handling of the Clinton email probe by the DOJ’s inspector general.

Strzok reportedly sent text messages during the presidential campaign to another member of Mueller’s team, Lisa Page, that could be perceived as anti-Trump. He and Page were also having an extramarital affair that the DOJ worried could make them both subject to blackmail. Page left Mueller’s team over the summer for unrelated reasons.

High-profile conservative figures and Trump allies, such as the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial board and Fox News host Sean Hannity, quickly weaponized another damaging report published last week. It said Strzok had been instrumental in changing Comey’s final characterization of Clinton’s conduct from “grossly negligent” — which would have carried legal consequences — to “extremely careless.”

Former FBI agents who knew and worked with Strzok acknowledged that he should have been more circumspect with his comments, even if they were private, given the highly politicized nature of both the Clinton and Russia probes. But they broadly characterized him as a professional who never expressed his political opinions when conducting an investigation.

Montoya, who served in the bureau for over two decades, called Strzok “an exceptional agent” and “rising star” whose removal from Mueller’s probe was “a g reat loss to the investigation.”

“Moscow was happy, I’m sure when that happened,” he said.

“There’s a lot of partisan political white noise out there about Pete’s supposed ‘bias,'” Montoya said. “It’s all nonsense. I’ve known Pete for a long time. I didn’t know what his political opinions were. Never asked. Never cared. That’s the way it was for the vast majority of us.”

Another veteran FBI counterintelligence agent who knew Strzok but requested anonymity to discuss internal DOJ decisions called him an “expert” in counterintelligence work who “rose to the level of Deputy Assistant Director in the usual way: by being a reliable, consistent, and capable member of the executive team.”

‘He didn’t act alone’

trump florida rallyPresident Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. Jonathan Bachman/AP

The nature of FBI investigations makes it impossible for one employee to exert outsized influence over others, former agents emphasized.

“There’s been a lot of accusation lately in the public arena about how Pete’s supposed biases may have affected outcome of the email investigation and predication for Russia investigation,” Montoya said. “More nonsense.”

“Pete wasn’t the only guy working on those cases,” he added. “His was one voice, albeit an important one, but there were other important voices in the mix, too.”

With regard to the email investigation, Montoya said, “p rofessional, experienced prosecutors and senior leadership (above Pete) in the FBI played the key roles in the final decision not to prosecute Clinton.

Pete may have helped draft the public messaging at the conclusion of the case, but he didn’t act alone. I participated in quite a few of these matters myself and the planning process was always a group effort.”

Former FBI unit chief Mark Rossini, who spent 17 years at the bureau, largely agreed.

“It would be literally impossible for one human being to have the power to change or manipulate evidence or intelligence according to their own political preferences,” he said.

” FBI agents, like anyone else, are human beings. W e are allowed to have our political beliefs. If anything, the overwhelming majority of agents are conservative Republicans,” he added.

Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa made a similar point in an interview earlier this week.

“The FBI investigators who are working on any given day will probably be mostly politically conservative,” Rangappa said, drawing from her interactions with agents under President George W. Bush. That is one reason, she said, why Republicans should “think carefully” about the precedent they’re setting in pointing to agents’ political leanings as evidence of a tainted investigation.

‘He was thrown to the wolves’

Robert MuellerRobert Mueller. Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

Still, some agents said there is lingering resentment over Comey’s handling of the Clinton email probe — not necessarily because of the conclusions he drew, but because of the process decisions he made at various points in the investigation that left the bureau vulnerable to partisan attacks.

The two that drew the biggest criticism last year: an unprecedented press conference in which he chastised Clinton for using a private server but ultimately cleared her of criminal wrongdoing; and a letter to Congress announcing that he was effectively reopening the case 11 days before the election.

“There was a perception among many agents that the bureau was tending to become more politicized than it had been in the past,” said former FBI special agent Mark Ruskin, author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI.”

“Some believed that Comey was allowing political winds to buffet the bureau as a whole,” he continued. “And there was an ambiguity about which way it was even being politicized.”

In any case, Ruskin said, “both sides of the aisle were getting the impression that the bureau was not acting completely objectively, and the agents blamed it more on Comey because he seemed to waffle.” The ambiguity was frustrating, Ruskin said, given Comey’s propensity for taking matters into his own hands.

But the agents suggested the perceived politicization of the FBI was not the result of individual agents’ biases. Incidentally, it came because of the former director’s excessive attempts to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

“I think Comey did more damage than he realized or intended by how he handled things last year,” said former FBI counterintelligence agent Scott Olson. “But Director Wray has corrected that by now.”

