Sources and Methods

It wasn’t fake news. On an odd Tuesday filled with odd news, Donald Trump did fire his rabidly aggressive national security advisor, Michael Flynn, just after the CIA and FBI and all the rest leaked to the press that this guy had lied about how close he was to the Russians and they could easily blackmail him. They had the goods on the guy.

Trump seems to have sat on the information for three weeks, and still says Flynn did nothing wrong, really. But he let him go. But it wasn’t the Russia thing. It was lying to the vice president and the chief of staff and the press secretary about his chats with the Russians. They went out and said that Flynn never talked to the Russians about Obama’s sanctions for messing with our election, and he never hinted to the Russians that those would be lifted soon enough. He had. Pence and Priebus and Spencer were hung out to dry – so Trump cut Flynn lose, not that what he had done was wrong. It was the lies. He screwed those three guys. It was a matter of trust.

That solved that problem, but it didn’t, because the CIA and FBI and all the rest – the intelligence community – would have its revenge:

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s access to classified information was suspended, the Defense Intelligence Agency said Wednesday, pending a review of his compliance with “applicable security clearance directives.”

James Kudla, a public affairs officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Talking Points Memo by phone Wednesday that Flynn’s access to classified information had been suspended pending further review.

Kudla said such a suspension took place when there were questions as to whether “an individual is in compliance with applicable security clearance directives,” but did not go into further detail…

Kudla said on the phone that such a suspension was “purely administrative” and did not “presage” any other action.

No, it did not presage anything. It sent a message. James Clapper and Obama fired this guy. Trump had to fire this guy. He was once good at this intelligence stuff and then he lost it. He went off the deep end, and now he can say, with his odd pride in saying what no one else would say – that Islam is not a religion and all the rest – that he was fired by two presidents in row. He may see that as a badge of honor – he probably will – but the message from the intelligence community to Donald Trump is clear. What the hell were you thinking?

That’s the question that worries them. Late Wednesday night, the Wall Street Journal published another bombshell story alleging that, according to “current and former intelligence] officials” they contacted, the intelligence community has been withholding sensitive intelligence from President Trump:

In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.

A White House official said: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”

How would they know? They were not given sources and methods, so they don’t know what they don’t know, but maybe they didn’t need to know – and maybe there’s a reason this happened. In late January, someone burned our sources:

Ever since American intelligence agencies accused Russia of trying to influence the American election, there have been questions about the proof they had to support the accusation.

But the news from Moscow may explain how the agencies could be so certain that it was the Russians who hacked the email of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Two Russian intelligence officers who worked on cyberoperations and a Russian computer security expert have been arrested and charged with treason for providing information to the United States, according to multiple Russian news reports.

Someone here who had been briefed on sources and methods knew their names, and then Putin knew their names. We can never use those assets again. No one knows if this was the work of Michael Flynn, doing a little horsetrading with his Russian contacts, but now no one in the White House will be briefed on sources and methods – better safe than sorry:

As in most espionage cases, the details made public so far are incomplete, and some rumors in Moscow suggest that those arrested may be scapegoats in an internal power struggle over the hacking. Russian media reports link the charges to the disclosure of the Russian role in attacking state election boards, including the scanning of voter rolls in Arizona and Illinois, and do not mention the parallel attacks on the DNC and the email of John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.

But one current and one former United States official, speaking about the classified recruitments on condition of anonymity, confirmed that human sources in Russia did play a crucial role in proving who was responsible for the hacking.

The former official said the agencies were initially reluctant to disclose their certainty about the Russian role for fear of setting off a mole hunt in Moscow.

Now they’ll never disclose the details of their certainty about anything. There’s always a Michael Flynn out there, and John Cassidy adds the necessary context:

On Wednesday, standing beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a White House press conference, Donald Trump blamed the press, the intelligence agencies, and Hillary Clinton for the ouster of Michael Flynn, his former national-security adviser.

“Michael Flynn, General Flynn, is wonderful man,” Trump said, after a reporter asked about Flynn. “I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.” Trump went on, “Papers are being leaked. Things are being leaked. It’s a criminal act. And it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”

Cassidy notes the obvious deflection:

It looks like what actually happened is that the White House, in an effort to quell the growing furor over the President’s ties to Russia, offered up Flynn as a fall guy. It’s an open secret that Flynn didn’t have many allies in the West Wing. It’s also been reported that he had tensions with James Mattis, the Defense Secretary, and Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. Over the past few weeks, in fact, it has sometimes seemed like Flynn’s only defender in the Administration was Trump, who had valued his loyalty during the bruising Presidential campaign.

