Trump and Putin fail in achieving their shared goal of lifting sanctions

The New York Times reports: Throughout 2016, both Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin complained that American-led sanctions against Russia were the biggest irritant in the plummeting relations between the two superpowers. And the current investigations, which have cast a shadow over Mr. Trump’s first six months in office, have focused on whether a series of contacts between Mr. Trump’s inner circle and Russians were partly about constructing deals to get those penalties lifted.

Now it is clear that those sanctions not only are staying in place, but are about to be modestly expanded — exactly the outcome the two presidents sought to avoid.

How that happened is a story of two global leaders overplaying their hands.

Mr. Putin is beginning to pay a price for what John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, described last week as the Russian president’s fateful decision last summer to try to use stolen computer data to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy. For his part, Mr. Trump ignited the movement in Congress by repeatedly casting doubt on that intelligence finding, then fueled it by confirming revelation after revelation about previously denied contacts between his inner circle and a parade of Russians.

If approved by Congress this week, Mr. Trump has little choice, his aides acknowledge, but to sign the toughened sanctions legislation that he desperately wanted to see defeated.

Just days ago, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and other top officials were lobbying fiercely to preserve Mr. Trump’s right to waive Russia sanctions with a stroke of the pen — just as President Barack Obama was able to do when, in negotiations with Iran, he dangled the relaxation of sanctions to coax Tehran to agree to sharp, decade-long limits on its nuclear activity.

As one of Mr. Trump’s aides pointed out last week, there is a long history of granting presidents that negotiating leverage when dealing with foreign adversaries.

But by constantly casting doubt on intelligence that the Kremlin was behind an effort to manipulate last year’s presidential election, Mr. Trump so unnerved members of his own party that even they saw a need to curb his ability to lift those sanctions unilaterally.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, repeated the White House position that Mr. Trump remains unconvinced by the evidence Russia was the culprit behind the election hacking. He said that when the subject comes up, Mr. Trump cannot separate the intelligence findings from his emotional sense that the issue is being used to cast doubt on his legitimacy as president.

“It actually in his mind, what are you guys suggesting?” Mr. Scaramucci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “You’re going to delegitimize his victory?”

If so, Mr. Trump is the only one with access to the best intelligence on the issue who still harbors those doubts.

Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, four of his top intelligence and national security officials — including Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director — said they were absolutely convinced that the Russians were behind the effort to influence the election.

“There is no dissent,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said on Friday at the Aspen conference. The Russians, he said, “caught us just a little bit asleep in terms of capabilities” the Kremlin could bring to bear to influence elections here, in France and Germany. The Russians’ goal was clear, he said: “They are trying to undermine Western democracy.” [Continue reading…]

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Intel chiefs tell investigators Trump suggested they refute collusion with Russians

CNN reports: Two of the nation’s top intelligence officials told Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Senate investigators, in separate meetings last week, that President Donald Trump suggested they say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, according to multiple sources.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers described their interactions with the President about the Russia investigation as odd and uncomfortable, but said they did not believe the President gave them orders to interfere, according to multiple sources familiar with their accounts.

Sources say both men went further than they did in June 7 public hearings, when they provided little detail about the interactions.

The sources gave CNN the first glimpse of what the intelligence chiefs said to Mueller’s investigators when they did separate interviews last week. Both men told Mueller’s team they were surprised the President would suggest that they publicly declare he was not involved in collusion, sources said. Mueller’s team, which is in the early stages of its investigation, will ultimately decide whether the interactions are relevant to the inquiry. [Continue reading…]

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‘Dear God, keep him away from Twitter,’ says senior official shortly before Trump’s latest tweet

The Daily Beast reports: It’s exactly the circumstance Donald Trump tried to avoid. But Trump’s own actions have made an FBI investigation into the president himself a reality.

Firing James Comey, the FBI director, was, by Trump’s explanation, a way to stop a “witch hunt” against his team’s alleged ties to Russia. It led, within weeks, to the appointment of a special prosecutor, Comey’s FBI predecessor, Robert Mueller. And now Mueller is investigating Trump himself for possible obstruction of justice—by firing Comey, who had led the FBI inquiry.

With the crisis engulfing Trump’s young presidency intensifying, senators, Trump aides, former prosecutors, and FBI veterans are sending the White House an urgent warning: Whatever you do, don’t. Fire. Mueller.