Some still have questions, however, about why Strzok was “thrown to the wolves.”

“I think Pete did what he was asked to do, and then he was thrown to the wolves,” said the former counterintelligence agent who requested anonymity to discuss Strzok. “What I don’t yet see is what Mueller is getting out of it. But there is a lot going on here that is still not known to the public.”

The FBI Is No Friend of Liberty and Justice
 

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Paul Hennessy/Polaris/NewscomPaul Hennessy/Polaris/NewscomOne of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured “Russiagate” controversy is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice. But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice.

Rather, as James Bovard writes, it “has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that ‘the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.’ This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908…. The FBI has always used its ‘good guy’ image to keep a lid on its crimes.” (Bovard has made a vocation of cataloging the FBI’s many offenses against liberty and justice, for which we are forever in his debt.)

Things are certainly not different today. Take the case of Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with conversations he had with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, between Trump’s election and inauguration. One need not be an admirer of Flynn—and for many reasons I certainly am not—to be disturbed by how the FBI has handled this case.

One ought to be immediately suspicious whenever someone is charged with or pleads guilty to lying to the FBI without any underlying crime being charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew C. McCarthy points out:

When a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his co-conspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.

That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like [former Trump foreign-policy “adviser” George] Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime.

When the FBI questioned Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, it already had the transcripts of those conversations—the government eavesdrops on the representatives of foreign governments, among others, and Flynn had been identified, or “unmasked,” as the ambassador’s conversation partner. The FBI could have simply told Flynn the transcripts contained evidence of a crime (assuming for the sake of argument they did) and charged him with violating the Logan Act or whatever else the FBI had in mind.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the FBI asked Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, apparently to test him. If he lied (which would mean he’s pretty stupid since he once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and must have known about the transcripts!) or had a bad memory, he could have been charged with lying to the FBI.

As investigative reporter Robert Parry explains:

What is arguably most disturbing about this case is that then-National Security Adviser Flynn was pushed into a perjury trap by Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department who concocted an unorthodox legal rationale for subjecting Flynn to an FBI interrogation four days after he took office, testing Flynn’s recollection of the conversations while the FBI agents had transcripts of the calls intercepted by the National Security Agency.

In other words, the Justice Department wasn’t seeking information about what Flynn said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak–the intelligence agencies already had that information. Instead, Flynn was being quizzed on his precise recollection of the conversations and nailed for lying when his recollections deviated from the transcripts.

For Americans who worry about how the pervasive surveillance powers of the U.S. government could be put to use criminalizing otherwise constitutionally protected speech and political associations, Flynn’s prosecution represents a troubling precedent.

Why didn’t the FBI charge Flynn with an underlying crime? It might be because his conversations with Kislyak were not criminal. McCarthy writes:

A breaking report from ABC News indicates that Flynn is prepared to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians—initially to lay the groundwork for mutual efforts against ISIS in Syria. That, however, is exactly the sort of thing the incoming national-security adviser is supposed to do in a transition phase between administrations. If it were part of the basis for a “collusion” case arising out of Russia’s election meddling, then Flynn would not be pleading guilty to a process crime—he’d be pleading guilty to an espionage conspiracy.

David Stockman shows that the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller themselves indicate the Flynn-Kislyak conversations contained no evidence of criminal behavior.

Flynn spoke to Kislyak to ask that Russia not escalate tensions after President Obama imposed sanctions last December for the alleged election meddling and to ask that Russia not vote to condemn Israel, via a UN Security Council resolution, for its illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. In other words, not only were Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak unexceptional—presidential transition-team foreign-policy officials have spoken with representatives of other governments in the past—but the content of those discussions should have raised no suspicions. Would non-escalation of the sanctions controversy or a UN veto have undermined Obama’s foreign policy? I don’t see how. (True, the Obama administration abstained on the resolution, but would Obama have objected had Russia vetoed it? By the way, Russia voted for it, and the resolution passed, as it should have.)

The Flynn plea certainly does nothing to indicate “collusion” with the Russians. For one thing, the conversations were after the election. And perhaps more important, Kislyak was not looking for favors from Flynn; on the contrary, Flynn was lobbying the Russians (successfully on the sanctions—Vladimir Putin did not retaliate—and unsuccessfully on the UN resolution.) Where’s the evidence of Russian influence on the Trump team? There was foreign influence, but it was from Israel, a regular meddler in the American political process. All indications are that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Trump son-in-law and special envoy to everywhere Jared Kushner to lobby the world to defeat the UN resolution. Kushner, who has helped finance illegal Israeli settlements, then directed Flynn to call everySecurity Council member, not just Russia.