But, when it comes to fending off threats to the President (any President), friendships and loyalties take second place to political necessity. Over the weekend, it was clear that some Republicans on Capitol Hill were getting increasingly concerned about the Flynn/Russia stories and the larger questions they raised. It wasn’t just the usual Trump antagonists – John McCain and Lindsey Graham – who made noise; it was loyal party stalwarts such as Bob Corker, John Cornyn, and Roy Blunt. With GOP members of this ilk going wobbly, it was essential for the White House to respond. That meant that Flynn had to go.

That’s cynical in the way that cynicism is often just the cold hard truth. But that’s not the whole story:

The only new twist was the allegation that some of them – the government officials who’d leaked the Flynn story to the press – were also breaking the law. “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy,” Trump tweeted, on Wednesday morning. “Very un-American!”

This was nothing more or less than a McCarthyite smear. “By oath, intelligence officials’ first duty is to ‘defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,'” Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative and Republican congressional aide, who ran for President last year as an independent, pointed out on Twitter.

In the cases of Flynn and the Trump campaign aides who reportedly were intercepted speaking numerous times with Russian intelligence agents, a case can be made that the leaks were driven primarily by alarm about the possible infiltration and subversion of the US political system. In other words, the leakers were motivated by patriotism, not politics. To quote another of McMullin’s tweets – “So, the real scandal isn’t that the President of the United States of America appears to have been co-opted by America’s greatest adversary?”

That is the problem here:

The White House will be content if it can confine the Russia inquiries to the congressional intelligence committees, which have already said they will look into Russian hacking. But make no mistake: Trump is facing some dangerous developments, including the sight of Senator Corker, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spelling things out bluntly. “The basic issue is getting to the bottom of what the Russian interference was, and what the relationship was with associates of the Trump effort,” Corker said, appearing on “Morning Joe” on Wednesday. “That is the big elephant in the room that has to be dealt with in the most appropriate way.”

Still, where there is a problem, there is a solution:

President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.

The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump blamed leaks from the intelligence community for the departure of Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, whose resignation he requested.

There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. He is a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.

Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

So the solution is in the works, and he’s their kind of guy:

Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies.

Trump could eventually put him in charge of the CIA or something, and thus fix things:

On an array of issues – including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy – much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy.

Feinberg will get the CIA to prove that Putin in a fine fellow, but that sort of thing hasn’t worked before:

The last time an outsider with no intelligence experience took the job was in the early days of the Reagan administration, when Max Hugel, a businessman who had worked on Mr. Reagan’s campaign, was named to run the spy service. His tenure at the CIA was marked by turmoil and questions about the politicization of the agency. He was forced to resign after six months, amid accusations about his past business dealings.

That could be a problem here:

Cerberus also owns Remington Outdoor, a major firearms manufacturer.

In 2008, Mr. Feinberg also considered investing in Blackwater, the security firm founded by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy SEALs, before it was ultimately acquired by other investors.

New York magazine reported last year that Mr. Feinberg went to Blackwater’s North Carolina compound in 2005 to take firearms training.

Now, Feinberg’s Cerberus owns the renamed Blackwater:

Academi is an American private military company founded in 1997 by former Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince as Blackwater, renamed as XE Services in 2009 and now known as Academi since 2011 after the company was acquired by a group of private investors. The company received widespread notoriety in 2007, when a group of its employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians and injured 20 in Nisour Square, Baghdad for which four guards were convicted in a United States court.

Just like Blackwater, Academi provides security services to the United States federal government on a contractual basis – and their guys with guns don’t have to follow the rules. That was the problem in Baghdad ten years ago. They killed all those civilians. There was outrage. Then more than a few of our real soldiers died. Oops. Everyone should follow the rules.

Donald Trump doesn’t think that way, but Michael Crowley argues that Trump isn’t solving the underlying problem:

A barrage of damning revelations about contacts between Donald Trump’s associates and Russian officials threatens to derail his plans for a closer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Growing political pressure on Trump to stand up to Putin rather than work with him could even escalate tensions between the United States and Russia to dangerous levels.

U.S. officials, Russia experts and Kremlin officials are all lowering their expectations for a thaw in relations after the ouster of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn…

Trump may now be forced to play the tough guy, and things get dicey:

“It feels to a lot of us like something’s off” about the Trump team’s thinking on Moscow, said one career government official whose duties include Russia.

But, the official added: “After the past 48 hours, I think it’s unlikely they’re going to push this hard anytime soon.”

The president also has found that congressional Republicans are not as warm to the idea of a closer relationship with Putin.