News of the obstruction investigation, which was first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, comes just days after Trump himself began floating the possibility of firing the new head of the investigation: Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel appointed in the wake of Comey’s firing.

The obstruction investigation has raised the stakes for Mueller’s potential ouster. Firing him now, which would require that Trump personally direct DOJ leadership to do so, would create a political firestorm.

“Firing Robert Mueller right now would be a direct attack on the rule of law by Donald Trump,” Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Daily Beast. Wyden declined to directly address the Post report.

Trump reportedly floated the possibility of firing Mueller as a way to prod him toward exonerating the president and other Trump associates party to the investigation. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that aides dissuaded him from doing so.

For Ali Soufan, a retired FBI counterterrorism agent, word that Trump is now a target of Mueller’s inquiry explains the trial balloon.

“No wonder President Trump and his surrogates are getting nervous. This explains their sudden attacks on Mueller and the threats to fire him,” Soufan told The Daily Beast.

White House officials are still insisting to the president that he should leave Mueller in his post. “We are all advising him not to [get rid of] Mueller. That has not changed,” one Trump aide told The Daily Beast. “It would be an absolute nuclear explosion if he did.”

Firing Mueller would also put the president in greater legal jeopardy than he already may be in, said former United States attorney Barbara McQuade.

“If Trump were to fire Mueller and it could be shown that his purpose was to impede the investigation, it could be additional evidence of obstruction of justice,” McQuade, who was appointed by President Obama, told The Daily Beast.

But some privately concede that Trump is so unpredictable—and so frustrated with the persistence of the investigation and its cost in political capital—that they’re not ruling it out. Another White House official conceded that it would be “suicide” if Trump sacked Mueller at this point, but “I’d be insincere if I said it wasn’t a concern that the president would try to do it anyway.”

For now, officials are simply concerned with limiting fallout from what is sure to be a thunderous reaction from the president to news that he is personally the target of the FBI’s probe.

Asked what the internal game plan should be, one senior Trump administration official replied, “Keep him away from Twitter, dear God, keep him away from Twitter.”

“The president did this to himself,” the official added. [Continue reading…]

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Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say

The Washington Post reports: The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Five people briefed on the requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI. [Continue reading…]

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Trump asked intelligence chief if he could pressure Comey to end FBI Russia probe

The Washington Post reports: The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials.

On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.

After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.

The events involving Coats show the president went further than just asking intelligence officials to deny publicly the existence of any evidence showing collusion during the 2016 election, as The Washington Post reported in May. The interaction with Coats indicates that Trump aimed to enlist top officials to have Comey curtail the bureau’s probe. [Continue reading…]

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Former DNI Clapper says Watergate ‘pales’ in comparison with Trump Russia scandal

The Guardian reports: The former US director of national intelligence James Clapper says events in Washington now are more serious than the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, and that it is imperative investigators get to the bottom of the Trump administration’s links with the Putin regime.

Clapper used a speech to Australia’s National Press Club on Wednesday to launch a critique of the US president, Donald Trump, describing his decision to cultivate Russia and share intelligence with the Putin regime as “very problematic”. He described Trump’s firing of the FBI chief Jim Comey as “egregious and inexcusable”.

The former intelligence director was asked how current events compared to Watergate and he said the behaviour under scrutiny now was more serious. “I think you compare the two, that Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now.” [Continue reading…]

Reminder: Clapper served for 18 years as an intelligence director under presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama after 32 years of military service.

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Trump asked intelligence chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence

The Washington Post reports: President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president. [Continue reading…]

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Trump: James Clapper said I have no Russia connections. Clapper: No I didn’t

Vox reports: President Donald Trump has tried to tamp down the growing controversy over his campaign’s ties to Russia by deliberately misrepresenting comments from James Clapper, formerly the nation’s top spy.

On Friday, Clapper began pushing back — and added his voice to the chorus of officials and lawmakers from both parties who worry that there’s more still to come out about possible collusion between the Trump team and the Kremlin during the campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Trump lies about phone conversation with Clapper

On Wednesday evening Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement saying:

This evening, I had the opportunity to speak with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss recent media reports about our briefing last Friday. I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.