What about the Logan Act? The Act, enacted in 1799, around the time of the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, prohibits private citizens from unauthorized “correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Right off the bat, the Act appears to violate freedom of speech. And as Parry writes, “That law … was never intended to apply to incoming officials in the transition period between elected presidential administrations.”

Note also that only two indictments have been brought in 218 years: in 1803 and 1852. Both cases were dropped. Far more serious contacts with foreign governments have occurred.

In 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon (with help from Henry Kissinger who was working in the Johnson administration) had a representative persuade the president of South Vietnam to boycott the peace talks President Lyndon Johnson had been arranging with North Vietnam. That decision most likely prolonged the Vietnam war and resulted in combat deaths that would not have occurred. Unlike the Flynn case, Nixon’s action undercut the sitting president’s policy and, more important, the interests of the American people.

I hold no brief for Flynn, whose conduct while working for Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, his dubious efforts on behalf of Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his apparent financial conflicts of interest are enough to make anyone cringe. But that cannot justify what the FBI did in this plea case.

Government law-enforcement agencies should not be allowed to administer credibility tests to Americans or others. If they have evidence of real offenses against persons and property, bring charges. Otherwise, leave us all alone.

This piece was originally published by The Libertarian Institute.

Putin and American political process – Google News: The FBI Is No Friend of Liberty and Justice – Reason
 

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Reason
The FBI Is No Friend of Liberty and Justice
Reason
And perhaps more important, Kislyak was not looking for favors from Flynn; on the contrary, Flynn was lobbying the Russians (successfully on the sanctionsVladimir Putin did not retaliateand unsuccessfully on the UN resolution.) Where’s the evidenceand more »

 Putin and American political process – Google News

michael flynn – Google News: FBI Handling of Michael Flynn Case Is Disturbing: New at Reason – Reason (blog)
 

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Reason (blog)
FBI Handling of Michael Flynn Case Is Disturbing: New at Reason
Reason (blog)
But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice, writes Sheldon Richman. And the Michael Flynn case doesn’t seem to be an exception. Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security and more »

 michael flynn – Google News

Did the CIA’s chief James Angleton fall for British traitor Kim Philby?
 

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As a double agent, Philby not only betrayed his home country, but the Americans who placed so much trust in their more experienced British counterparts. That is why I have written a biography of Angleton – not only to capture Kim Philby through American eyes, but to understand the impact his audacious treachery had on the CIA in its formative years.

These were times fraught with sexual tension in intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Philby touched on homoerotic currents as electric and buried as the phone lines those spies routinely wiretapped. His betrayal of Angleton was ideological and emotional. Its impact was political and psychological.

Philby and Angleton’s friendship blossomed in the spring of 1950, amid a moral panic in Washington. In a series of sensational speeches, Republican senator Joe McCarthy had woven together the threats of communism and homosexuality into twin fervours that historians have dubbed the “Red Scare” and the “Lavender Scare”.

Senator Joseph McCarthy with the avalanche of mail that greeted his crusade against communism in the US government and public life, December 1952.

Photo: Camera Press

The two spies were cosmopolitan men who disliked McCarthy’s demagogic style. Angleton was married and a father of three. Philby was on the second of his four marriages, had four children, several mistresses, and many conquests. His housemate in Washington (and fellow spy) was Guy Burgess, a Cambridge classmate who had previously worked for the BBC and the Home Office. Openly gay, he did not conceal his amused contempt for American morality.

Philby’s affection for Burgess bordered on the physical. Wilfred Mann, a scientist who worked in the British embassy, dropped by Philby’s house unannounced one morning in early 1951 and found Philby and Burgess lounging together in bed, sipping champagne and dressed only in bathrobes.

Kim Philby is surrounded by media at his mother’s home in West Kensington after his name surfaced in the MacLean-Burgess inquiry, November 1955.

Photo: Fairfax Archive

Angleton was half-amused, half-appalled by Burgess’ exuberant style. When Angleton invited both men to his house, his daughter remembered how they frolicked. “They’d start chasing each other through the house in this little choo-choo train,” Siri Hari Angleton once remarked. “These men in their Eton ties, screaming and laughing!”

Thanks to McCarthy’s insinuations, homosexuals were presumed to be a security risk because of the potential for blackmail. For these spies, same-sex liaisons were seen as an aberration; an indicator of psychological weakness (but not sufficient for disqualification from the intelligence community).

