Flynn was warned by Trump transition officials about contacts with Russian ambassador

The Washington Post reports: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was warned by senior members of President Trump’s transition team about the risks of his contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks before the December call that led to Flynn’s forced resignation, current and former U.S. officials said.

Flynn was told during a late November meeting that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s conversations were almost certainly being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said, a caution that came a month before Flynn was recorded discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, suggesting that the Trump administration would reevaluate the issue.

Officials were so concerned that Flynn did not fully understand the motives of the Russian ambassador that the head of Trump’s national security council transition team asked Obama administration officials for a classified CIA profile of Kislyak, officials said. The document was delivered within days, officials said, but it is not clear that Flynn ever read it.

The previously undisclosed sequence reveals the extent to which even some Trump insiders were troubled by the still-forming administration’s entanglements with Russia and its enthusiasm for a friendly relationship with the Kremlin. [Continue reading…]

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Is there a Russian mole inside the NSA? The CIA? Both?

Kevin Poulsen writes: A message from Vladimir Putin can take many forms.

It can be as heavy-handed as a pair of Russian bombers buzzing the Alaska coast, or as lethal as the public assassination of a defector on the streets of Kiev. Now Putin may be sending a message to the American government through a more subtle channel: an escalating series of U.S. intelligence leaks that last week exposed an NSA operation in the Middle East and the identity of an agency official who participated.

The leaks by self-described hackers calling themselves “the Shadow Brokers” began in the final months of the Obama administration and increased in frequency and impact after the U.S. bombing of a Syrian airfield this month—a move that angered Russia. The group has not been tied to the Kremlin with anything close to the forensic certitude of last year’s election-related hacks, but security experts say the Shadow Brokers’ attacks fit the pattern established by Russia’s GRU during their election hacking. In that operation, according to U.S. intelligence findings, Russia created fictitious Internet personas to launder some of their stolen emails, including the fake whistleblowing site called DCLeaks and a notional Romanian hacker named “Guccifer 2.0.” [Continue reading…]

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CIA chief Pompeo: Wikileaks ‘hostile intelligence service’

BBC News reports: The head of the CIA Mike Pompeo has described anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” that is often abetted by states such as Russia.

Russian military intelligence used Wikileaks to distribute hacked material during the US election, he added.

Earlier this month Wikileaks published details of what it said were CIA hacking tools.

The FBI and CIA have launched a criminal investigation into the leak.

“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” Mr Pompeo said, speaking at a Washington think tank.

“It overwhelmingly focuses on the US, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organisations,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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CIA had evidence of Russian effort to help Trump earlier than believed

The New York Times reports: The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the C.I.A. and counterparts at the F.B.I., where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed only at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews.

The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break. [Continue reading…]

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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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Authorities question CIA contractors in connection with WikiLeaks dump

The Wall Street Journal reports: Investigators probing who may have provided WikiLeaks with classified information about the Central Intelligence Agency’s purported computer-hacking techniques are zeroing in on a small number of contractors who have worked for the agency and may have been disgruntled over recent job losses, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Authorities on Thursday questioned a handful of contractors working in at least two locations in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., these people said. Law-enforcement officials said no arrests had been made, but one person familiar with the investigation said it was “rapidly unfolding.”

This person added that a digital trail has pointed authorities, at least initially, to a team of software developers working with the CIA’s Engineering Development Group. The group designs tools that, according to the documents released this week by WikiLeaks, the CIA uses to break into smartphones, personal computers and televisions connected to the internet. The more than 8,000 pages of documents that WikiLeaks disclosed appear to have been taken last December from a server that the Engineering Development Group uses, this person said, and that “only a few contractors would have access to.”

More than a dozen companies work for the CIA on hacking projects, the bulk of them at a facility near Chantilly, Va. It wasn’t clear which companies the people who were questioned worked for. In recent months, there has been talk of “bad blood” in the small world of CIA contractors who are vital to the agency’s hacking projects, the people familiar with the probe said. One group of contractors recently had been working for the CIA overseas and expected to be given new jobs with the agency in the U.S., but their positions were later eliminated, one person said. [Continue reading…]

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The truth about the WikiLeaks CIA cache

Zeynep Tufekci writes: On Tuesday morning, WikiLeaks released an enormous cache of documents that it claimed detailed “C.I.A. hacking tools.” Immediately afterward, it posted two startling tweets asserting that “C.I.A. hacker malware” posed a threat to journalists and others who require secure communication by infecting iPhone and Android devices and “bypassing” encrypted message apps such as Signal and WhatsApp.