We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

The following morning, Trump tweeted:


When I say Trump lied about the conversation, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The alternative is that the next president has such an impaired capacity to take in information that conflicts with his presuppostions/prejudices/agenda that he is functionally deaf — that he literally only hears what he wants to hear.

As I said, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt — I think he’s just a liar.

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U.S. spy report blames Putin for hacks, but doesn’t back it up

The Daily Beast reports: U.S. spy chiefs presented their case at Trump Tower on Friday that Russia was behind the hacks that rocked the 2016 presidential election. But they didn’t help themselves by releasing a strongly-worded report that is scant on new evidence—and is, in some cases, a literal rehash of outdated information.

“There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” President-elect Trump said in a statement right after he met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director Jim Comey, and NSA chief Adm. Michael Rogers.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election [and with]… a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the intelligence chiefs announced through an unclassified report released after the meeting that sounded like it was coming from an alternate universe.

The night-and-day report and reaction hint at either a difficult relationship to come between the president and America’s spies, or a cagey response by a future commander in chief who is only beginning to realize how the chess masters in the Kremlin play the game of geopolitics.

The unclassified report is unlikely to convince a single skeptic, as it offers none of the evidence intelligence officials say they have to back it up—none of those emails or transcripts of phone calls showing a clear connection between the Russian government and the political intrusions. The reason—revealing how U.S. spies know what they know could endanger U.S. spy operations. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s man in the White House

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted:


Contrary to Trump’s claim that the DNC “would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News via email prior to Trump’s tweets: “the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers” [Walker’s italics].

Following an intelligence briefing today, Trump released a statement in which he said:

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.

That conclusion — “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” — is Trump’s and not the conclusion of the intelligence agencies.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Brushing aside Donald Trump’s dismissiveness, the nation’s intelligence chief insisted Thursday that U.S. agencies are more confident than ever that Russia interfered in America’s recent presidential election. And he called the former Cold War foe an “existential threat” to the nation.

Did Russian hacking sway the results? There’s no way for U.S. agencies to know, said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Asked about the possible effect of the disclosure of private information stolen by hackers, Clapper said, “The intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made.”

Where Trump and the intelligence community are in agreement is that, as Clapper said, Russian hacking “did not change any vote tallies.”

After having become a lonely holdout in sustaining his skepticism about whether any Russian hacking had even occurred, Trump now claims absolute certainty about the hacking’s effect — which is to say, that it had no effect.

The overarching message Trump wants to promote is that Russia had no role in his election.

Until it became an unsustainable viewpoint, Trump insisted that he simply didn’t believe there had been any Russian involvement.

Now that he can’t push that line any further, he’s changed his tack slightly by abandoning his hard denial and instead says Russia’s interference was of no consequence.

What is clear, is that Trump is convinced that if he gives any real ground on this issue, he is going to end up being viewed — or as many of us would say, recognized — as Putin’s man in the White House.

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What do intelligence agencies mean when they express a ‘high confidence level’ in an intelligence finding?

In an interview with former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, Suzanne Kelly asks: With the understanding that sources and methods need to be kept secret in order for an intelligence organization to be able to effectively do its job, can you give a sense of how rigorous a source is vetted by an intelligence agency? It’s not like they are taking the first thing they hear and calling it intelligence, right? Can you give us an idea of how rigorously information is checked before it is presented to the President?

Morell: The analytic process itself is fact-based. It’s rigorous from the perspective of the analyst who is doing the work, and it is, as you know, reviewed by a large number of people, including other analysts in the agency in which you’re working, other analysts in other intelligence community agencies, as well as your superiors. In the case of a significant judgment like the one we’re talking about, it goes to the very top of the intelligence community. So I’m sure that (Director of National Intelligence) Jim Clapper, (CIA Director) John Brennan, and the other leaders of the Intelligence Community have paid very close attention and have looked very closely at the judgments and how they were arrived at and asked a lot of questions, sent people back to the drawing board to look at this or look at that, so that’s point number one.

Point number two is, since the Iraq war, the Intelligence Community has put a huge amount of focus on stating their level of confidence in a judgment that they make. It turns out that the real mistake in the Iraq war was not the judgment that they came to, but the fact that if they had really thought about it, the analysts would have only said that they only had low confidence in that judgment that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. That would have been a completely different message, right?

