Shaping the Operational Environment: McClatchy Reports that the US Intelligence Community is Investigating Ties Between the Trump Campaign and Russia

Among all the other news, big, medium, and small was this important report:

McClatchy has reported that:

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

And:

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

 

ETA: I want to emphasize something important I failed to above or below in the original post: this probe started months before anyone in the US Intel Community new anything about the oppo research documents that were leaked last week:

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

(we now return you to the original post)

While I cannot prove it, it is logical to reason that this information was provided to the McClatchy reporters so that it would be reported before the inauguration on Friday. By getting the information out now, the purpose of the reporting is to make it much more difficult for the incoming Administration to shut this investigation down or to interfere in how it is conducted.

For good, bad, or otherwise this is not going away. And the President-elect and his team seem unwilling to even try to provide reasonable explanations to knock the suspicions back. The longer this drags out the worse it will be. For all of us.

As I wrote last week before the President-elect’s press conference:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.



A Final Thought on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on MLK Day 2017

While a number of people, both here and other places, have written moving thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I wanted to highlight something we are aware of, but don’t think of enough: the anger that his actions generated. It was almost Newtonian – each action generated an equal and opposite reaction.

(Figure 1: Letter from J. Edgar Hoover, written anonymously, to MLK, Jr.)

(Figure 2: Hate mail sent to MLK, Jr.)

(Figure 3: Hate mail sent to MLK, Jr.)

These are just a sample. And it is important to remember the letter in Figure 1, believed to have been sent by J. Edgar Hoover, was an attempt to drive Dr. King to suicide. Dr. King’s movement, which eventually led to long overdue, long denied progress in the US wasn’t just opposed vehemently at the time, but led to immediate attempts to push it back. His efforts, and those that worked with him and supported him, and the progress they made is just one example of the fitful progress that is made in the US. Every time, from the first founding and the Articles of Confederation to the second founding and the Constitution and Bill of Rights to the post Civil War amendments to the New Deal to the Civil Rights era and the Great Society and to the achievements of the last 8 years, progress has been met with this same Newtonian response. Anger and obstruction while the progress is occurring and an immediate attempt, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to roll it back.

I know a lot of the readers and commenters here are on edge. Once again we are in unsettled times, this has begun to dawn on even a lot of people that voted for the President-elect as his inauguration approaches. And I know many are looking for or thinking about what to do. I can’t answer that, but I can say that whatever strategies arise, and there will likely be more than one, it is important to remember that they are often not what they seem. While Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence has been codified and commented on, it is important to remember that part of the reason he arrived at this strategy was concern. Concern for the African Americans that would have to survive the backlash and pushback that would be concurrent with his movement’s actions and push for progress on Civil Rights. Even as he was willing to risk his own life, part of his strategic focus and concern was for those who did not have the time, the money, the resources, and the wherewithal to engage in the active portion of his movement. He understood that no progress in the US came without a steep price and an immediate opposite reaction. As a result, his concern for their wellbeing, for what violence could be done to them in an attempt to pressure him to stop, went into his strategic calculus. The movement he led was unable to fully safeguard them, just as, at the end, it was unable to safeguard him.

As the clock ticks and MLK Day turns to the first day of a shortened work week that ends with a Presidential inauguration, remember that progress isn’t always made by the spectacular works of elites and notables, but by the slow, steady, and often routine work of everyone. And remember that whatever strategies you choose to follow as the US moves into new and uncharted territory should include Dr. King’s strategic calculus.



And Now a Word from the Professionals

I give you the USMC Small War’s Manual. You want to fight a rebellion? Lead a revolution? Overthrow tyranny? Counter an insurgency? Get to reading!

I’m personally going to the gym…








The Real Reason the US Supports NATO and the EU

And so it begins…

From the Bloomberg reporting:

Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal.

Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.”

“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share.

I’m going to quickly move past the NATO funding issue, as that is both solvable and is actually being resolved.

Of the 28 countries in the alliance, only five — the US, Greece, Poland, Estonia and the UK — meet the target. Many European members — including big economies like France and Germany — lag behind. Germany spent 1.19% of its GDP on defense last year and France forked out 1.78%.