This appeared to be a bombshell. Signal is considered the gold standard for secure communication. WhatsApp has a billion users. The C.I.A., it seemed, had the capacity to conduct sweeping surveillance on what we had previously assumed were our safest and most private digital conversations.

In their haste to post articles about the release, almost all the leading news organizations took the WikiLeaks tweets at face value. Their initial accounts mentioned Signal, WhatsApp and other encrypted apps by name, and described them as “bypassed” or otherwise compromised by the C.I.A.’s cyberspying tools.

Yet on closer inspection, this turned out to be misleading. Neither Signal nor WhatsApp, for example, appears by name in any of the alleged C.I.A. files in the cache. (Using automated tools to search the whole database, as security researchers subsequently did, turned up no hits.) More important, the hacking methods described in the documents do not, in fact, include the ability to bypass such encrypted apps — at least not in the sense of “bypass” that had seemed so alarming. Indeed, if anything, the C.I.A. documents in the cache confirm the strength of encryption technologies. [Continue reading…]

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How the CIA’s hacking hoard makes everyone less secure

Andy Greenberg writes: When Wikileaks yesterday released a trove of documents purporting to show how the CIA hacks everything from smartphones to PCs to smart televisions, the agency’s already shadowy reputation gained a new dimension. But if you’re an average American, rather than Edward Snowden or an ISIS jihadi, the real danger clarified by that leak wasn’t that someone in Langley is watching you through your hotel room’s TV. It’s the rest of the hacker world that the CIA has inadvertently empowered.

As security researchers and policy analysts dig through the latest WikiLeaks documents, the sheer number of hacking tools the CIA has apparently hoarded for exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities—secret inroads that tech firms haven’t patched—stands out most. If the US intelligence community knows about them, that leaves open the possibility that criminal and foreign state hackers do as well.

Its broad zero-day stash, then, strongly suggests that the CIA—along with other intelligence agencies—has long allowed Americans to remain vulnerable to those same attacks. Now that those hacking secrets are public, potentially along with enough details to replicate them, the danger of the feds leaving major security flaws unfixed only escalates.

“If the CIA can use it, so can the Russians, or the Chinese or organized crime,” says Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “The lesson here, first off, is that stockpiling a bunch of vulnerabilities is bad for cybersecurity. And two, it means they’re likely going to get leaked by someone.”

It’s no surprise, of course, that one of America’s most well-resourced spy agencies can hack its foreign adversaries. The shock, says Johns Hopkins cryptographer Matt Green, comes instead from the sudden spill of those hacking tools onto the web. “In the same way the military would probably have one technique for killing every single tank in an enemy’s arsenal, you would expect the CIA to collect the same thing,” says Green. “What’s different is that we’re seeing them out in public.”

In fact, WikiLeaks wrote in a note accompanying its Tuesday release that “the archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner.” That raises the possibility the full document set, along with actual exploit details or code, may have fallen into the hands of hackers long before it was published in part by WikiLeaks. [Continue reading…]

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Wikileaks files show the CIA repurposing hacking code to save time, not to frame Russia

The Intercept reports: Attributing hacking attacks to the correct perpetrators is notoriously difficult. Even the U.S. government, for all its technical resources and expertise, took warranted criticism for trying to pin a high-profile 2014 cyberattack on North Korea, and more recently faced skepticism when it blamed Russia for hacks against top Democrats during the 2016 election.

In those cases, government officials said they based their attribution in part on software tools the hackers employed, which had been used in other cyberattacks linked to North Korea and Russia. But that sort of evidence is not conclusive; hackers have been known to intentionally use or leave behind software and other distinctive material linked to other groups as part of so-called false flag operations intended to falsely implicate other parties. Researchers at Russian digital security firm Kaspersky Lab have documented such cases.

