It’s undoubtedly better to leave some stories alone, and this may be one of them. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov perhaps put it best when he called it “pulp fiction” (and what’s more American than that?). But this one is so exemplary of how the news is cooked up for you these days, let’s have a go anyway.
What makes this story so ideal for its purpose is that it involves intelligence and state secrets, so the news outlet that runs it doesn’t have to prove a thing; it can simply say it’s not authorized to divulge what it doesn’t write, while hinting it does know. Plus, it can use any number of covert sources.
But in the process, a damning picture can still be painted. And if that picture involves Donald Trump, and it’s CNN that’s painting it, well, we know what it’s going to look like. Here’s how it started at CNN yesterday (with some additions from today):
In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN. A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.
The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel. The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.
At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset.[..]
Asked for comment, Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN: “CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
[..] White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”
The removal happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources who served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress. Those concerns continued to grow in the period after Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov. Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes.
Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community’s response to the Trump-Putin meeting. Knowledge of the Russian covert source’s existence was highly restricted within the US government and intelligence agencies. According to one source, there was “no equal alternative” inside the Russian government, providing both insight and information on Putin.
Pretty bad, right? Well, we’re not done just yet. Here’s the BBC adding its two cents:
Russian media named the spy as former presidential administration official Oleg Smolenkov. The Kommersant newspaper said Mr Smolenkov went on holiday with his family to Montenegro in 2017 and disappeared, before a man with the same name and a woman with the same name as Mr Smolenkov’s wife purchased a house in the US state of Virginia, near Washington DC. Russian reports said Mr Smolenkov had worked for Yury Ushakov, a senior aide to President Putin.
Asked by the BBC on Tuesday about the reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Mr Smolenkov had worked for the presidential administration but denied that he had held a high-level position, adding that he had been sacked. Mr Peskov described the US media coverage of the reported extraction as “pulp fiction”.
There was no suggestion on Tuesday that President Trump directly compromised the source in Russia, and reports said that widespread media speculation about US intelligence conclusions had contributed to the decision to extract the source. Last year, Russian operatives travelled to England and used a nerve agent in an assassination attempt against a former Russian military intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, who had spied for the British.
Isn’t it just lovely how they manage to throw in Skripal there at the end? Took a bit of stretching, but the BBC is plenty flexible.
Okay, so this alleged spy is extracted (or “exfiltrated”) by US intelligence, and then buys a home in Virginia. But not only that, he buys it under his own name. Presumably so that if Putin wants to find the man who divulged all those secrets for 10 years+, he can just Google him. Here’s NBC:
A former senior Russian official is living in the Washington area under U.S. government protection, current and former government officials tell NBC News. NBC News is withholding the man’s name and other key details at the request of U.S. officials, who say reporting the information could endanger his life. Yet the former Russian government official, who had a job with access to secrets, was living openly under his true name.
An NBC News correspondent went to the man’s house in the Washington area and rang the doorbell. Five minutes later, two young men in an SUV came racing up the street and parked immediately adjacent to the correspondent’s car. The men, who identified themselves only as friends of the Russian, asked the correspondent what he was doing there.
[..] The [New York] Times said the source was “the American government’s best insight into the thinking of and orders” from Putin, and was key to the CIA’s assessment that Putin favored Donald Trump’s candidacy and personally ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
The Times previously reported that the source was considered so sensitive that then-CIA Director John Brennan had declined to refer to the person in the top secret Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration. Brennan sent reports from the source to the president and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security, the Times reported.
[..] NBC News has not confirmed that the Russian living near the nation’s capital fed the CIA information about Russian election interference. But for reasons that NBC News is withholding, he fits the profile of someone who may have had access to information about Putin’s activities and who would have been recruitable by American intelligence officials.
Two former FBI officials told NBC News they believe he is the source referred to in the CNN and New York Times report. The Russian will likely be moved from the place he is currently living in the interest of keeping him safe, current and former officials said.
He will be moved in the interest of keeping him safe. That is just brilliant. What, you think Putin will be upset at no longer being able to Google his whereabouts?
To remain fair, let’s give RT some space, too, shall we?
Media outlets in Russia immediately began speculating as to the identity of the alleged mole, quickly settling on Oleg Smolenkov, state advisor of the third class who had worked at the Russian embassy in Washington before 2010. Smolenkov took his wife and three children on vacation to Montenegro on July 14, 2017, whereupon they vanished without a trace. The police have been investigating their disappearance as possible murder.
[..] Russian Senator Franz Klintsevich, deputy head of the Defense and Security Committee, dismissed CNN’s story as “fake” and “carrying out orders for another attempt to discredit Trump,” according to TASS. Most of the US mainstream media outlets spent the past three years promoting the notorious ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy theory on behalf of the Democrats, and have refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing even though special counsel Robert Mueller failed to find anything to incriminate the president after a two-year investigation.
Moreover, CNN and MSNBC have hired a number of former intelligence officials, whose fingerprints have been all over ‘Russiagate,’ as anti-Trump pundits.
John Brennan, James Clapper, here’s looking at you. There was no need today to read much further in order to find out that the secret info Trump is accused of divulging to “the Russians” had already been published first by no other than…CNN on March 31 2017. There was no secret. Other than perhaps, says Aaron Maté, that Israel was the source. But trust us, Putin would have known that.
After the Mueller report fiasco, one would think the media who don’t like Trump would be more careful with their reporting, and before reporting it. But they just keep at it.
In the process, as quoted above, through their false reporting and false claims, it’s they who are endangering lives, not Donald Trump:
Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN:
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.” [..]
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said,
“CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”
It’s not just the White House, the CIA itself says it too.
Asking for a friend: You think the country’s still capable of having a normal conversation?