A flurry of reports from both England and Israel have revealed heightened disquiet among intelligence services about sharing secrets with the Trump administration. The Christopher Steele dossier compiled as opposition research during the presidential campaign, and separate information from other sources have raised concerns that any intelligence data shared with the U.S. could be leaked to Moscow. Among other concerns, is that the Russian FSB compromised Trump by treating him to evenings with prostitutes hired for the occasion and filmed the proceedings a number of times.
The BBC article linked above also noted a multi-agency investigation of Russian funding extended through two Russian banks directly to operatives of the Trump campaign. It doesn’t specify the purpose of the funding. But Steele’s memos note that at meetings between Putin and Trump representatives they agreed to jointly finance the computer hacking campaign against the DNC and Clinton campaign. The reporter who wrote the BBC story verified its details with “a senior member of the U.S. intelligence community.”
Ronen Bergman wrote that U.S. intelligence officials met with the Mossad and warned them of that they should be exceedingly careful until they can be certain that their data will remain in the proper hands:
These fears, which began upon Trump’s election, grew stronger following a meeting held recently between Israeli and American intelligence officials (the date of the meeting is not mentioned to protect the sources of the report). During the meeting…American officials also told the Israelis that the National Security Agency (NSA) had “highly credible information” that Russia’s intelligence agencies, the FSB and GRU, were responsible for hacking the Democratic Party (DNC) servers during the elections and leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
…The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians.
Not only was it possible for Israeli intelligence to leak to Russia, it could in turn be offered to Israel’s arch-enemy, Iran:
Most of the joint operations between the two countries’ intelligence communities were directed, according to reports, against Iran, and a small part of them – against Hezbollah and Hamas.
Leaks of Israeli secret information to Russia via the incoming administration are only one of the issues that concern Israeli counter-espionage officers. As I’ve written here, a number of high-level Israeli political and business leaders have reportedly close ties to the Kremlin and have even been accused of being Russian intelligence assets: among them Avigdor Lieberman, Boris Krasny and Natan Sharansky.
As proof that the Israelis should be worried about leaks to the Kremlin, the U.S. offered the intelligence officials this:
…The American intelligence officials were able to point to information included in the Snowden documents about specific highly secret American operation in Iran. The Americans are convinced that Edward Snowden handed the information over to the Russian intelligence – as part of the deal for receiving political asylum – and that parts of it were handed over to Tehran as part of Putin’s policy to increase Iranian dependence – not just Syrian dependence – on Moscow, all aimed at serving one final purpose: To restore Russia’s position as the influential world power in the region.
I’m not aware of any previous stories from the Greenwald group which specifically credit Snowden with exposing such a U.S. program. There is this NY Times article about Operation Nitro Zeus, but it was exposed by Alex Gibney in Zero Days, not Snowden. U.S. intelligence officials and GOP Congressional leaders publicly accused Snowden of revealing state secrets to Russia. But they offered no proof and Snowden has denied the charge.
I don’t know how the Trump administration can ever satisfy foreign intelligence agencies that their data is safe in U.S. hands. The incoming national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, took all-expense paid trips to Russia paid for by the Kremlin. He’s been photographed sharing a rollicking good time at breakfast with Putin himself. If I were an intelligence officer I wouldn’t trust Flynn as far as I could throw him.
Trump-Putin Summit in the Offing?
In a sign of how dysfunctional the incoming administration will be–one Trump official leaked to the Sunday Times (paywall–screenshot displayed here) a story that the Russians invited Trump to a summit meeting in mid-February, intending it to be his first official overseas visit since becoming president. It was meant to showcase the “new relationship” between Putin and Trump and the major reset in U.S.-Russia relations. Trump’s team, seeking to ride the coattails of another famous GOP summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, suggested Reykjavik as the location for the meeting. The agenda was said to concern negotiating a reduction in bilateral nuclear weapons. Which would be ironic given that if there’s anything in U.S. policy he knows less about, it would be our nuclear weapons program.
Clearly, Putin will run rings around him just as Khrushchev lectured a green, inexperienced John F. Kennedy when they first met. Here is a harbinger of what might happen in such a summit meeting:
…Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings…he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting…But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader…Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting “old, moribund, reactionary regimes” and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood “against other peoples following its suit.” Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was “very unwise” for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.
…American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.
Kennedy’s assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the “roughest thing in my life.” Kennedy went on: “He just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”
A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.
And considering how JFK fared, one should expect, if anything, even less of Trump. As Lloyd Bentsen might have said: “I knew JFK, JFK was a friend of mine. You are no JFK.” In other words, Kennedy had the capacity to learn on his feet. He could absorb new information and distill it in order to formulate new policy approaches when necessary. As the Bay of Pigs showed, he could also learn from failure. Trump has shown no such aptitude. Not only will Putin run rings around him, the Russian leader will consider Trump’s victory carte blanche to pursue whatever policies he wishes around the world without fear of U.S. interference. It is a recipe for disaster.
Even if there are those within the administration arguing for a more assertive approach to Putin, Trump and his circle will be so riven by ambivalence that they won’t be able to formulate a coherent strategy to address such threats.
A perfect example of this is the announcement made shortly after the leak about the summit meeting proclaiming it to be “a fantasy.” Clearly one of Trump’s hands doesn’t know what the other little hand is doing.