On Tuesday, Wikileaks published a large cache of CIA documents that it said showed the agency had equipped itself to run its own false-flag hacking operations. The documents describe an internal CIA group called UMBRAGE that Wikileaks said was stealing the techniques of other nation-state hackers to trick forensic investigators into falsely attributing CIA attacks to those actors. According to Wikileaks, among those from whom the CIA has stolen techniques is the Russian Federation, suggesting the CIA is conducting attacks to intentionally mislead investigators into attributing them to Vladimir Putin.

“With UMBRAGE and related projects, the CIA can not only increase its total number of attack types, but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from,” Wikileaks writes in a summary of its CIA document dump

It’s a claim that seems intended to shed doubt on the U.S. government’s attribution of Russia in the DNC hack; the Russian Federation was the only nation specifically named by Wikileaks as a potential victim of misdirected attribution. It’s also a claim that some media outlets have accepted and repeated without question.

“WikiLeaks said there’s an entire department within the CIA whose job it is to ‘misdirect attribution by leaving behind the fingerprints’ of others, such as hackers in Russia,” CNN reported without caveats.

It would be possible to leave such fingerprints if the CIA were re-using unique source code written by other actors to intentionally implicate them in CIA hacks, but the published CIA documents don’t say this. Instead they indicate the UMBRAGE group is doing something much less nefarious.

They say UMBRAGE is borrowing hacking “techniques” developed or used by other actors to use in CIA hacking projects. This is intended to save the CIA time and energy by copying methods already proven successful. If the CIA were actually re-using source code unique to a specific hacking group this could lead forensic investigators to mis-attribute CIA attacks to the original creators of the code. But the documents appear to say the UMBRAGE group is writing snippets of code that mimic the functionality of other hacking tools and placing it in a library for CIA developers to draw on when designing custom CIA tools. [Continue reading…]

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Russia turns Wikileaks CIA dump into disinformation

Kevin Poulsen reports: For the second time in a matter of months, U.S. intelligence agencies have suffered a devastating breach of their hacking secrets.

But unlike the last breach in August, an American Central Intelligence Agency worker, not Russian hackers, is the most likely source of a new tranche of documents detailing the methods and tools used by the CIA to steal secrets from foreign governments and terror groups — though some experts have seen signs that Russia is working overtime to take advantage of the disclosure.

Tuesday’s document dump, titled “Vault 7, Year Zero” by WikiLeaks, details the capabilities and culture within the CIA’s secretive Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia. The leak portrays a robust, if not unique, computer-intrusion capability inside the CIA, accented by a few James Bond novelties, like special snooping software intended to be carried into an adversary’s lair on a thumb drive, where a CIA asset plugs it into a USB port. Another program, code-named Weeping Angel, turns a Samsung smart TV into a covert listening device.

The leak follows an incident last August when a mysterious group or individual called the Shadow Brokers began publishing hacking tools stockpiled by the NSA’s elite Tailored Access Operations group, including dozens of backdoor programs and 10 exploits. Experts suspected the Shadow Brokers were a shot across the bow by Russia’s intelligence services.

But the CIA leak could be worse for U.S. intelligence, because it includes code from the agency’s malware development frameworks. Using that code, security experts and counterintelligence agents could sniff out a variety of CIA malware. “For the CIA this is huge loss,” said Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec. “For incident responders like me, this is a treasure trove.” [Continue reading…]

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Wikileaks and the CIA’s hacking arsenal

Julian Sanchez writes: It’s a cliche of political scandals that “the coverup is worse than the crime”: Attempts to conceal misconduct, because they’re easier to prove and provide otherwise elusive evidence of a guilty mind, often end up being more politically damaging than the underlying misconduct would have been. In the case of the latest Wikileaks document dump, the first in a planned series from a cache the site has dubbed “Vault 7,” we have an apparent reversal of the formula: The un-coverup—the fact of the leak itself—is probably more significant than the substance of what has thus far been revealed.

There are, of course, some points of real interest in the archive of documents, mostly concerning an array of hacking tools and software exploits developed or used by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Engineering Development Group — and it’s likely more will emerge as reporters and analysts churn through more than 8,000 files and documents. We’ve confirmed that the CIA has hung onto and exploited at least a handful of undisclosed “zero day” vulnerabilities in widely-used software platforms, including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the operating systems on which nearly all modern smartphones run.

