Last night, another bombshell dropped in the saga surrounding Russian influence and President-elect Donald Trump. This report was nothing substantially new, as Mother Jones touched on it in October. This report was shopped around during the campaign, but given the explosive revelations inside and the inability to fully vet the allegations, no one felt comfortable touching it. Buzzfeed was content to release the entire report, despite the fact that this is not an official intelligence report.
I cannot stress that enough. Please do not take the excerpts below as gospel, as this is simply raw intelligence data that has not been fully vetted. That said, something did change between last summer and now, and it likely had to do with the fact that the former British MI6 intelligence agent who much of this information is connected to was deemed to be credible. What makes this report interesting is not necessarily that the claims are vetted, but that the source is. You will see in much of the spelling that this was authored using British English, but there are some concerns, namely that they refer to the 2018 World Cup as a “soccer tournament.”
This document is not simply a random piece of intelligence, as it has been confirmed that it was presented to President-elect Trump. However, Buzzfeed has raised some serious journalistic and moral questions here. Because it is raw intelligence, it is very dangerous to simply let “Americans make up their own minds” as Ben Smith, the Editor-in-Chief, wrote in an e-mail that he tweeted out to the masses. It’s a nice thought that citizen journalists can take up the mantle and draw their own conclusions, but given that this is a raw data dump, an expert is required. I myself am well-informed about 20th century Russian history and their methods in Signals Intellgience, but I fall far short of being an “expert.” This requires delicate hands, and Buzzfeed eschewed that in favor of mob rule.
All that said, we have been paying attention to this saga for some time now, and the revelations contained below do match up with a lot of reporting from independent outlets, so even though you should not treat the below as 100% fact, think about the larger picture and corroborate it with other sources, such as The Guardian report about how the FBI thought enough of this information to apply for a warrant from the FISA court, yet there was not enough verifiable information for this court to approve it.
Source C, a senior Russian financial official said the Trump operation should be seen in terms of Putin's desire to return to Nineteenth Century 'Great Power' politics anchored upon countries' interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War Two. S/he had overheard Putin talking in this way to close associates on several occasions.
In terms of specifics, Source A confided that the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, for several years. This was confirmed by Source D, a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow, and who reported, also in June 2016, that this Russian intelligence had been “very helpful”. The Kremlin's cultivation operation on Trump also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia, especially in relation to the ongoing 2018 World Cup soccer tournament. However, so far, for reasons unknown, Trump had not taken up any of these.
According to Source D, where s/he had been present, Trump's (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs Obama (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphone and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.
The focus has mainly been on this alleged story, but in my book, the much larger part of this tale is that President Obama stayed at a known FSB hotel crawling with Kremlin bugs.
The Moscow Ritz Carlton episode involving Trump reported above was confirmed by Source E, a senior (western) member of staff at the hotel, who said that s/he and several of the staff were aware of it at the time and subsequently. S/he believed it had happened in 2013. Source E provided an introduction for a company ethnic Russian operative to Source F, a female staffer at the hotel when Trump had stayed there, who also confirmed the story. Speaking separately in June 2016, Source B (the former top level Russian intelligence officer) asserted that Trump's unorthodox behavior in Russia over the years had provided the authorities there with enough embarrassing material on the now Republican presidential candidate to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.
If video of this does exist and made its way out to the masses, the internet cables spanning the Atlantic would overheat and boil the ocean away into the atmosphere.
In terms of the success of Russian offensive cyber operations to date, a senior government figure reported that there had been only limited success in penetrating the “first tier” foreign targets. These comprised western (especially G7 and NATO) governments, security and intelligence services and central banks, and the IFIs. To compensate for this shortfall, massive effort had been invested, with much greater success, in attacking the “secondary targets”, particularly western private banks and the government of smaller states allied to the West. S/he mentioned Latvia in this regard. Hundreds of agents, either consciously cooperating with the FSB or whose personal and professional IT systems had been unwittingly compromised, were recruited.
Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the Trump side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, and others as intermediaries.
In return the Trump team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for Putin who needed to cauterize the subject.
In terms of the intelligence flow from the Trump team to Russia, Source E reported that much of this concerned the activities of business oligarchs and their families' activities and assets in the US, with which Putin and the Kremlin seemed preoccupied.
Source E said he understood that the Republican candidate and his team were relatively relaxed about this because it deflected media and the Democrats' attention away from Trump's business dealings in China and other emerging markets. Unlike in Russia, these were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign.
Speaking in confidence to a trusted associate in late July 2016, a Russian émigré figure close to the Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign team…said there was a high level of anxiety within the Trump team as a result of various accusations levelled against them and indications from the Kremlin that President Putin and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far now and risked spiraling out of control.
