What Cold War intrigue can tell us about the Trump-Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: It began with evidence of a breach of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and has now evolved into a sprawling counterintelligence investigation to determine whether there was any coordination between members of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign staff and the Russian government, perhaps even influencing the 2016 election.

When James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, went before Congress on March 20 and confirmed the existence of the Trump-Russia investigation, it echoed of the Cold War investigations in which the bureau and the C.I.A. searched for agents hidden in the government who had spied for Moscow.

A look back at those Cold War cases may reveal lessons for today’s investigators. Above all, those past cases show it could take years before the new investigation uncovers any answers.

Spy hunts usually begin with an unexplained incident. In the Trump-Russia case, there was the hacking of the D.N.C.’s computers. In 1985, there was an arrest on the streets of Moscow.

In June 1985, Burton Gerber, the chief of the Soviet-East European division of the Central Intelligence Agency, was about to sit down to dinner at his home in Washington when he received devastating news. Paul Stombaugh, a C.I.A. case officer, had just been arrested by the K.G.B. in Moscow. Mr. Stombaugh had been caught while he was on a clandestine mission to meet the C.I.A.’s most important Russian spy, Adolf Tolkachev, a scientist at a secret military design facility who had been providing the Americans with top-secret information about Soviet weapons systems. Mr. Gerber knew that Mr. Stombaugh’s arrest meant that Mr. Tolkachev, an agent the C.I.A. had code-named GTVANQUISH, had certainly been arrested as well.

The arrest and subsequent execution of Mr. Tolkachev was the most damaging of a series of mysterious spy losses suffered by the C.I.A. in 1985. In fact, there was so much espionage activity between the C.I.A. and the K.G.B. that burst into public view in 1985 that it became known as the Year of the Spy.

But why?

Debate swirled inside the cloistered world of American counterintelligence. Could all the spy losses be blamed on C.I.A. incompetence? Or had they resulted from something more sinister, like a Russian mole inside the agency?

That 1985 debate has in some ways been mirrored in the public debate about the hacking of the D.N.C. during the 2016 presidential campaign. Did some hacker simply take advantage of the committee’s cyber-incompetence, or was an American political party the specific and premeditated target of Russian intelligence? [Continue reading…]

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