We also learn that — as many of us expected — the obstacles to conventional wiretapping posed by the growing prevalence of encryption have spurred intelligence agencies to hunt for alternative means of collection, which include not only compromising communications endpoints such as smartphones, but also seeking to repurpose networked appliances on the Internet of Things as surveillance devices. The latter goal has even spawned its own research department, the Embedded Development Branch.

Still, in light of what we already knew about the National Security Agency’s own efforts along similar lines, thanks to Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the agency’s Tailored Access Operations division, this is—at least from a policy perspective—not so much revelation as confirmation. Moreover, there’s little here to suggest surveillance that’s either aimed at Americans or indiscriminate, the features that made Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance so politically explosive. One of the more widely-reported projects in Vault 7, for instance, has been the Doctor Who — referencingWeeping Angel” implant, which can turn Samsung televisions into surveillance microphones even when they appear to be turned off. Yet, at least at the time the documentation in the Wikileaks release was written, Weeping Angel appeared to require physical access to be installed—which makes it essentially a fancy and less detectable method of bugging a particular room once a CIA agent has managed to get inside. This is all fascinating to surveillance nerds, to be sure, but without evidence that these tools have been deployed either against inappropriate targets or on a mass scale, it’s not intrinsically all that controversial. Finding clever ways to spy on people is what spy agencies are supposed to do. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. aware of CIA security breach in 2016; contractors suspected in leak

Reuters reports: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Wednesday they have been aware since the end of last year of a security breach at the CIA and were focusing on contractors as the likeliest source of documents being passed on to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks detailing the agency’s hacking tools.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that they believed documents published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday about CIA techniques used between 2013 and 2016 were authentic.

The documents showed that CIA hackers could get into Apple iPhones, Google Android devices and other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before they were encrypted with sophisticated software.

The White House said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump was “extremely concerned” about a CIA security breach that led to the Wikileaks release, and the administration would be tough on leakers. [Continue reading…]

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CIA providing raw intelligence as Trump-Russia probes heat up

Politico reports: Lawmakers are trekking to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to review classified evidence on Russia’s involvement in the presidential election. The House has scheduled its first public hearing on the issue. And the Senate is preparing to interview witnesses.

The congressional investigations into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials are in full swing.

For months, the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said their investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election were in their “initial” stages. On Tuesday, it became clear that the probes had moved into a new phase.

The CIA is now providing raw intelligence documents to committee members, according to multiple senators. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) visited CIA headquarters on Monday to view the documents underlying the intelligence community’s unclassified assessment that Russia sought to sway the election in favor of Trump.

At Langley, Cornyn said Tuesday, he viewed “four large binders full of classified information that’s been made available to the committee to conduct” its wide-ranging investigation. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: The FBI has begun preparing for a major mole hunt to determine how anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks got an alleged arsenal of hacking tools the CIA has used to spy on espionage targets, according to people familiar with the matter.

The leak rattled government and technology industry officials, who spent Tuesday scrambling to determine the accuracy and scope of the thousands of documents released by the group. They were also trying to assess the damage the revelations may cause, and what damage may come from future releases promised by WikiLeaks, these people said. [Continue reading…]

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Why Wikileaks? Why now?

Fred Kaplan writes: Tuesday’s WikiLeaks release exposing thousands of detailed documents on CIA hacking tools is an unbridled attack on U.S. intelligence operations with little or no public benefit. It makes no claim or pretense that the CIA has used these tools to engage in domestic surveillance or any other illegal activity. Most whistleblowers who leak national security secrets take care to avoid revealing where the secrets come from — the “sources and methods” of the intelligence. These documents are about nothing but sources and methods. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: A longtime intelligence contractor with expertise in U.S. hacking tools told Reuters the documents included correct “cover” terms describing active cyber programs.

“People on both sides of the river are furious,” he said, referring to the CIA and the eavesdropping National Security Agency based in Fort Meade, Maryland. “This is not a Snowden-type situation. This was taken over a long term and handed over to WikiLeaks.” [Continue reading…]

In a press release, Wikileaks said: Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Names, email addresses and external IP addresses have been redacted in the released pages (70,875 redactions in total) until further analysis is complete. [Continue reading…]

The Atlantic reports: WikiLeaks appears to be shifting its strategy with its latest document dump. In the past, it has let the public loose on its leaked documents with little more than a few paragraphs of introduction, occasionally building search functions to let users sift through the largest dumps. The CIA leak, on the other hand, came with a detailed press release and analysis of the some key findings from the documents, written in a journalistic style.

