Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Michael Flynn’s replacement as National Security Advisor wasn’t making Himself a happy camper.
Trump has complained in front of McMaster in intelligence briefings about “the general undermining my policy,” according to two White House officials. The president has given McMaster less face time. McMaster’s requests to brief the president before some press interviews have been declined.
Trump has privately expressed regret for choosing McMaster. Last Monday, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who was a finalist for McMaster’s job, met with Trump to discuss a range of issues with the National Security Council.
An hour ago, Gen. McMaster gave a briefing at the G7 meeting. What he said doesn’t inspire confidence.
McMaster, a decorated three-star Army general, was asked whether he would be concerned if an official on his National Security Council staff or elsewhere in the Trump administration sought a back-channel communications system with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin in Moscow.
“No,” McMaster said. “We have back-channel communications with a number of countries. So, generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner.”
He continued, “No, I would not be concerned about it.”
A couple of quick points for the general’s clarification:
At the time of Mr. Kushner’s inquiries and the Kremlin’s response, relayed through Mr. Kislyak, Jared Kushner was a private citizen. There was no Trump Administration in December.
Secondly, what was proposed was nothing like the sort of “back-channel communications” typically used in international affairs. It would have required the American contact go to the Russian embassy and use Russian-encrypted comm gear.
The most famous back-channel message in US diplomatic history is probably President Kennedy’s offer to remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets pulling their missiles from Cuba. That message was conveyed by Attorney General Robert Kennedy to Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Robert Kennedy’s office in the Justice Department on Saturday, 27 October 1962.
Dobrynin relayed the message to the Kremlin over secure lines from the Soviet embassy, as was proper procedure. At no time was it considered that Kennedy himself enter the embassy to send the message. That simply isn’t done.
“For employee-security rules, the U.S intelligence community treats visiting a foreign embassy like visiting a foreign country. Many of the most significant examples of U.S. espionage all occurred through foreign embassies,” said Susan Hennessy, a Brookings fellow and a former attorney in the National Security Agency’s office of general counsel.
What Kushner and Kislyac tried to set up is a secret information pipeline undetectable to US intelligence monitoring. A spy phone, if you want to sound like a cheap movie.
Gen. McMaster’s apparent unconcern about such a highly irregular and suspect communication method casts doubt on his ability to police the anarchy that prevails in the current White House. The last grownup ain’t cutting it.