To begin with, I’m not surprised by this:
Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.
The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.
Putin may be a lot of things, but one cannot imagine he is sloppy about security within his inner circle. Now it is possible that Trump was shown correspondence containing Putin’s personal orders to disrupt the US election, but the most prudent course of action would be to treat it with heavy skepticism. This is especially the case if you believe, with good reason, the people showing it to you have an agenda all of their own, their interests are polar-opposite to yours, and they are not averse to lying through their teeth even under oath.
If the US did have a “top-secret source close to Mr. Putin” it is a valuable asset indeed, and not one which would get mentioned in a New York Times article in order to make Trump look bad. Or would it? That’s the problem – we have former FBI Director James Comey running around shooting his mouth off, former CIA Director John Brennan doing the same thing, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spilling the beans on this latest story – and all of these men still have their security clearances intact. The quantity of classified material which has been leaked to the press by America’s various intelligence agencies is staggering, and it’s being done for one reason only – to hurt Trump. So keen they are to land a solid blow they’re even prepared to blow the cover of a highly-placed asset in Russia on the front page of the New York Times. Is this not reason enough for Trump to treat them with extreme distrust, and the information they’re providing with skepticism? I’d say it is.
One thing is for sure, no employee of Putin’s intelligence apparatus either current or former is turning up on live television or leaking classified documents to the press. If Putin is making Trump look foolish at every point and turn as his opponents claim, well, that might have something to do with it. Unlike the Americans, the Russians take things like operational security rather seriously and if they’ve read the NYT this morning you can imagine they’ll find it interesting. Which brings me onto this story:
US President Donald Trump has rejected a proposal made by the Russian leader Vladimir Putin that Russia be allowed to question US citizens.
The White House earlier said it would consider it but now says Mr Trump “disagrees” with the suggestion.
The offer was made at a summit of the two leaders. In return, Mr Putin suggested he might allow access to 12 Russians indicted by the US.
The idea of allowing a foreign power to quiz US citizens sparked outrage.
So the US indicted twelve Russian citizens, but when Russia shows (an almost certainly retaliatory) interest in American citizens, outrage ensues. If there’s one aspect of America I really don’t like is their complaining when another country does what they do as a matter of course – such as meddling in elections. Americans seem to think they have a monopoly on certain aspects of international relations; the most egregious example for any Brit is the one-way extradition agreement Blair signed with the US, supposedly for tackling terrorism but ended up being used to extradite British businessmen who’d broken no US laws on US soil. But I digress.
Anyway, what’s happened here is obvious, and it stems back to Mueller’s decision to indict twelve Russian intelligence officers for supposedly hacking the DNC’s servers and distributing stolen information with the intent to influence the 2016 election. Now if you read the indictment it is incredibly detailed to the point you have to wonder what kind of amateurs the Russians have working for them. Now perhaps the Russian intelligence services employ hackers who are so inept they cannot cover their tracks and a year or two after the deed they are named in an indictment which details who, when, and how each attack was made – even though the FBI admitted they’ve not actually seen the compromised machines, and never even asked to. Instead, they relied on a private, third-party outfit called Crowdstrike to do the forensics. Note also the indictment accuses these Russians of releasing stolen emails to the public: apparently leaking classified information is a crime after all, but only when Russians do it.
So do I think the Russians illegally accessed DNC information? Yes, of course, along with every other man and his dog. Firstly, the leak of the DNC emails may well have been an inside job from a disgruntled Bernie Bro upset at Hillary’s antics during the primaries. Secondly, John Podesta, the Chairman of Hillary’s campaign, had his Gmail account broken into via a simple phishing operation, and rumours persist that his password was “password”. Thirdly, you had Hillary Clinton’s unauthorised bathroom server which was almost certainly compromised from the minute it was installed by highly competent IT professionals working for every foreign government with an interest in the US. For those who claim it was secure, the fact that Hillary’s IT guy turned to Reddit to ask for advice suggests otherwise.