In terms of established operation liaison between the Trump team and the Kremlin, the émigré confirmed that an intelligence exchange had been running between them for at least 8 years. Within this context Putin's priority requirement had been for intelligence on the activities, business and otherwise, in the US of leading Russian oligarchs and their families. Trump and his associates duly had obtained and supplied the Kremlin with this information.
Former NSA analyst John Schindler corroborated this portion of the report, and has written about how Trump has been on the NSA's radar much longer than just this election cycle.
As far as 'kompromoat' (compromising information) on Trump were concerned, although there was plenty of this, he understood the Kremlin had given its word that it would not be deployed against the Republican presidential candidate given how helpful and co-operative his team had been over several years, and particularly of late.
Speaking in early August 2016, two well-placed and established Kremlin sources outlined the division and backlash in Moscow arising from the leaking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) e-mails and the wider pro-Trump operation being conducted in the US. Head of Presidential Administration, Sergei Ivanov, was angry at the recent turn of events. He believed the Kremlin “team” involved, led by presidential spokesman Dmitriy Peskov, had gone too far in interfering in foreign affairs with their “elephant in a china shop black PR”.
Continuing on this theme the source close to Ivanov reported that Peskov now was “scared shitless” that he would be scapegoated by Putin and the Kremlin and helped responsible for the backlash against Russian political interference in the US election.
According to the first source, close to Ivanov, there had been talk in the Kremlin of Trump being forced to withdraw from the presidential race altogether as a result of recent events, ostensibly on grounds of his psychological state and unsuitability for high office.
Russia decided to hold back on the e-mail leak: Ivanov said that the audience to be targeted by such operations was the educated youth in America as the PA assessed that there was still a chance they could be persuaded to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump as a protest against the Washington establishment (in the form of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton). The hope was that even if she won, as a result of this Clinton in power would be bogged down in working for internal reconciliation in the US, rather than being able to focus on foreign policy which would damage Russia's interests. This also should give President Putin more room for manoeuvre in the run-up to Russia's own presidential election in 2018.
Ivanov reported that although the Kremlin had underestimated the strength of US media and liberal reaction to the DNC hack and Trump's links to Russia, Putin was generally satisfied with the progress of the anti-Clinton operation to date. He recently had a drink with Putin to mark this. In Ivanov's view, the US had tried to divide the Russian elite with sanctions but failed, whilst they, by contrast, had succeeded in splitting the US hawks inimical to Russia and the Washington elite more generally, half of whom had refused to endorse any presidential candidate as a result of Russian intervention.
This had involved the Kremlin supporting various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. S/he named a delegation from Lyndon Larouche; presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party; Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page; and former DIA Director Michael Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes.
Trump's associate also admitted that there was a fair amount of anger and resentment within the Republican candidate's team at what was perceived by Putin as going beyond the objective of weakening Clinton and bolstering Trump, by attempting to exploit the situation to undermine the US government and democratic system more generally.
Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.
Gotta love that he thinks that tweeting a picture of the outside of the document which demonstrates that he can travel to Prague is proof of…well…something.
We reported previously, in our Company Intelligence Report 2016/135 of 19 October 2016 from the same source, that Cohen met officials from the PA Legal Department clandestinely in an EU country in August 2016. This was in order to clean up the mess left behind by western media revelations of Trump ex-campaign manager Manafort's corrupt relationship with the former pro-Russian Yanukovych regime in Ukraine and Trump foreign policy advisor, Carter Page's secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016.
UPDATE: According to CNN's Jake Tapper and others, it appears that the person who visited Prague was a different Michael Cohen.
The PA official reported that the issue had become incredibly sensitive and that President Putin had issued direct orders that Kremlin and government insiders should not discuss it in public or even in private. Despite this, the PA official confirmed, from direct knowledge, that the gist of the allegations was true. Putin had been receiving conflicting advice on interfering from three separate and expert groups. On one side had been the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, and the ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with an independent and informal network run by presidential foreign policy advisor, Yuri Ushakov (Kislyak's predecessor in Washington) who had urged caution and the potential negative impact on Russia from the operation/s. On the other side was former PA head, Sergei Ivanov, backed by Russian Foreign Intelligence (SVR), who had advised Putin that the pro-Trump, anti-Clinton operation/s would be both effective and plausibly deniable with little blowback. The first group/s had been proven right and this had been the catalyst in Putin's decision to sack Ivanov (unexpectedly) as PA Head in August. His success, Anton Vaino, had been selected for the job partly because he had to been involved in the US presidential election operation/s.
Company Comment: the substance of what was reported by the senior Russian PA official in paras 1 and 2 above, including the reasons for Sergei Ivanov's dismissal, was corroborated independently by a former top level Russian intelligence officer and Kremlin insider, also in mid-September.
