As the dust settles from release of the redacted Mueller report, national security and intelligence professionals have spent the week straining to underscore the fact that the sitting American president is serving as a hostile force from within. Though none of them have articulated the connection so explicitly, the flashing red lights are all heading in the same direction. In a speech Friday, FBI Director Chris Wray warned that the Russian attack Donald Trump continues to deny took place in 2016 has evolved into a “365-day-a-year threat.”
“What has pretty much continued unabated is the use of social media, fake news, propaganda, false personas, etc. to spin us up, pit us against each other, to sow divisiveness and discord, to undermine America’s faith in democracy,” Wray explained. “That is not just an election-cycle threat. It is pretty much a 365-day-a-year threat.”
In response to what Wray called a “significant” and ongoing offensive, the FBI recently moved nearly 40 agents and analysts to the counterintelligence division, according to the New York Times. But it’s not the only agency that has stepped up efforts to combat the Russian incursion.
The Department of Homeland Security made its midterm election task forces permanent, folding them into an election security initiative at their National Risk Management Center. And the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command have also expanded and made permanent their joint task force aimed at identifying, and stopping, Russian malign influence, officials said.
Even Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in the midst of a bizarre speech in which he praised Trump’s commitment to law enforcement, noted that the Russian efforts detailed in Mueller’s report were “only the tip of the iceberg.” That assessment alone is frightening considering the fact that intelligence analysts came out of the woodwork this week to explain the “counterintelligence minefield” the special counsel’s report represented. In particular, the repeated efforts of Trump associates to establish backchannel communications with Moscow, both during and after the campaign, presented dangerous openings for Russian operatives to exploit.
“The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community,” Luis Rueda, a CIA veteran of 27 years, told NBC News. “The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access.”
The dangers of such backchannels were expanded upon in a court filing concerning convicted Russian agent Maria Butina, who was sentenced this week to serving 18 months in prison before being deported back to Russia.
“Butina’s stated goal of establishing a backchannel of communication, if it had been achieved, would have benefited the Russian government by enabling Russia to bypass formal channels of diplomacy, win concessions, and exert influence within the United States,” Robert Anderson, a former FBI assistant director of counterintelligence, explained in a written affidavit. Anderson said such a breach would allow Russia to disrupt the nation’s political system, governance, foreign policy, and national security. “In my expert opinion, Butina provided the Russian Federation with information that skilled intelligence officers can exploit for years and that may cause significant damage to the United States,” he wrote.
Amid this wellspring of DEFCON 1 alarm from people who actually know a little something about something came Exhibit A, Jared Kushner, spouting Russian talking points about what a nothingburger Moscow’s 2016 assault was.
“I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads,” Kushner told the audience at a Time 100 summit. Russia’s propaganda arm, RT, pounced on Kushner’s disinformation with a story titled, “Kushner says ‘a couple of Facebook ads’ didn’t swing the election, Democrats go crazy.” Heck of a job, Kushy.
In the meantime, the intelligence professionals and the agencies trying to beat back Russian cyber attacks in 2020 can’t even properly coordinate with each other because Trump is such a soulless shell of a critter that his flagging ego can’t handle any mention of Russia’s multimillion bid to get him elected.
These are the signs of a system laboring under a boss who himself is a malign actor. Regardless of Trump’s motivations and awareness, he is undeniably serving as a hostile force undermining our government from within. And as Rosenstein pointed out, America doesn’t know the half of it. In fact, while Mueller’s redacted report included separate sections on conspiracy and obstruction, the American public still has no idea about the status of the underlying counterintelligence investigation on which the entire probe was originally premised. As another former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence noted this week, Trump could still be a named subject of that probe and we would be none the wiser.
“Where is it?” Frank Figliuzzi wondered Friday on The Rachel Maddow Show, referencing the whereabouts of that counterintelligence probe. “We don’t know today Rachel whether the president’s name has been removed from the title of that counterintelligence case.”
We sure don’t know the answer to that question, but what we know for certain is that Trump is putting our nation at risk.