In a cross between a Spy v. Spy cartoon and a John Le Carre novel, American spies briefly bought into a scheme to retrieve stolen cyberweapons and obtain kompromat on Donald Trump from an unnamed Russian — and it looks like they were set up. New York Times:
After months of secret negotiations, a shadowy Russian bilked American spies out of $100,000 last year, promising to deliver stolen National Security Agency cyberweapons in a deal that he insisted would also include compromising material on President Trump, according to American and European intelligence officials.
The cash, delivered in a suitcase to a Berlin hotel room in September, was intended as the first installment of a $1 million payout, according to American officials, the Russian and communications reviewed by The New York Times. The theft of the secret hacking tools had been devastating to the N.S.A., and the agency was struggling to get a full inventory of what was missing.
Several American intelligence officials said they made clear that they did not want the Trump material from the Russian — who was suspected of having murky ties to Russian intelligence and to Eastern European cybercriminals. He claimed the information would link the president and his associates to Russia. But instead of providing the hacking tools, the Russian produced unverified and possibly fabricated information involving Mr. Trump and others, including bank records, emails and purported Russian intelligence data.
The United States intelligence officials said they cut off the deal because they were wary of being entangled in a Russian operation to create discord inside the American government. They were also fearful of political fallout in Washington if they were seen to be buying scurrilous information on the president.
Make no mistake, it would suit Vladimir Putin just fine to be able to keep the waters as muddied as possible and there’s no question but that conservative media outlets would love nothing more than to find a salacious new conspiracy theory to denounce the Trump-Russia investigation with. That’s well known and undoubtedly this Russian spy, or counter spy, knew it as well.
But his apparent eagerness to sell the Trump “kompromat” — a Russian term for information used to gain leverage over someone — to American spies raised suspicions among officials that he was part of an operation to feed the information into United States intelligence agencies and pit them against Mr. Trump. Early in the negotiations, for instance, he dropped his asking price from about $10 million to just over $1 million. Then, a few months later, he showed the American businessman a 15-second clip of a video showing a man in a room talking to two women.
No audio could be heard on the video, and there was no way to verify if the man was Mr. Trump, as the Russian claimed. But the choice of venue for showing the clip heightened American suspicions of a Russian operation: The viewing took place at the Russian embassy in Berlin, the businessman said.
There may indeed be Russians with secrets to sell. There are unquestionably Russian officials who would like nothing more than to inflame partisan tensions and cast doubt on the FBI Trump-Russia investigation. It looks like this attempt to discredit Trump-Russia fizzled out. There will probably be many more.