The senior PA official also reported that a growing element in Moscow's intervention in the US presidential election campaign was the objective of shifting the US political consensus in Russia's perceived interests regardless of who won. It basically comprised of pushing candidate Clinton away from President Obama's policies.
Two well placed sources based in St Petersburg, one in the political/business elite and the other involved in the local services and tourist industry…both knew Trump had visited St Petersburg on several occasions in the past and had been interested in doing business deals there involving real estate. The local business/political elite figure reported that Trump had paid bribes there to further his interests but very discreetly and only through affiliated companies, making it very hard to prove. The local services industry source reported that Trump had participated in sex parties in the city too, but that all direct witnesses to this recently had been “silenced” i.e. bribed or coerced to disappear.
Speaking directly in confidence to a trusted compatriot in early October 2016, a senior Russian leadership figure and a Foreign Ministry official reported on recent developments concerning the Kremlin's operation to support Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential election. The senior leadership figure said that a degree of buyer's remorse was setting in among Russian leaders concerning Trump. Putin and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that leaks of Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton's hacked e-mails had not had greater impact on the campaign.
Continuing on this theme, the senior leadership figure commented that a stream of further hacked Clinton material already had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like Wikileaks, which remained at least “plausibly deniable”, so the stream of these would continue through October and up to the election. However s/he understood that the best material the Russians had already was out there and there were no real game-changers to come.
Asked to explain why Putin and the Kremlin had launched such an aggressive Trump support operation in the first place, the MFA official said that Russia needed to upset the liberal international status quo, including on Ukraine-related sanctions, which was seriously disadvantaging the country. Trump was viewed as divisive in disrupting the whole US political system; anti-Establishment; and a pragmatist with whom they could do business. As the Trump support operation had gained momentum, control of it had passed from the MFA to the FSB and then into the presidential administration where it remained, a reflection of its growing significance over time.
Carter Page met with Rosneft, one of Russia's state-owned oil companies – In terms of the substance of their discussion, Sechin's associate said that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page/Trump's associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft in return. Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.
A lot of this report speaks for itself, but I want to take a moment to stress this potential revelation. In exchange for dropping sanctions that were levied for invading an ally, the president of the United States would receive a personal stake in a Russian oil company. Treason doesn't even begin to describe it.
According to the Kremlin insider, Cohen now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of Trump's relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, Cohen had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving Mannafort's commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former Trump foreign policy advisor, Carter Page's secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been to “sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven.”
Things had become even “hotter” since August on the Trump-Russia track. According to the Kremlin insider, this had meant that direct contact between the Trump team and Russia had been farmed out by the Kremlin to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. Cohen however continued to lead for the Trump team
In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various “Romanian hackers” (presumably based in their homeland or neighbouring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should “lay low”. On payments, Ivanov's associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both Trump's team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimate loyalty lay with Ivanov, as head of the PA and thus ultimately responsible for the operation, and his designated successor/s after he was dismissed by president Putin in connection with the anti-Clinton operation in mid August.
So those are the highlights out of this 35-page document. Again, these are not verified facts.
That said, I did not need to be convinced of Russian influence in Donald Trump's campaign. I wrote a comprehensive case back in October that could have been twice as long with verifiable information that is available to any schmuck on the internet like myself. Donald Trump has not hidden his affinity for Russian interests, and it's really difficult to find any political rationale for this. In my mind, there's a pretty simple and obvious explanation for how this all happened.
Donald Trump ran several casinos into the ground in the 1990s. If you ran a Wall Street bank, would you lend millions of dollars to a man who has repeatedly proven he is unable to make a profit off a rigged business? I sure wouldn't. So it's very likely that around the turn of the century, Trump had to venture elsewhere to find credit to finance the Trump brand. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said:
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Donald Trump is a bad businessman. He was born with an awesome last name, and has done a terrific job branding it. Most of his success stems from licensing his name to others who do all the legwork. If he repeatedly went bankrupt running casinos in the 1990s, why would we expect Trump steaks to do any better? He sold them at the freaking Sharper Image for Christ's sake. It's not a stretch to imagine that he ran into financial issues with his new creditors, and if Donald Trump Jr. is right that they come from Russia, this would be the perfect opportunity for them to squeeze Trump.
Again, this is all unverified evidence, and even though there are plumes of smoke billowing out of Trump tower, that does not automatically equal fire. This is where experts come in, and why Buzzfeed probably didn't help this discussion by leaking a pure intelligence document that many establishment figures in Washington would have difficulty vetting—let alone the rest of us in the general public.
All that said, there are experts that we can lean on, so I will leave you with a tweetstorm from Republican operative Liz Mair, who launched one of the earliest anti-Trump operations early in the Republican campaign, and spent much of the past year digging into his sordid past.