Kim Philby (left) and George Blake talk over a bottle of wine, July 1979.

Photo: Fairfax Archive

In May 1951, the friendship of Philby and Angleton was tested by terrible news. While on home leave, Burgess had disappeared, along with Donald Maclean, an Embassy official who GCHQ and National Security Agency code-crackers had identified as a probable Soviet spy. The two men soon turned up in Moscow.

Had someone tipped off Burgess and Maclean that the net was closing?

Jefferson Morley’s The Ghost.

Photo: Supplied

Many suspected Philby, who insisted, with sheepish aplomb, that he had been fooled like everyone else. Angleton sided with his friend.

Perhaps, some colleagues later wondered, he had been blinded by affection. In a memo, he wrote: “Philby had consistently ‘sold’ [Burgess] as a most gifted individual … In this respect, he has served as subject’s apologist on several occasions when subject’s behaviour has been a source of extreme embarrassment in the Philby household.”

James Angleton, former CIA counter-intelligence chief, brushes past newsmen during the Rockfeller commission into alleged domestic spying by the agency, February 1975.

Photo: AP

Bill Harvey, a senior CIA Soviet expert, scoffed. “Where’s the rest of the story?” he scrawled on Angleton’s memo, confiding in one colleague he thought there had been a homosexual relationship between the two friends.

After Maclean and Burgess defected, it became apparent the Soviets had agents deep in Western intelligence. Still, Angleton remained blind to any involvement on the part of Philby, insisting to James McCargar, a CIA colleague: “I still feel Philby some day will head the British service.”

Philby never escaped the shadow of suspicion but Angleton sided with MI6 officials who rejected the charge that he was a spy. By the time Philby moved to Beirut in 1956 to work as a journalist, Angleton had become chief of counter-intelligence at the CIA, with a staff of 200.

Knowing there were lingering suspicions, he arranged for Lebanese police to watch his old friend. They reported that Philby had been spotted sneaking off to rendezvous with the wife of a friend and Angleton was satisfied. Kim was a rogue, not a Red.

So when Philby finally defected to Moscow in January 1963, Angleton was shattered. For 19 years, his mentor and dear companion had played him for a fool, while stealing atomic secrets, US plans for the Korean War and countless secrets that had been read by Stalin.

The realisation came as a “terrible shock”. Angleton knew he had confided in Philby “far beyond any routine relationship between the colleagues of two friendly countries”, said Nicholas Elliott, Philby’s best friend in MI6. “The knowledge that he, the top expert in the world on Soviet espionage, had been totally deceived had a cataclysmic effect.”

The powerful and now paranoid Angleton redoubled his search for a KGB mole in the upper ranks of the CIA, certain that another Philby was lurking. He investigated 40 agency employees, and effectively killed the careers of about a third of them. Yet he never found a plausible suspect.

From Moscow, his former pal Philby tormented him. In his witty, malicious 1968 memoir, My Silent War, Philby depicted Angleton as a hapless dupe.

“The key to Philby, if there is a single one,” wrote McCargar who worked with both men, “is less likely to be found in the faults of the Establishment, than it is in a compulsion to betray and deceive, which underlay all his relationships.”

Ultimately, Angleton knew that better than anyone. Near the end of his life, his CIA colleagues threw him a farewell luncheon where he was asked if he wanted to say anything that he had previously never disclosed about the Philby case.

“There are some matters I shall have to take to the grave with me,” he replied, heartbroken to the end, “and Kim is one of them.”

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton by Jefferson Morley is published by Scribe.

Telegraph, London

The ‘illegals’ of ‘Directorate S’: Russia’s undercover ‘sleeper’ agent program is ongoing
 

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  • Russia’s programme for placing sleeper agents in foreign countries — spies who live ordinary, mundane lives — is probably bigger now than it was in the Cold War, the House of Commons Defence Committee has been told.
  • The so-called “illegals” are trained and controlled by two separate and sometimes competing Russian agencies, the mysterious “Directorate S” within the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR); and the “Main Intelligence Directorate” (GRU).
  • The end of the Cold War actually made it easier for Russia to place illegals inside the UK and US.
  • Russia wants its illegals to remain quiet and anonymous, developing low-level contacts on the edges of power. They don’t act like James Bond.

LONDON — There are probably more Russian “sleeper” agents in the UK and US today than there were during the Cold War, according to Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at The Institute for Statecraft who testified to Parliament about Russian covert interference in Britain.