That was a mistake, so the lesson learned from Iraq was to really focus on your level of confidence in the judgment you’re making. ‘Not only do I think its going to rain tomorrow, but I have high confidence in that,’ or ‘It’s going to rain tomorrow but you guys have to know that I only have low confidence in that.’ That has become a big focus. What really caught my attention in the leaks that came out about the CIA’s judgment about what Putin was trying to achieve in his interference in the election is that the analysts applied ‘high confidence’ to that judgment. What that says to me, because we don’t attach high confidence levels to just any judgment, very few judgments actually have a high confidence level, so to get that, you have to have more than one source of data. I think we’re looking at multiple sources of data here, and you have to have something that is stronger than just a circumstantial case. I think you have to have some direct evidence, so I think we have some direct evidence.

The stuff that’s being talked about publicly, is all stuff that doesn’t really damage sources and methods, and that’s stuff that seems to be circumstantial, right? How do you know what Russian intentions are simply from the fact that they hacked the DNC, right? It’s the stuff that takes you directly to the top and directly to Putin’s intentions that probably have very sensitive sources and methods involved, and that’s why you’re not hearing anything about them.

So when the CIA says it has high confidence that they not only interfered in the election, but they did with the intent of helping Trump and hurting Clinton, I’d put very high stock in that for the two reasons we just talked about. [Continue reading…]

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Just one Trump transition aide dealing with CIA and 16 other agencies in the intelligence community

Reuters reports: Only one member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is dealing with the CIA and the 16 other offices and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, four U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Geoffrey Kahn, a former House intelligence committee staffer, is the only person named so far to Trump’s intelligence community “landing team,” they said. As a result, said one senior career intelligence officer, briefing books prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center, and 13 other agencies and organizations are “waiting for someone to read them.” “It seems like an odd time to put issues like cyber security and international terrorism on the back burner,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Previous administrations, the official said, were quicker to staff their intelligence teams, in part because they considered intelligence issues critical to setting foreign policy, defense and budget priorities.

The intelligence community has some 200,000 employees and contractors and an annual budget of more than $70 billion. It collects and analyzes information on a vast array of subjects, from national security threats such as terrorism and climate change to global conflicts and the foreign, defense and trade policies of foreign governments.

Kahn has been in periodic contact with the CIA, said two of the officials, adding that they did not know if he had been in touch with the other intelligence agencies. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon and intelligence community chiefs have urged Obama to remove the head of the NSA

The Washington Post reports: The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed.

The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. government officially accuses Russia of hacking campaign to interfere with elections

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration on Friday officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

The denunciation, made by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, came as pressure was growing from within the administration and some lawmakers to publicly name Moscow and hold it accountable for actions apparently aimed at sowing discord around the election.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the two agencies. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

The public finger-pointing was welcomed by senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who also said they now expect the administration to move to punish the Kremlin as part of an effort to deter further acts by its hackers. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS spreading in Europe, U.S. intelligence chief warns

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State is operating clandestine terrorist cells in Britain, Germany and Italy, similar to the groups that carried out the attacks in Paris and Brussels, the top-ranking American intelligence official said on Monday.

When asked if the Islamic State was engaging in secret activities in those nations, the official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said: “Yes, they do. That is a concern, obviously, of ours and our European allies.” He then added, “We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of ISIL in the countries you named.” ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Mr. Clapper, speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting organized by The Christian Science Monitor, became one of the most senior Western officials to publicly acknowledge the Islamic State’s extensive reach into Europe, which has set off growing fears among American and European spy services and policy makers. The Islamic State has vowed to conduct attacks in those three European countries. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. investigating Moscow’s divide and rule strategy in Europe

The Telegraph reports: American intelligence agencies are to conduct a major investigation into how the Kremlin is infiltrating political parties in Europe, it can be revealed.

James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, has been instructed by the US Congress to conduct a major review into Russian clandestine funding of European parties over the last decade.

The review reflects mounting concerns in Washington over Moscow’s determination to exploit European disunity in order to undermine Nato, block US missile defence programmes and revoke the punitive economic sanctions regime imposed after the annexation of Crimea.

The US move came as senior British government officials told The Telegraph of growing fears that “a new cold war” was now unfolding in Europe, with Russian meddling taking on a breadth, range and depth far greater than previously thought.

“It really is a new Cold War out there,” the source said, “Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues.”

A dossier of “Russian influence activity” seen by The Sunday Telegraph identified Russian influence operations running in France, the Netherlands, Hungary as well as Austria and the Czech Republic, which has been identified by Russian agents as an entry-point into the Schengen free movement zone.

The US intelligence review will examine whether Russian security services are funding parties and charities with the intent of “undermining political cohesion”, fostering agitation against the Nato missile defence programme and undermining attempts to find alternatives to Russian energy.

Officials declined to say which parties could come into the probe but it is thought likely to include far-right groups including Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Northern League in Italy and France’s Front National which received a 9m euro (£6.9m) loan from a Russian bank in 2014. [Continue reading…]

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Obama refers to Khorasan threat for the first time

ABC News reports: Today is the first time President Obama has uttered the word “Khorasan” in public.

Indeed, we can find no example of any White House official ever mentioning this al Qaeda cell by name in public. The group has never even been mentioned in any of the White House background briefings on the terrorist threat emanating from Syria (and there have been several such briefings).

It’s quite extraordinary to see military action against a group the White House has never talked about.

There is one official outside the White House who did talk about Khorasan, briefly, last week. James Clapper had this to say Thursday at an intelligence conference in Washington: “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, may have revealed more than the administration wanted to reveal. The White House was trying to keep this quiet to avoid tipping the group off that it might be targeted.

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Visiting the ODNI: A day of speaking truth to power

Quinn Norton: “It’s called ‘the crackpot realism of the present’” someone said to me, and handed me a note. I folded up the note, and stuffed it in my purse. This was a phrase used to explain, much more clearly than I was doing at the time, the bias of thinking that now is right, forgetting that the future will look back on our ideas with the same curious and horrified amusement we watch the human past with. It’s believing, without any good reason, that right now makes sense.

The present I was in right then didn’t make a lot of sense.

I was sitting in a cleared facility near Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, the beating heart of the industrial-military-intelligence-policing complex, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I was there to help the government. Of the places I did not expect to ever go, at least not of my free will, the ODNI would be up there.

A few weeks ago, a friend from the Institute for the Future [IFTF] asked me if I would fly to DC for a one day workshop on the future of identity with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “What?” I sputtered, “Did they google me?” and then, mentally: Duh. The ODNI can do a lot more than google me.

I knew IFTF had intel clients, with whom I have occasionally chatted at events in the past. My policy when confronted with spooks asking questions about how the world works is to give them as much information as I can — one of my biggest problems with how security services work is their lack of wisdom. If I can reach people in positions of power and persuade them to critically examine that power, I consider that a win. I also consider it a long shot.

An invite from the ODNI is a strange thing. I’ve been publicly critical of them, sometimes viciously so. A few days earlier I tweeted that their director should be publicly tried for lying to Congress. I’ve written about the toxicity of the NSA spying (under ODNI direction), the corrupt fictions of Anonymous staged by the FBI (FBI/NSB is within ODNI’s area) and spoken out countless times in the last eight years against warrantless spying. I have even less love for the FBI and DOJ.

I turned the offer over in my head. I was influenced by a few things –yes it was paid, but not well paid. It was what I normally get from IFTF for a day of my time, and given the travel commitment, a bit low. I weighed the official imprimatur of involvement, and that was a factor. I am afraid of being pursued and harassed by my government. This has never happened to me in relation to my work, though I have been turned down for housing by people who feared I might bring police attention. It has to my friends, sources and associates. I know what it feels like, what they do when you’re a target, because I have been subject to terrorizing tactics and harassment because of whom I chose to love. I have publicly acknowledged that I self-censor because of this fear. I have a child to raise, and you can’t do that while you fight for your life and freedom in court. Raising my profile with the government as an expert probably makes me harder to harass.

I told my IFTF contact I don’t sign NDAs (which he already knew) and that I’d have to be public about my attendance and write about it. He told me they were publicly publishing their work for the ODNI too. “Huh,” I said to my screen. The organizers were on board with all of it. They wanted me in particular.

Finally, I thought about the hell I would get from the internet — like government harassment, internet harassment is part of the difficult and hated process of self-censorship for me.

In the end, I said yes, because you only get so far talking to your friends. [Continue reading…]

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