All member countries that fall below the threshold committed in 2014 to gradually ramp up military spending to reach the target within the next decade.

For more on NATO funding, here’s NATO’s explanation of both direct and indirect funding.

Again, the funding issue isn’t really the issue – it’s an excuse. It is resolvable by bringing up the contributions of the member states that are in arrears to the 2% level. The issue here is what is the real purpose behind these two institutions. It is true that both NATO and the EU were created at a different time and for reasons that are only partially why they are important today. The real genius of both NATO and the EU, regardless of how they’ve developed and recognizing that no institution or organization ever develops perfectly and that reasonable, rational adjustments to both institutions should be made as needed, is that they knit Europe together. Despite what the populist-nationalist or national-populists or whatever they finally agree on calling themselves say, the purpose of NATO and the EU isn’t the destruction of sovereignty or national independence. Rather both organizations serve as a forcing function. They force the European member states of both organizations to work together, to cooperate, to recognize that sometimes there are bigger and more important issues than simply national interests.

The proof that NATO and the EU have been successful is that there has not been a war in Europe between European states over national interests, including national pride or economic disputes since the end of World War II. By stitching Britain and France and Germany and Belgium and Denmark and Spain and Portugal and France and Greece and Italy and Iceland and Norway and now all the member countries from Central and Eastern Europe together, NATO has made war in Europe among the Europeans less likely. The same for the EU. When Germany and France have a dispute they and their allies no longer spill blood and treasure across the fields of Belgium. Instead they meet in Belgium and talk it out. The forcing function, forcing these states and societies to work together, means that the uniformed and civilian personnel of all these countries have studied and travelled and worked and vacationed all over Europe. They all have counterparts and colleagues from the other European NATO and EU member states. Their children’s friends are the children of their colleagues from other countries. This is the real, tangible benefit of the EU and NATO. Its not a common market or a mutual defense pact. The real benefit is that the EU and NATO have broken the reality of over a thousand years of conflicts, capped off by World Wars I and II, in Europe and among the people of the nation-states that make up Europe.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the post Cold War period was the US and its allies losing sight of the real value of NATO and the EU. By doing so when NATO and the EU expanded they were unable for a number of reasons to expand to one crucial European nation-state: Russia. As is always the case the decision makers at the time believed they had good reasons for pursuing the policies and strategies they did after the end of the Cold War. Policies and strategies that jettisoned the idea of including Russia within NATO or the EU. And as is always the case, successfully implementing strategy to achieve one’s policy creates new opportunities, challenges, and threats. We are now facing one of those threats: a Russian led campaign to destabilize and break up NATO and the EU through the support of neo-nationalist and anti-EU parties and movements throughout Europe and the US. Regardless of what the foundational documents of NATO and the EU may say, the real purpose, whether explicitly or implicitly stated, has become to bind the nation-states and societies of Europe together to prevent future conflict. It has worked very, very well even as the leaders of NATO and the EU couldn’t bring Russia in from the cold. Now we have to see if it worked well enough for them to survive an active attempt to dismantle them.



Self Inflicted Wounds: Blind, Deaf, and Maybe Dumb

In the street of the blind, the one eyed man is the guiding light

Genesis Rabbah (300-500 CE)

Last week Yediot Ahronot reported, now confirmed by Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post, that Israel’s Intelligence Community has itself been warned to be careful sharing and transferring information and intelligence with the White House during the next Administration.  Now the Sunday Times of London and The Guardian are reporting that our British allies are very, very concerned:

A British intelligence source with extensive transatlantic experience said US spies had labelled Trump and his advisers’ links to the Kremlin problematic. “Until we have established whe­ther Trump and senior mem­­bers of his team can be trusted, we’re going to hold back,” the source told the Times. “Putting­ it bluntly, we can’t risk betraying sources and methods to the Russians.”