“Russia is not our friend,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday…

“The big issue right now is dealing with this Russia issue, making sure that it doesn’t destabilize our ability to move ahead as a country,” Corker added.

This will not go well:

“Trump will find it difficult to do anything that looks like he is reaching out to Russia without sparking a firestorm about what his real intentions are, whether he’s trying to sell out American interest,” said Thomas Graham, a former top Russia official in George W. Bush’s White House.

“The relationship was dangerous before because of the lack of communication. But even more so now if Trump concludes that he needs to overcompensate,” Graham said.

And, on the other side, Josh Marshall has been following the official Russian press:

Russian government officials say President Trump is the target of an information war and a purge of pro-Russian officials on a part with the Great Terror of the 1930s when Stalin purged vast numbers of party officials and military officers. No, I’m not kidding.

Nikolai Kovalev, former head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB told Interfax: “This is disinformation. There’s an information war against Trump in which, as we can see, all means are [considered] necessary. These political games will continue as long as anti-Russian sentiment has a serious presence in the American establishment.”

Leonid Slutsky lamented that Trump may turn out to be pro-American rather than pro-Russian. Russia had “decided too soon, for all our unconditional sympathy to President Trump’s constructive rhetoric, he’s pro-Russian in some way – he’s pro-American.”

They aren’t happy with that, but Trump isn’t happy either:

President Donald Trump blamed “conspiracy theories and blind hatred” – and an attempt to “cover-up” for Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign – in a series of tweets Wednesday morning as he tried to distance himself from any links to Russia.

Trump tweeted that the “fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred,” and added that “this Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.”

In short, blame Hillary, and stop talking:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday ignored shouted questions about his administration’s reported ties to Russia.

During a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Trump took two questions from U.S. media outlets about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iran nuclear deal.

Neither of those questions centered on Russia – the biggest issue this week that ultimately led to the resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who served less than 30 days at the post.

When CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to ask Trump about Flynn, the president smiled, thanked the audience and walked away.

He’s not taking questions from the likes of CNN:

Wednesday’s event marked the third straight press conference where reporters were not able to ask the president about the biggest issue of the day. Trump has mostly called on friendlier outlets in the conservative space: The New York Post, Fox News, Sinclair’s ABC7, The Daily Caller, Christian Broadcasting Network and Townhall.com.

He’s freezing out CNN and MSNBC and CBS and the majors, everyone major network but Fox News, and the Washington Post and the New York Times and all the rest, so they’ll have nothing to report. Good luck with that. Now they’ll be eager to find lots to report.

He’ll shut down or at least tame the intelligence community too, with his New York billionaire buddy, but there are always workarounds. In Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald reports that US allies in Western Europe have been conducting intelligence operations against the United States for months:

Sources said the interceptions include at least one contact between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian official based in the United States…

The sources said the intercepted communications are not just limited to telephone calls: The foreign agency is also gathering electronic and human source information on Trump’s overseas business partners, at least some of whom the intelligence services now consider to be agents of their respective governments.

Moreover, a Baltic nation is gathering intelligence on officials in the Trump White House and executives with the president’s company, the Trump Organization, out of concern that an American policy shift toward Russia could endanger its sovereignty, according to a third person with direct ties to that nation’s government…

These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country’s most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented – where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official.

Well, someone has to check on what’s really going on, even if they don’t tell us:

The information gathered by the Western European government has been widely shared among the NATO allies, although it is not clear how much has been provided to American intelligence officials.

That’s a bit distressing, but we might as well get used to being in the dark, if we can:

The number of Americans stressed about the election and its aftermath has risen sharply, according to a report released Wednesday.

The American Psychological Association (APA) poll, conducted between Jan. 4-19, revealed that 57% of adult Americans consider the current political climate to be a significant source of stress. That’s up from 52% of Americans who felt the same in August. Americans also felt increasingly more stressed, with people on average reporting that their stress levels rose from 4.8 to 5.1 (out of 10) between August and January. The increase is the fastest rise on record since the APA’s Stress in America survey first began in 2007, the report stated.

There’s only one answer to that:

“For many, the transition of power and the speed of change can cause uncertainty and feelings of stress, and that stress can have health consequences. If the 24-hour news cycle is causing you stress, limit your media consumption,” Katherine Nordal, APA’s executive director for professional practice, said in a statement. “Read enough to stay informed but then plan activities that give you a regular break from the issues and the stress they might cause. And remember to take care of yourself and pay attention to other areas of your life.”

Everyone has their sources and methods.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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