Lazy Caturday Reads: Counterintelligence and Cats in High Places

Good Afternoon!!

Cover-Up General Barr’s redacted version of the Mueller Report is out; and despite Barr’s attempts to soften the blow it make Trump look really bad. Interestingly, there is nothing in the report about the counterintelligence investigation that was begun after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. It appears that investigation is ongoing.

Ken Dilanian of NBC News reports this morning: The counterintelligence investigation of the Trump team and Russia hasn’t stopped.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation may be over, but the FBI’s efforts to assess and counter Russian efforts to influence the U.S. political system — including the Trump administration — is continuing, current and former U.S. officials say.

The FBI and other intelligence agencies are pursuing a counterintelligence effort to thwart Russian influence operations in the U.S. and stymie an anticipated Russian effort to interfere in the 2020 election, the officials tell NBC News.

The FBI and other intelligence agencies are pursuing a counterintelligence effort to thwart Russian influence operations in the U.S. and stymie an anticipated Russian effort to interfere in the 2020 election, the officials tell NBC News.

As part of that mission, analysts will continue to drill down on exactly how the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, whether any Americans helped them unwittingly, and whether any American continues to be compromised by Russia, experts say.

These are different questions than whether crimes were committed, which is what Mueller explored in his 448-page report. Mueller’s report is silent on some of the key counterintelligence issues raised in his probe. It doesn’t mention, for example, the counterintelligence investigation the FBI opened into the president — an inquiry former acting director Andrew McCabe said was designed to examine whether he was compromised by Russia. Nor does the report cite the counterintelligence briefing the Trump campaign is said to have received from the FBI, warning that Russia and other adversaries would seek to infiltrate the campaign.

“The fact that it’s not present in the report tells me the ball is now and remains in the court of the FBI and the intelligence community,” said Frank Figliuzzi, an NBC News contributor and former head of counterintelligence at the FBI.

It’s unclear whether the counterintelligence investigation into Trump remains open. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

Read the rest at the link. It’s long and interesting. I’d be willing to bet that they are still looking at whether Trump is compromised. I hope the House Intelligence Committee will request a briefing on this matter ASAP. They have apparently offered to brief the Gang of Eight at least.

Yesterday The New York Times published an important op-ed about this by Joshua Geltzer and Ryan Goodman: Mueller Hints at a National-Security Nightmare.

The Mueller report isn’t actually close to a full account of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. That’s not just because of the redactions. When he was hired, Mr. Mueller inherited supervision of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation. That is the missing piece of the Mueller report.

President Trump may claim “exoneration” on a narrowly defined criminal coordination charge. But a counterintelligence investigation can yield something even more important: an intelligence assessment of how likely it is that someone — in this case, the president — is acting, wittingly or unwittingly, under the influence of or in collaboration with a foreign power. Was Donald Trump a knowing or unknowing Russian asset, used in some capacity to undermine our democracy and national security?

The public Mueller report alone provides enough evidence to worry that America’s own national security interests may not be guiding American foreign policy.

The counterintelligence investigation is not necessarily complete, but from the glimpses we see in the Mueller report, it should set off very serious national security alarm bells.

What would this counterintelligence investigation look like?

An intelligence assessment makes two determinations: a conclusion about the type of influence a foreign power may have over an individual and the degree of confidence in that conclusion. For example, when Mr. Trump boasted to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office that he had fired the F.B.I. director, it raised only the possibility — a “circumstantial inference,” as it’s called in counterintelligence — that the president was wittingly working on behalf of the Russians.

This apparent desire to please these officials indicates a high level of Russian influence and, in the context of other actions that pleased Mr. Putin, like his sudden decision to withdraw American troops from Syria — could support a modest to high level of confidence in that conclusion.

The authors explain that we don’t have a “smoking gun” that would indicate “high confidence,” because that “would require something we don’t have and would not expect to have, like an email from Vladimir Putin ordering Mr. Trump to fire the F.B.I. director James Comey.” But we do have many indications that Trump and his associates are working against U.S. national interests. Examples from the article:

— The former Trump adviser Roger Stone directly communicates with the Russia-linked actor Guccifer 2.0 and coordinates with WikiLeaks to get Mr. Trump elected — and he is likely aware that one is a Russian front organization and the other is working with the Russians.

== A Trump campaign national security adviser is informed by a Russian intelligence operative that the Kremlin has stolen Hillary Clinton-related emails and could assist the Trump campaign through “anonymous release” of derogatory information; the campaign then works on setting up backdoor meetings with senior Russian government officials (though the meetings do not materialize).

— Members of the Trump transition team conduct secretive, back channel meetings with Putin operatives.

— Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin speak alone in Helsinki, then Mr. Trump accepts Mr. Putin’s claim that he didn’t meddle in the 2016 election and repudiates the intelligence community’s assessments to the contrary.

Those incidents raise the possibility that Mr. Trump has wittingly sought to advance Russian interests, but the evidence is merely circumstantial and consequently suggests low to moderate confidence in that assessment….

But unwitting assets pose their own dangers. They have significant vulnerabilities that can be exploited with minimal actual coordination. In other words, they look and act more like puppets.

I’ve quoted a great deal from the article, because it’s so significant. I hope you’ll read the rest at the NYT.

Read more by Geltzer and Goodman on the counterintelligence investigation at Just Security: The Missing Piece of the Mueller Investigation.

Another New York Times op-ed by former FBI counterintelligance agent Asha Rangappa: How Barr and Trump Use a Russian Disinformation Tactic.