The concern is that any information and intelligence shared after the transition  will wind up with the Russians and the Russians would likely provide it to the Iranians (and the unspoken bit here for the Israelis is the Iranians would share it with the Syrians and Hezbullah). That this information quickly leaked from the Israelis is not an accident or a coincidence. It was intended to leak in order to provide the same message our allies and partners:  that anything shared with the incoming Administration’s White House team may wind up with Russia. Through the Israeli leak the US’s other allies, partners, and clients have now been warned. This includes the other four members of the Five Eyes Intelligence alliance, the rest of our NATO allies, and other allies and partners. They have all been put on notice that the US Intelligence Community thinks that the incoming President, Vice President, their strategy, policy, and communication advisors, the incoming National Security Advisor and his deputies, and the rest of the incoming White House team cannot be trusted with classified information.

This means that the US will have its ability to see and hear seriously restricted starting next Friday. We won’t be blind, as we’ll still have our own capability, but our vision will be significantly dimmed and our hearing significantly dulled. This will make managing and mitigating the foreign, defense, and national security problem sets that we are currently facing, let along the ability to anticipate future ones, much more difficult. And this includes the ongoing Russian active measures, influence, and cyber operations directed at us, at our allies, and at our partners.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.



Peaceful Assembly and Personal Security – Re-upped

I know a number of you all are planning to join one of the marches that will begin taking place between now through, and then after, the inauguration. So I wanted to re-up the post for anyone that missed it the first time.

(Originally posted on 18 December 2016)

Congress shall make no law… abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — Amendment 1, Bill of Rights, US Constitution

One of our readers/commenters emailed me about a week ago and asked if I would put up a post about personal security for those going to peaceably assemble to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. I put a list together and ran it past a select group of our Balloon Juice legal eagles (those I’ve corresponded with before/have corresponded with me, so if you didn’t get asked, don’t be insulted I didn’t want to just impose on you with a cold request) – thank you all for getting back to me. Here’s my list of what I think anyone going to peacefully assemble should do to enhance their personal security.

  1. Go with a buddy, that way you have at least one person looking out for you/watching your back and vice versa.
  2. Carry cash and make sure to carry a valid picture ID!
  3. Bring a pocket flashlight.
  4. Get and wear a go pro that is automatically updating to the cloud.
  5. Bring a pocket charger for your cell phone and go pro regardless of whether it is supposed to be a long day.
  6. Make sure your personal electronic devices all have sufficient password protection and encryption on them. And have them set to upload to the cloud at a regular interval.
  7. Turn off fingerprint access to unlock your phone and delete your finger prints from the memory. Some jurisdictions allow law enforcement to compel you to unlock your phone if it has finger print based access. Or get a disposable phone just for this occasion.
  8. Turn off your phone and other personal electronic devices option to connect to known wifi as it can be used as a way to fail your encryption.
  9. Bring a bandana or neck gaiter and water so you can make a make shift gas mask in case things get out of hand and tear gas or pepper spray is deployed.
  10. Bring a bottle of saline eye rinse in case you need to rinse your eyes out if tear gas or pepper spray is deployed.
  11. Bring plenty of water and some snacks to make sure you’re properly hydrated and you’ve got enough fuel in your system to get through the day.
  12. Dress in layers so you are prepared for the weather and make sure you have good shoes/boots and a change of socks in case they should get wet. A set of silk base layer undersocks is a good idea regardless of the weather. They’ll help keep your feet warm or cool as needed and they’ll provide some protection in case your shoes/boots and socks get wet. And something to keep the back of your neck and your ears warm if you’re going to be someplace cold.
  13. Bring/wear a hat to keep the sun off your head or to keep it warm depending on the weather.
  14. Bring/wear eye protection. Specifically sunglasses that are impact rated. (You should be able to pick up military surplus ones pretty cheap).
  15. Sunscreen, skin moisturizer, and lip balm. Even if its cold you’ll need these.
  16. If you need to take regular/routine prescription medication: bring it in its original container, with the prescription details on the label. If its a gel based application and comes in a packet, make sure you’ve got a hard copy of the prescription with you.
  17. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. You don’t have to be paranoid, but have a sufficient level of situational awareness. If something looks and/or feels hinky or the hair on the back of your neck stands up, head on home or go get a drink or go back to your hotel. Know who and what is around you, keep your valuables in front pockets or in secure/securable purses/bags, and keep those where they can’t be easily snatched or accessed.
  18. Have a contact plan for both linking up and communicating in case one gets separated from anyone you’re with.
  19. Have a contact plan to stay in touch with someone who isn’t at the march, but knows that you’re there and a regular set of contact times.
  20. Have a lawyer you can contact if necessary and that your outside contact could contact if you don’t check in. Make sure you have all of your contact’s phone numbers memorized in case your phone is damaged or taken by law enforcement should the worst happen and you’re arrested.
  21. Bring a sharpie to take down badge numbers if necessary. And if necessary write them on your hand.