Uncharacteristically, WikiLeaks appears to have gone out of its way to redact sensitive information and withhold malicious code from the CIA documents it made public. That’s a slight departure from previous leaks, which were wholly unfiltered. [Continue reading…]

Given that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between Wikileaks the organization and Julian Assange the individual, I have my doubts that the massive number of redactions and carefully crafted press release should necessarily be attributed to a shift in strategy on the part of Wikileaks/Assange. This may in fact be the way the leaks were delivered: pre-packaged.

In other words, the leaker(s) were just as concerned about how this information got out as they were with its contents — and that begs the question (as posed by @pwnallthethings): why use Wikileaks?

If, as the source is alleged to claim, the goal here is to generate public debate, why use such a flawed messenger — a messenger widely viewed as operating in the service of the Russian intelligence.

The source’s choice of going through Wikileaks suggests they were opting for a suitably malleable conduit and wanted to reach a target audience that thinks little or cares less about Julian Assange’s agenda.

Journalists are hamstrung (or to put it less kindly, incredibly easy to manipulate) in this situation. The key questions are about the source of leaks and the agenda being pursued, yet these are at this time matters of pure conjecture. The alternative to speculation is to focus on the content and get distracted by smart TV vulnerabilities etc.

Yet the source/Wikileaks is in large part teeing this up for political debate and casting the CIA as a rogue intelligence agency — a narrative that surely plays well inside the White House.

As is often the case, Donald Trump’s current silence is much more telling than his tweets.

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I didn’t think I’d ever leave the CIA. But because of Trump, I quit

Edward Price worked at the CIA from 2006 until this month, most recently as the spokesman for the National Security Council. He writes: Nearly 15 years ago, I informed my skeptical father that I was pursuing a job with the Central Intelligence Agency. Among his many concerns was that others would never believe I had resigned from the agency when I sought my next job. “Once CIA, always CIA,” he said. But that didn’t give me pause. This wouldn’t be just my first real job, I thought then; it would be my career.

That changed when I formally resigned last week. Despite working proudly for Republican and Democratic presidents, I reluctantly concluded that I cannot in good faith serve this administration as an intelligence professional.

This was not a decision I made lightly. I sought out the CIA as a college student, convinced that it was the ideal place to serve my country and put an otherwise abstract international-relations degree to use. I wasn’t disappointed. [Continue reading…]

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The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary, and the public are fighting back against Trump with some success

Peter Beinart writes: Nothing Donald Trump has done since becoming President is particularly surprising. The attacks on judges and the press, the clash of civilizations worldview, the ignorance of public policy, the blurring of government service and private gain, the endless lying, the incompetence, the chaos — all were vividly foreshadowed during the campaign. The Republican-led Congress’ refusal to challenge Trump was foreseeable too. The number of Republicans willing to oppose Trump’s agenda pretty much equals the number who refused to endorse him once he became the GOP nominee.

Less predictable has been the response of other elements of the American political system: The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary and the public. Here, the news is good. So far, they’re not only pushing back, they’re having some success.

The latest example is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn’s resignation is a welcome development both because he held crudely bigoted views of Muslims and because he was unable to competently manage the foreign policy process. But that’s not why he lost his job. He lost his job because of an independent bureaucracy and a vigorous press.

CNN’s Brian Stelter has reconstructed the chain of events. On January 12, a “senior U.S. government official” told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that, “Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the [Russian] hacking” of the presidential election. Three days later, CBS’ John Dickerson asked Vice President Mike Pence about the call, and Pence insisted that Flynn had not discussed “anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”

But the Washington Post followed up, citing “nine current and former officials” who claimed that Flynn had discussed exactly that. The New York Times reported that there was a transcript of the call. Eventually, it became impossible to deny that Flynn had lied, and caused Pence to lie. If the Trump administration had been able to deny reality, as it so often does, Flynn would likely still have his job. But good reporters, aided by government sources, made that impossible. As the Columbia Journalism Review notes, “it wasn’t the lying that got him [Flynn] fired; it’s that his lying leaked to the press.” [Continue reading…]

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