On Nov. 9, 2016, according to the Mueller report, some redacted figure wrote to a Russian regime crony, “Putin has won.” Based on the assessment of the intelligence community and the findings of Robert Mueller, President Vladimir Putin of Russia did indeed succeed in his efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump.

But Mr. Putin’s ultimate victory may have come on Thursday morning, during Attorney General Bill Barr’s news conference. By seamlessly conflating the terms “collusion” and “conspiracy,” and absolving President Trump of both, Mr. Barr revealed that the Russian information warfare technique of “reflexive control” has officially entered American public discourse — and threatens, with his recent allegations of campaign “spying,” to stay there for a while.

Reflexive control is a “uniquely Russian” technique of psychological manipulation through disinformation. The idea is to feed your adversary a set of assumptions that will produce a predictable response: That response, in turn, furthers a goal that advances your interests. By luring your opponent into agreeing with your initial assumptions, you can control the narrative, and ultimate outcome, in your favor. Best of all, the outcome is one in which your adversary has voluntarily acceded. This is exactly what has happened with much of the American public in the course of Mueller’s investigation.

The assumptions that culminated in Mr. Barr’s conclusions began almost two years ago, when the White House, Trump supporters and the media characterized the focus of the special counsel’s investigation as “collusion.” The word “collusion” does not appear anywhere in Mr. Mueller’s appointment letter: His mandate was to investigate any “links and/or coordination” between the Trump campaign and Russia. There is a good reason for this: “Collusion” is the legal equivalent of Jell-O. Outside of specific factual contexts — such as price fixing in antitrust law — the word “collusion” has no legal meaning or significance. In fact, in his report, Mr. Mueller explicitly stated that his conclusions were not about collusion, “which is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States code.”

Read more at the link. It’s fascinating.

Here’s an interesting take on the Mueller Report from The Washington Post’s book critic: The Mueller report isn’t just a legal document. It’s also the best book on the Trump White House so far.

The Mueller report is that rare Washington tell-all that surpasses its pre-publication hype.

Sure, it is a little longer than necessary. Too many footnotes and distracting redactions. The writing is often flat, and the first half of the book drags, covering plenty of terrain that has been described elsewhere. The story shifts abruptly between riveting insider tales and dense legalisms. Its protagonist doesn’t really come alive until halfway through, once Volume I (on Russian interference) gives way to Volume II (on obstruction of justice). The title — far too prosaic, really — feels like a missed opportunity. And it hardly helps that the book’s earliest reviewer, Attorney General William Barr, seems to have willfully misunderstood the point of it; he probably should not have been assigned to review it at all.

Yet as an authoritative account, the Mueller report is the best book by far on the workings of the Trump presidency. It was delivered to the attorney general but is also written for history. The book reveals the president in all his impulsiveness, insecurity and growing disregard for rules and norms; White House aides alternating between deference to the man and defiance of his “crazy s—” requests; and a campaign team too inept to realize, or too reckless to care, when they might have been bending the law. And special counsel Robert Mueller has it all under oath, on the record, along with interviews and contemporaneous notes backing it up. No need for a “Note on Use of Anonymous Sources” disclaimer. Mueller doesn’t just have receipts — he seems to know what almost everyone wanted to buy.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?

19 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads: Counterintelligence and Cats in High Places”

  1. bostonboomer says:

  2. bostonboomer says:

  3. quixote says:

    This Geltzer and Goodman line: “Was Donald Trump a … Russian asset, used … to undermine our democracy and national security?”

    All I can think is a Tucker Carlsonoid looking all bemused at the camera, saying, “But is water really wet?”

    • bostonboomer says:

      It’s pretty clear they know that. The article tries to explain how counterintelligence assessments are made and why they aren’t about criminality per se. The House Intelligence Committee is going to have to get a briefing on the investigation and call witness to testify in public and education the Americans who haven’t followed this as closely as we have.

      • quixote says:

        I know what you’re saying, but always still feel gobsmacked at the thought that anybody needs to be educated on this. It seems to me that ET visiting Earth for a week and mainly occupied with rebuilding her spaceship would know all about it within a day or two.

        I do understand motivated reasoning. I wonder if there’s anyone out there who honestly has not paid enough attention to know?

        • bostonboomer says:

          Trust me. There are lots of people who have barely surface knowledge of the investigation and how bad Trump’s behavior has been.

          • NW Luna says:

            I know. Once in a while at work I’ll make a comment on politics, and even though my coworkers who are friends are also liberals, they often haven’t heard of whatever corrupt act it is that I’m outraged about.

  4. dakinikat says:

    We definitely need to federally fund local election infrastructure and security measures. I don’t know why we get some one to propose a law on it not that the Republicans want it because election interference and blocking voting keeps them in office.

    This stuff is truly scary and what of the Chinese? or North Korea? These folks keep trying to hack everything too.

    • NW Luna says:

      Agree. I think some blue states have taken a few measures to improve voting-system integrity. Of course we really need that in the red states. Our infrastructure is vulnerable to their hacking — that’s been obvious for a few years and it doesn’t seem anything is being done about that.

  5. NW Luna says:

    Love the kitty photos.

  6. NW Luna says:

    The very fact that Trump won’t give over any details from his tete-a-tetes with Russians seems evidence of snakehood.

  7. dakinikat says:

  8. dakinikat says:

    Here’ you go bb!!!!

  9. Nilzeitung says:

    Froh Ostern,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,for you and all dear family health and success with your blog !!!