Should the worst happen and you get caught up in a peaceable assembly that suddenly turns not so peaceable:

  1. Do not resist law enforcement. Just do what they say, let your arms go limp, and do what you can to avoid a reflex response to resist – that can get you charged with assault on a law enforcement officer.
  2. Be respectful and polite when dealing with the authorities – law enforcement, the National Park Service, whoever.
  3. If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer and then shut up. Do not say anything else or answer any other questions until your lawyer arrives. In fact let the lawyer do the talking.

One last item: some of you probably carry a pocket knife or multitool everywhere. Or everywhere that you’re normally allowed. I would recommend not carrying anything on your possession that could be construed as a concealed weapon or even an openly carried one. Even if you’re in a state/jurisdiction that allows for concealed or open carry of knives and/or other weapons – don’t. Being part of a march or peaceful assembly that turns ugly is not a good time to attempt firearms (or knife) normalization.

Stay Frosty!



President-elect Trump’s 11:00 AM EST January 2017 Press Conference Live Feed

The President-elect is scheduled to hold a press conference at 11:00 AM EST today. Here’s the live feed:

It is currently streaming the Chao confirmation hearings.

The purpose of today’s press conference is, ostensibly, for the President-elect to publicly delineate how he is going to deal with his business interests and holdings as President and then, one would expect, take questions. Given the CNN reporting yesterday afternoon, followed by the release of further related information well into this morning, I’m not sure that anyone knows exactly what may or may not happen.

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, the President-elect has had a long standing belief that the US’s allies and partners have been taking advantage of us and that our treaty and statutory alliances and agreements need to be revisited. He has an almost as long standing belief that the US and the then USSR should partner to deal with the threat of nuclear proliferation from non-superpower nations. And he has had a consistent stated preference for creating something of a bilateral partnership with Russia against ISIL throughout the campaign and into the transition as part of improved relations with Russia.

Throughout the campaign and the transition I’ve been somewhere between confused and concerned by what I’ve seen articulated by the President-elect as his foreign, defense, and national security policy preferences because they represent such a large break with longstanding US policy preferences under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I would be a lot less worried if the seeming, alleged, rumored, Russian connections were put to bed. I completely understand that a lot of ego is tied up in running for public office, let alone the Presidency. And that winning the electoral college, but not the popular vote would be troubling to any incoming President even if they were not a political neophyte.  But the responses from the President-elect and his team on these questions have been inadequate throughout the campaign and the transition. From CNN’s reporting this appears to be one of the reasons that the two page annex summarizing the former MI6 officer’s oppo research was included in the classified report and briefings to the President, the President-elect, and the Gang of Eight on Russian active measures, desinformaziya, and kompromat in the 2016 US elections. The leaders of the US Intel Community wanted it made explicit to the current and outgoing President, the President-elect and his National Security Team, and to the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate and both chambers Intelligence Committees that this material existed, it presents an ongoing threat to both political parties and to the US and its interests, and could still be used. And I would add: regardless of whether any of it is true, false, or a combination of the two. As CNN reported (emphasis mine):

One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.
These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats. This synopsis was not an official part of the report from the intelligence community case about Russian hacks, but some officials said it augmented the evidence that Moscow intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump’s, several officials with knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.

There will always be breaks or changes or adjustments to policy from Presidential Administration to Presidential Administration, depending on who is elected, from which party, and what is actually going on. But the changes that President-elect Trump has either long argued for, or argued for throughout his campaign, would be a lot easier to understand if he and his upcoming Presidency were removed from under the cloud of alleged, possible influence by a hostile foreign power.