Sunday, July 16, 2017

Former CIA Analyst's Analysis

[E]verything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election.

Begging the question: what did they do after Junior's infamous meeting?
My read, as someone who has been part of the U.S. intelligence community for more than four decades [and director of the Intelligence and Defense Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center], is that Veselnitskaya is probably too well-connected to have independently initiated such a high-level and sensitive encounter. If she had, her use of known Trump and Kremlin associates (Aras and Emin Agalarov) to help make introductions and the suggestion, in Goldstone’s account, that she wanted to share “official documents and information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump could have gotten her into significant trouble.


A better explanation is that Veselnitskaya is far enough removed from Moscow’s halls of power to make her a good fit as an intermediary in an intelligence operation — as a “cut-out” with limited knowledge of the larger scheme and as an “access agent” sent to assess and test a high-priority target’s interest in cooperation. She may have had her own agenda going into the meeting: to lobby against the Magnitsky Act, which happens to affect some of her clients. But her agenda dovetailed with Kremlin interests — and it would have added another layer of plausible deniability.


Moreover, Russian intelligence presumably would not have risked passing high-value information through Veselnitskaya. As an untrained asset or co-optee — not a professional intelligence officer by any account — she would not have been entrusted with making a direct intelligence recruitment approach, including the passage of compromising information. Formalizing a relationship with the Trump campaign would be left for another day.
Perhaps that is where Kushner's subsequent attempt to set up a Russian safe channel of communication comes in.
But even at the soft-pitch stage, standard Russian intelligence practice would require making clear what was on offer. The point is to test the target. Are they open to entering into a compromising relationship? Will they rebuff the mere suggestion of such impropriety? Will they alert authorities and thus stand in the way of Russian efforts? And here, the deal should have been obvious to everyone.
Oh, I think it was. Junior "loved" it.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

No comments: