Papadopoulos is “the big one,” not Manafort, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden says

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller (front), the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, leaves the Capitol building after meeting with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill. Robert Mueller meets with Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington DC, USA - 21 Jun 2017 Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock SpyTalk Donald Trump Michael Hayden White House scandals have a way of turning nobodies into unfortunate somebodies. So it was 45 years ago in October with Donald Segretti, whom The Washington Post exposed as a major cog in a White House dirty tricks program to destroy Maine Senator Ed Muskie, the leading Democratic candidate for president. Segretti’s reported role added startling new context to what became known as the Watergate scandal. It showed that the June 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee was part of a much larger campaign of surveillance and sabotage against targets on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list”—from reporters to liberal think tanks to dissident government officials like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.Now comes George Papadopoulos, another nobody whose name could soon be memorialized on a Trivial Pursuit card for political scandals. The 30-year-old was yet another enabler in the Kremlin’s multipronged campaign to destroy Hillary Clinton, according to the grand jury indictment unsealed by special counsel Robert Mueller on October 30. Donald Trump once called Papadopoulos, his former foreign policy adviser, “an excellent guy,” but now dismisses him as “a low-level volunteer” and a “liar.” Keep up with this story and more by subscribing nowNot so much, judging by his guilty plea. With that, Papadopoulos became just the latest name to surface in the widening list of Trump associates under scrutiny by the special counsel—including former campaign chair Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates; Trump’s Continue Reading

Is Mike Pompeo’s CIA just telling the president what he wants to hear?

Vice President Mike Pence (right) swears in Mike Pompeo—flanked by Pompeo’s wife, Susan—to be director of the CIA in Washington, D.C., on January 23. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SpyTalk Donald Trump Mike Pompeo Central Intelligence Agency Updated | In early November, Cynthia Storer sat down and started sketching out her next lecture for an online course she’s teaching for Johns Hopkins University. The topic: the politicization of intelligence. The ex-CIA senior counterterrorism analyst, one of the famous “sisters” who tracked Osama bin Laden, has firsthand memories of the constant pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials to come up with proof that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al-Qaeda. With White House encouragement, the agency also came up with evidence that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In that sad episode, George Tenet, then CIA director, told Bush he could make a “slam dunk” case for attacking Iraq. As it turned out, Bush’s sales pitch was successful, but the intelligence was a bust: No nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were found.Perhaps it was only a coincidence, but the timing of Storer’s lecture was ideal, given the lengthening string of evidence that CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been bending the agency to his boss’s will on Russia and Iran. Keep up with this story and more by subscribing nowOn November 7, the Intercept reported that Pompeo, a former Tea Party Republican from Kansas, had met in October with William Binney, an ex–National Security Agency official. The latter had been promoting a highly disputed theory that the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was not the work of Russian agents but an inside job. Pompeo, according to Binney, told him that Trump had inspired the invitation, saying, “If he want[ed] to know the facts” on the DNC hack, “he should talk to me.” Pompeo, Continue Reading

CIA’s Russia Spy Flap: Dumb and Dumber

A screenshot from the RT video showing alleged spy “Ryan Fogle.” As if President Obama’s week hasn’t been bad enough, with catastrophic scandals emerging over IRS political targeting and the Justice Department’s scary spying into the Associated Press—never mind the trumped-up, but badly bungled flap over Benghazi—now the White House has to deal with a spy crisis in Moscow. Although most spy flaps involving the United States and Russia are usually swept under the Top Secret carpet, this one could not come at a worse time. It blew up on the virtual eve of a summit meeting between Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and just at the start of a critical effort aimed at ending the civil war in Syria. The Russian broadcast network RT has helpfully posted video of the alleged American spy, whose appearance in photos and video is eerily reminiscent of the photos of the Boston bombers: young, tousled hair, baseball cap and all. The man, Ryan C. Fogle—is that his real name? And did he really go spying about in Moscow carrying his real ID and embassy papers? While also carrying wigs and other disguises? Oy vey!—was nabbed with stacks of 500-euro notes and a written pledge to give $1 million to an informant (i.e., a spy) he was trying to recruit. The FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, says: “FSB counter-intelligence agents detained a CIA staff member who had been working under the cover of third political secretary of the US embassy in Moscow.… At the moment of detention, special technical equipment was discovered, written instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited, as well as a large sum of money and means for altering appearance.” The Russians are kicking him out, but they’ve summoned Ambassador Michael McFaul to the woodshed for a talking-to. McFaul, who’s been something of an agent provocateur himself—chumming it up too often with Russian dissidents Continue Reading

US, Russia swap 14 spies at Vienna, Austria airport including Anna Chapman and Igor Sutyagin

There was probably no time for Wiener Schnitzel. The U.S. and Russian planes believed to be carrying passengers for a 14-person spy swap landed and took off from Vienna on Friday morning as part of the biggest exchange since the end of the Cold War. The dramatic end to the espionage scandal came after the two countries brokered a deal for 10 Russian spies to be deported from the U.S. in exchange for four agents. A white-and-maroon Vision Airlines, Boeing charter carrying 10 Russian agents took off from New York's LaGuardia airport Thursday night. Within minutes of the aircraft's arrival around 5:15 a.m., the plane stopped behind a Russian Emergencies Ministry plane believed to be carrying the four Russians. A gangway was placed between the two planes. The exchange took about an hour, and both planes were seen leaving Vienna. The 10 Russian spies arrived in shackles and appeared in court on Thursday and admitted they were really secret agents. Judge Kimba Wood sentenced them to time served—11 days—and ordered that they be deported immediately. In the swap, Russia agreed to give up nuclear scientist Igor Sutyagin, who was arrested for spying in 1999. A former KGB agent and two Russian military colonels who acted as double agents for the CIA were also included in the deal. The 10 Russian agents, the majority of whom are believed to have had no access to real secrets, tried to blend in throughout America including in Yonkers, Boston, Seattle, Montclair, N.J., and Arlington Virginia. A lawyer for Vicky Pelaez, one of the Russian spies and a former newspaper columnist, said the government there offered her $2,000 a month for life, housing, and help with her children versus the years in jail she could have faced had she stayed in the U.S. U.S. officials said they agreed to the exchange for humanitarian concerns and that there was no real threat to national security. "This sends a powerful signal to people who cooperate with us that we Continue Reading

10 Russian spy suspects plead guilty; swap in works to trade the 10 for 4 US agents held in Russia

Ten suspected Russian sleeper spies pleaded guilty Thursday in a Manhattan courtroom and could be out of the country by sundown - sent home in a swap with Moscow for four of Washington's blown secret agents. Some of their US-born kids have reportedly already been packed off to Russia. The ten agents busted last week after years of being followed and bugged by the FBI were freed and ordered deported in exchange for four Russians imprisoned for passing secrets to the CIA. The spies arrived in shackles in federal court, all smiling and jovial, apart from Peruvian-born journalist Vicky Pelaez, who was crying. One by one, except for Pelaez, they admitted they were Russian citizens and the seven who used aliases like Tracey and Michael and Donald revealed that their real names were Elena and Mikhail and Andrey. Richard Murphy, whose neighbors in Montclair, N.J., had wondered about his Irish name and Russian accent, unmasked himself as Vladimir Guryev. It was a striking moment that made for a dramatic finale to the sensational summer spy tale that already seemed ripped from the pages of Le Carre or Ludlum. "I think it's fair to say I've never seen anything like that in a courtroom," US Attorney Preet Bharara said afterwards. Judge Kimba Wood sentenced all 10 to time served - 11 days - and ordered them deported. They can never come back, she said. In exchange, nuclear scientist Igor Sutyagin - who was arrested spying 1999 - and three Russian military colonels who acted as double agents for the CIA until their cover was blown, were to be freed. Some were in poor health and all were serving long sentences, federal prosecutors said. Sutyagin was yanked from prison and flown to Vienna Thursday morning. The U.S. appears to have gotten the better part of the deal: the 10 suburban spies who burrowed into Yonkers, Montclair, N.J., Boston, Seattle and Arlington, Va., uncovered zero secrets for Moscow and were not even charged with espionage. "We knew Continue Reading

FBI: Jailed CIA turncoat recruited son to spy for Russia

WASHINGTON - A convicted CIA turncoat was accused Thursday of recruiting his own family from behind bars to spy for Russia. Harold Nicholson, a CIA operations officer for 16 years, was slapped with a 23-year prison stretch in 1997 for spying for Russia's secret intelligence agency, the SVR. U.S. officials later took pity on Nicholson by moving him to a prison near his parents and three kids in Oregon - where he recruited his adult son Nathaniel to pass secrets to Russia, prosecutors said. Nathaniel Nicholson, 24, was "trained and tasked" as a spy by his father in order to pass secrets to his handlers that revealed how the FBI originally nabbed the ex-CIA operative. The son collected $41,000 from the Russians for his father's "past espionage activities," court documents say. "Nicholson utilized his CIA training in instructing [his son Nathaniel] on how to collect the funds from the Russian Federation in a covert and secret manner," prosecutors charged. He also allegedly conned his parents into hiding the cash; the FBI also said he had hinted to the Russians that another son "may hold some future value" as a traitor. The FBI disclosed that son Jeremiah Nicholson is married to a Russian and serves as a sergeant in the Air Force "with a security clearance." Espionage is the FBI's No. 2 priority behind terrorism, since "global warming has not ended activities of the Cold War," quipped retired top agent Tom Fuentes. The new case began in 2002, when a citizen tipped the FBI that an imprisoned bank robber had told her Nicholson was trying to communicate with Russian spies. Starting in 2007, Nathaniel Nicholson met Russian agents in Mexico, Peru and Cyprus, where he accepted the cash for passing messages from his dad. The often comical caper - in which Nathaniel Nicholson traded coded e-mails as "Dick" to a handler named "Nancy" - ended in December 2008 outside a TGI Fridays in Cyprus, where he received a final payment, the papers charge. Continue Reading

Bush: I reserve judgment on CIA tapes

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Thursday he will reserve judgment about his administration’s destruction of CIA interrogation tapes until several inquiries are finished. The destruction in 2005 of the tapes, showing harsh interrogation treatment of two terrorism suspects, is being investigated by the Justice Department, the CIA itself and by several congressional panels. Bush stuck to the White House line that he personally did not know about either the existence of the tapes or their destruction until he was briefed earlier this month by CIA Director Michael Hayden. "Sounds pretty clear to me when I say I have -- the first recollection is when Mike Hayden briefed me. That’s pretty clear,” Bush said. He also said that he believed the ongoing investigations by his administration, “coupled with oversight provided by the Congress, will end up enabling us all to find out what has happened.” “Until these inquiries are complete, I will be rendering no opinion from the podium,” Bush said. Turning to domestic issues in a year-end news conference, Bush complained that Congress had stuffed a spending bill with hundreds of projects that he called wasteful and instructed his budget director to explore options for dealing with them. Bush said that a $555 billion measure passed by Congress Wednesday night before breaking for the holidays contains some 980 in so-called “So I am instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill,” Bush said. However, without holding line-item-veto powers, Bush’s ability to block spending on specific projects appears limited. Presidential authority to strike, or veto, individual projects and other spending items from appropriations bills was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1998. The president did praise Congress for sending him “a spending bill to fund the day to day operations of the Continue Reading

Top Democrat on House intel panel: Congress will take time to do Russia probe right

WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the panel will take the time it needs to do a thorough investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year's election despite efforts by the White House to convince Americans that there is no evidence to warrant congressional probes."There's method behind the White House madness when to comes to their messaging on Russia," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters at a newsmaker breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.Schiff said the White House is trying to bring congressional investigations to a quick end by insisting that there is no evidence of collusion.Former CIA director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he doesn't know whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in the 2016 election, but he left office in January with "unresolved questions" about whether Russia had been successful in getting Trump campaign officials to act on its behalf "either wittingly or unwittingly."The White House jumped on that testimony Tuesday to release a statement asserting that "despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion."But Schiff said the investigations by four separate congressional committees into possible collusion are "still at the very early stages." In addition to the congressional probes, former FBI director Robert Mueller is leading an FBI investigation as a special counsel appointed last week by the Department of Justice."I'm confident we will resist that (White House pressure)and Mr. Muller will take the time to complete his investigation," Schiff said. "There's little reason to do this if we don't do it right." Read more:Schiff also said the House Intelligence Committee will subpoena retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in its Russia probe after the former national security adviser refused to Continue Reading

Trump team issued at least 20 denials of contacts with Russia

President Trump, and his presidential campaign, have issued at least 20 denials of campaign officials' communications with and connections with Russian officials. Here's a listing of their denials beginning over the summer:Paul Manafort, appearing on ABC’s This Week, is asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether there are any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia or its president. “No, there are not. And you know, there's no basis to it."Hope Hicks, then-spokesperson for Trump’s campaign, in comments to The Washington Post for a story about Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s comments in a Moscow speech sharply critizing American foreign policy involving Russia, minimizes Page as an “informal foreign policy adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.” Page's talk in early July at the New Economic School in Moscow said the U.S. and its allies "impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”Carter Page, who characterized himself as “on leave” as a foreign policy adviser to Trump campaign, denied allegations by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a letter to the FBI that Page might be acting as a go-between for the Trump campaign with Russian officials.Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller continued the campaign’s effort to distance itself from Page, telling an investigative reporter for Yahoo News that Page “has no role” and adding, “We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present.”Steven Cheung, the Trump campaign’s rapid response director, gives ABC News an almost identical statement to Miller’s. “He has no role,” Cheung said. “We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present.” Read more:Kellyanne Conway, being interviewed by CNN’s Jake Continue Reading

Intel chiefs: We’re certain that Russia tried to influence U.S. election

WASHINGTON — Top U.S. intelligence officials told senators Thursday that they are confident in their assessment that Russia attempted to use cyberattacks to influence the U.S. presidential election, despite skepticism of their findings by President-elect Donald Trump."Our assessment now is even more resolute," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee in testimony echoed by Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency.Clapper said the intelligence community will release a public report next week detailing Russia's attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election by hacking Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign and other political groups. The CIA and FBI have agreed that the interference was aimed at helping Trump beat Clinton.Responding to questions from Democratic senators about Trump's criticism of the intelligence community, Clapper said he has no problem with elected officials having a healthy skepticism about information from the intelligence community, which he said is "not perfect" since it is made up of human beings.However, Clapper added that "I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.""I do think that public trust and confidence in the intelligence community is crucial," he said. Clapper added that he has received many "expressions of concern" by U.S. allies "about what has been interpreted as disparagement of the Intelligence Community."Trump has resolutely dismissed the intelligence community's claims about the Russians' involvement in the election. He is scheduled to be briefed Friday on the soon-to-be-released report on Russian hacking."The 'intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!" the president-elect tweeted Tuesday. Read more:Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reflecting the concern among some Republican lawmakers about Trump's rift Continue Reading