What Mueller’s indictment looks like, to me at least, is an attempt to save face by pretending the DNC’s appallingly lax security was the result of a highly sophisticated hacking operation by the Russian government. There is absolutely no chance the Russians are going to hand over the twelve named persons, which is why Mueller can allege whatever he likes in the indictment: he’s never going to have to prove it, but it serves its purpose as a political tool. At this point, I think the American political establishment isn’t far short of going to war with Russia in order to avoid having to admit the Democrats were a shambles and Hillary an appalling candidate; it really is quite staggering the lengths to which they’re going here – and at what cost! As I said before, regarding an earlier indictment:
Whereas I suppose Putin has found much of this genuinely amusing up to now, this indictment changes things. The individuals named are in Russia and so unlikely to be arrested, but the intent is there. Putin has often accused foreigners working for NGOs in Russia of interfering in politics, shutting down various organisations in the process. He was rightly criticised for this, but it’s hard to see why Russians should tolerate Americans doing political work in Russia if Americans believe disparaging Hillary Clinton on Facebook is an offence worthy of FBI indictment. If Putin chooses to do so he could start making life very difficult for Americans in Russia now, and the American government wouldn’t have a damned leg to stand on. Those who may find themselves languishing in an icy cell on dubious charges of political subversion can thank Hillary Clinton, her insatiable ego, and her thoroughly corrupt supporters for their predicament.
It is therefore unsurprising that, during Trump’s meeting with Putin, this happened:
In what President Trump called a “tremendous” gesture, Mr Putin said he would let US prosecutors interview the 12 Russians in exchange for Russian access to US nationals the Kremlin accuses of “illegal actions”.
The individuals are related to Russia’s case against the financier Bill Browder, a fierce Putin critic who was instrumental in the US imposing sanctions in 2012 on top Russian officials accused of corruption.
Mr Browder told the BBC he was glad President Trump “isn’t going to hand me over to President Putin”.
But he added: “I’m a little amazed that this whole conversation has taken place over a three-day period when Trump should have immediately rejected it, as any other head of state would have.”
Russia was also seeking to interview Michael McFaul, another Putin critic who was US ambassador to Moscow under President Obama.
What Putin is doing is saying:
“So you’ve indicted twelve Russian citizens, eh? Well, since we’re here, there’s a couple of blokes on your side I’d like a word with. How about it?”
Putin knows full well Trump will not and cannot accept this proposal of a quid pro quo, but it serves to remind folk that two can play this game. Unfortunately, the reaction of Trump’s opponents shows they’ve utterly missed this point, instead preferring to believe Trump committed treason by not immediately rejecting it. As it happened, Trump said he’d think about it, spoke with his staff, then said “no”. Naturally, his opponents believe he only said this because of the level of outrage on Twitter, but if anyone thinks this is the criteria on which Trump bases decisions, they’re pretty dumb.
What’s amused me about this is the reaction from the aforementioned Michael McFaul:
When Trump says Russia is no longer targeting America, that’s not how this American feels.Putin is most certainly targeting and intimidating me. And I’m an American.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) July 19, 2018
Now since leaving his post as US ambassador to Russia, McFaul has spent most of his time on Twitter making partisan remarks about Trump and slagging off Putin. For example, here’s what he said six days before the Helsinki meeting:
Trump has done more damage to NATO in 18 months than Soviet & Russian leaders achieved in 7 decades. Why ?
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) July 11, 2018
He has also written a book about his time in Moscow in which he alleges Putin has been personally harassing him. Is this appropriate? For a political hack, yes. For a former ambassador, perhaps less so. Now McFaul can expect the full protection of the US from Russia, and he has that – he is not going to exchanged in a swap with the twelve indicted Russians, that will never happen. But what amuses me is he expects Trump – the man who he has spent over a year bitching about publicly – to leap to his defence the minute Putin mentions his name. Look at these Tweets, one day apart:
After many hours of watching and the commenting on the #Helsinki2018 , my mood has morphed from outrage to sadness. President Trump embarrassed our great country today. He advanced no US national interest. His senior national security advisors enabled that behavior. Sad.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) July 16, 2018
Hey WH press Corps, can you confirm tomorrow with @PressSec that Putin discussed me personally in his one on one with Trump? Did he suggest that I was part of some alleged money laundering scheme? And did Trump push back on this completely invented , whacko idea?
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) July 18, 2018
I’d like to think that Trump had McFaul’s tweeting habits in mind when Putin first mentioned his name and thought “this is obviously bullshit, but let’s make him sweat a few days”. The moral of the story, which smug gits like McFaul will never learn even now, is that you should not deliberately make enemies of people you may later rely on to defend you beyond what is required by law or duty. This is especially true if you’ve been working in Russia in any capacity.
Thanks to the efforts of people like McFaul and the various US intelligence agencies, America’s relations with Russia are in absolute tatters. The one person trying to keep everyone sane – in part so he can continue with robust anti-Russian policies not related to Hillary losing the election – is Donald Trump. For that, he is accused of treason and being Putin’s puppet. The long-term damage this is doing to America cannot be understated, and history will not look kindly on those who are wreaking it.