Daniel Hoffman writes: Russians are fond of a proverb, “besplatniy sir biyvaet tol’ko v mishelovke”: “Free cheese can be found only in a mousetrap.”
Having long considered the United States its main enemy, the Kremlin deploys a full quiver of intelligence weapons against America and its national security agencies, political parties and defense contractors. Its intelligence services, though best known for clandestine operations to recruit spies, also run covert “influence operations” that often use disinformation to try to affect decisions or events in rival countries. A central tool of those operations is “kompromat,” “compromising material”: things of seemingly great value that are dangled, at what appears to be no cost, before unwitting targets. This is the “free cheese” that ensnares victims in a trap.
I know all this from having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the C.I.A., observing Soviet, and then Russian, intelligence operations. I came to realize that President Vladimir Putin, who spent his formative years in the K.G.B., the Soviet Union’s main intelligence agency, and served as director of its successor agency, the F.S.B., wants, as much as anything, to destabilize the American political process. For all his talk of desiring friendly relations, Mr. Putin favors a state of animosity between our two nations. By characterizing the United States and NATO as Russia’s enemies, he can attack within his own borders what threatens him the most — the ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy, of which the United States has been a defender.
This background is necessary for understanding the real meaning of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Kremlin-connected Russians and three representatives of Donald Trump’s campaign: his son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then the campaign manager. The evidence that has emerged from this meeting strongly suggests that this was not an effort to establish a secure back channel for collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign but an influence operation with one simple objective: to undermine the presidential election.
No conclusive proof has yet emerged that the Kremlin arranged this meeting, and the Russians involved have asserted they were not working for the Putin government. Mr. Kushner himself told Senate investigators that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. But to me, the clearest evidence that this was a Russian influence operation is the trail of bread crumbs the Kremlin seemed to have deliberately left leading from Trump Tower to the Kremlin. This operation was meant to be discovered. [Continue reading…]