Victor MadeiraVictor Madeira: “Despite the ‘end’ of the Cold War in 1989-1991, Russia’s decades-long ‘illegals’ programmes didn’t miss a beat.” Victor Madeira

In written evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, Madeira — a Russia expert — described the resources Russia commands in its efforts to subdue British, European and American influence.

Most of his evidence focused on the fact that Russia’s intelligence services vastly outnumber their counterparts in the UK. But he also included this tidbit about Russia’s “Main Intelligence Directorate,” the GRU, and its “illegals” operation, which places spies in Britain and the US where they live seemingly ordinary lives, until called upon by Moscow:

“GRU has long deployed ‘illegals’. These hand-picked, deep-cover intelligence officers live abroad under assumed ‘legends’: carefully constructed false foreign identities and life stories (over decades in some cases), allowing ‘illegals’ to blend in.”

“… Nowadays, UK CI and CE [counterintelligence and counterespionage] resources are much diminished, while former Warsaw Pact nationals can easily travel across NATO. This is a particular problem if an intelligence officer/asset uses ‘natural cover’ (i.e. their own identity, sometimes called ‘non-official cover’ or NOC). A banker or travel agent may be just that – or they may also be intelligence officers or assets (the latter willing or coerced). Having few(er) or no traceable links to a hostile intelligence service, NOCs are far more difficult to detect, monitor and counter. This is why they are so valued.”

“‘Illegals’ are the most prized of intelligence officers,” Madeira, the author of “Britannia and the Bear,” a history of espionage between the two nations, concluded.

“Despite the ‘end’ of the Cold War in 1989-1991, Russia’s decades-long ‘illegals’ programmes didn’t miss a beat. These programmes remain as strategic, long-term, resource-intensive in nature and prized as ever, with a single purpose: placing hand-picked Russian intelligence assets across foreign societies and governments, regardless of the current state of East-West relations,” he told Business Insider recently.

Anna Chapman, the spy who worked at Barclays

anna chapman facebookAnna Chapman posted this photo of herself on Facebook before she was arrested.Facebook

The most famous of the “illegals” is probably Anna Chapman, who was arrested and deported from the US with nine other sleeper agents in 2010.

When Chapman (real name Anna Vasilevna Kushchenko) was arrested, the media treated the event like a joke. Chapman did not appear to be engaged in any serious spying.

She gained UK citizenship through a marriage to a British citizen she met at a rave. She lived in London for at least five years, between 2001 and 2006, and worked at NetJets and Barclays, before moving to America. Perhaps, people said, the Chapman ring was a set of Soviet agents that the Russians forgot about after the wall came down? The story was later used as the premise for a TV show, “The Americans,” starring Keri Russell. It tells the story of two KGB officers posing as a married couple who live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Today, little is known about the true scale of Russia’s “illegals” programme, beyond the fact that the Chapman arrests proved it was alive and well in 2010. What we do know comes from the Cold War, when Western counter-intelligence took the Russian threat more seriously.

In the mid-1980s, researchers estimated that the KGB’s First Chief Directorate unit operated 200 “illegal” agents, and the GRU, separately, another 150.

The numbers of ‘illegals’ undercover in the West “are much higher nowadays.”

“Personally, I am certain those figures are much higher nowadays,” Madeira told Business Insider.

The reason: Russian state security agencies tend to think in terms of decades or generations, not years. The end of the Cold War made it easier for Russians to travel to Western countries, and the KGB’s successor agencies will have regarded this as a long-term opportunity.

Spies no longer need to make a tortuous journey from Moscow through Asia or the Middle East, changing passports multiple times, before arriving in Europe. At the same time, the UK’s commitment to counter-intelligence dwindled, as we entered the decade-long period of peace in the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That made it easier for illegals to operate. Now they can get on the plane to Heathrow and disappear by lunchtime.

Anna ChapmanFBI mugshots of Anna Chapman and nine others in the “illegals” ring of 2010. FBI

The “Directorate S” training process can take years

The Chapman spy ring was run by Russia’s SVR, or Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia has a multitude of often competing intelligence services). The SVR is a former unit of the KGB. Within the SVR is the mysterious “Directorate S,” which recruits, trains, and supervises “illegals.”

The process can take decades, and some “illegals” are sent over as married couples while their grown children stay behind in Russia as semi-free “hostages,” to guarantee they will not defect. An account of the process was published in 1984 by Viktor Suvorov, a GRU agent who defected to the UK in 1978. It begins when the illegal trainee is housed in a secret Moscow dacha outfitted entirely as if it were a home in the West:

“… he wears the clothes and shoes, and eats the food, even smokes cigarettes and uses razor blades procured from overseas. In each room a tape recorder is installed which runs twenty-four hours a day while he is occupying the dacha. These tape recorders continuously broadcast news from the radio programmes of his target country. From the first day of his training he is supplied with the majority of papers and magazines. He sees many films and descriptions on video tapes of television broadcasts.

The instructors, for the most part former illegals, read the same papers and listen to the same radio programmes and spend their time asking their pupil the most difficult questions imaginable with regard to what has been read. It is quite obvious that after a number of years of such training, the future illegal knows by heart the composition of every football team, the hours of work of every restaurant and nightclub, the weather forecasts and everything that is going on in the realm of gossip as well as current affairs, in a country where he has never been in his life.”

They become ordinary citizens, leading mundane lives

anna chapman russiaAfter she was deported back to Russia, Chapman went on to become a media celebrity. AP

The curious aspect of the illegals programme is that once activated, these agents do not turn into Le Carre characters. They don’t immediately infiltrate the military or MI6 or the CIA and transmit secret information back to Moscow. Rather, they become ordinary citizens, leading mundane lives.

The obvious question is, why do the Russians bother? The answer is that the mere ability to place foreign agents inside another country is an end in itself. Only then do they set about actually trying to conduct espionage.

“Historically, it’s been exceedingly rare for ‘illegal’ Russian intelligence officers themselves to penetrate foreign governments generally. As good as ‘illegal’ legends can be for daily life, it’d be impossible for ‘first-generation’ ‘illegals’ to pass proper security vetting (I would hope!)” Madeira says.

“The role of the ‘illegal’ intelligence officer is to remain undetected by foreign counter-intelligence and counter-espionage services, while recruiting assets/agents/sources that either already have access to valuable information or are assessed to have the potential to do so,” he told Business Insider.

“These assets/agents/sources are the ones working inside foreign governments, corporations, NGOs, media, academia, etc.”

Suvorov has a good description of this:

“… On his arrival at his objective, the illegal sets about basic legalisation. He has been provided with good papers by the best forgers of the GRU on genuine blank passports. At the same time he is extremely vulnerable if he is not registered with the police or the tax departments. Any check may give him away and for this reason he endeavours to change jobs and places of work often to get his name onto as many company lists as he can and to acquire character references signed by real people. The ideal solution is for him to obtain new documentation from the police department under some pretext or another. Often he will marry another agent (who may already be his wife); she will then be given a genuine passport, and he will ‘lose’ his false one to have it replaced with a real one on the production of his wife’s genuine document. The acquisition of a driving licence, credit cards, membership documents of clubs and associations are a vital element in ‘legalising’ the status of an illegal.”

“One of their favourite means is to go through Western cemeteries, find a deceased child that passed away very young, then they will take that identity”

Viktor SuvorovViktor Suvorov Wikimedia 2,0, CC

They will often steal the identity of a dead baby, Madeira says. “One of their favourite means is to go through Western cemeteries, find a deceased child that passed away very young, then they will take that identity, and if the checks work out they will create a false ‘legend’ and that person will gradually develop a life history, a foreign passport, they will speak foreign languages with no trace of an accent.”

In addition to NetJets and Barclays, Chapman also ran a real estate agent office in New York.

The aim is to start at the outer circles of influence and develop a network that reaches upward to the top. Illegals have been “travel agents, think tanks, students,” Madeira says.

“But what they all had in common was they were gradually trying to find their way, through work and networking, to the centres of power, the policymakers, the special advisers, people who have privileged insight to decision-making, or people who have a way of influencing. A wealthy individual who happens to be a party donor … they may have gone to school with a senator, they may have gone to school with an MP.”

Sometimes, they identify experts for assassination

The scariest part is what they are capable of if Russia wants to activate them in an emergency. Some illegals will be used to identify targets for assassinations. When conflict broke out on the Ukraine-Russia border, Madeira says, one of the first things that happened was senior Ukrainian security experts began to die. The most recent attempted killing was in October.

“They identify experts for assassination … confusion is half the battle.” Their targets were “senior military and counter-intelligence officers,” Madeira says. “Those people were very carefully targeted for assassination.”

Assassinations work because “at the very least it’s disruptive and demoralising … at best it’s years of knowledge and contacts – that’s all gone,” Madeira says.

“The media underestimated considerably just how much of a continuous element this represents from a Russian point of view.”

 


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