Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Another Look At John Brennan's Task Force

While we're waiting for some action in Durham's Russia Hoax investigation, it may be useful to review this business of John Brennan's anti-Trump "task force." The story has been getting some play lately, thanks to Paul Sperry's recent claim that it's "developing":

Paul Sperry
DEVELOPING: Investigators have learned that Obama CIA Director John Brennan ran a secret task force out of Langley with its own separate budget to investigate Trump campaign and alleged ties to Russia. Task force set up before FBI officially launched its own probe on 07/31/16.  
10:17 PM · Sep 7, 2020

Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson echoed those ideas, pointing out that a CIA task force would not have been "appropriate or lawful."

At the time--which was about a week ago--I responded, in somewhat scatterfire fashion:

I'm skeptical of this tweet--the essential content of which is not new--for several reasons. 
The first is that, as stated, the whole idea of a CIA task force targeting a US Person residing within the US for ties to a foreign country is too transparently illegal to be probable. 
This interagency task force would have simply been each agency contributing its supposed knowledge re Russian targeting of the 2016 election, and possibly Brennan's official cover for egging the FBI on to take its own official action: opening investigations as only the FBI can do. 
My guess, however, is that it wasn't a specifically "Trump" TF but instead a "Russian meddling task force" with other agencies--mostly FBI--involved to cover over any illegality. The FBI could be said to be handling domestic aspects.

Neither Sperry nor Johnson are, to my knowledge, lawyers, so they failed to draw the proper distinctions. As a result, Sperry's readers were left with the impression that the "task force" was a CIA entity. Again, for Brennan to have set up a CIA task force focused on a US citizen was "too transparently illegal to be probable." The FBI would never have stood for CIA trespassing and Brennan is too smart to get caught out in something so clearly illegal.

Yesterday afternoon commenter Brad Crawford brought a twitter thread by Fool Nelson to my attention. I tend to be a bit cautious with some of the speculation that goes on at this site, but I found this thread to be incisive. By examining the material that Fool Nelson brings together we can come to a better understanding of Brennan's role in the Russia Hoax, as well as an understanding of some of the issues Durham may be looking at with regard to the CIA.

To begin with, as I indicated, Sperry's tweet doesn't document anything that's particularly new. Brennan himself told the House intel committee (HPSCI) about his interagency "task force" shortly after Team Mueller was set up:

According to @JohnBrennan's May 23, 2017 @HouseIntel testimony, he set up a "fusion cell" of experts from the CIA, NSA, and FBI "to assess Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election". 

Kudos go to Fool Nelson for digging up that tidbit--the documentation for the Russia Hoax investigation is by now so voluminous that keeping track of it all is increasingly difficult. Nevertheless, on strictly a priori grounds, this was the obvious administrative solution for the USIC. If they wanted an "anti-Trump task force" it would need to be done exactly the way Brennan did it, to conceal--at least for purposes of the criminal law--the appearance of political motivations. The "fusion cell" didn't formally target Trump. Rather, it targeted "the Russians" and their "attempts to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election".

Thus, Fool Nelson explains:

Brennan's narrative during this hearing is that he was "aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian Officials and US persons involved in the Trump Campaign", leading him to create the fusion cell and Intel sharing with the FBI.

If that's true, then Brennan's actions were perfectly proper. If it's not true, then how do you prove that it wasn't all the product of an honest, perhaps overzealous, mistake? That's the classic Brennan modus operandi. And it's the difficult-to-disprove defense that Durham is up against.

The "fusion cell", we learn, "stood down" in mid-November, 2016. Or at least that's what Brennan told Devin Nunes. That may have been true in a formal sense, but as we'll see the spirit of the "fusion cell" actually lived on in an only slightly different form.

But, you ask, what was the justification for the "fusion cell" in the first place? Here I over simplify, because we are forced to rely on hints and suggestions from public sources, rather than official documents. Those public sources may conceal the agendas and narratives of government and Deep State officials, so we have to take them for what they're worth.

The first source is Paul Wood, whom Fool Nelson characterizes as an "MI6/Steele mouthpiece." Wood wrote an article for BBC News dated January 12, 2017--so, a week or so after the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) came out--that purported to explain the origins of the "fusion cell". You have to wade through a lot of extraneous Steele related tittle tattle about Trump in Moscow to get to the real nub:

Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign. 
It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.

Pretty straightforward, if short on detail. However, as Fool Nelson points out, there's something about that dating of April, 2016, that may be significant. That puts the triggering conversation just weeks after Paul Manafort--with all his Ukrainian connections--joined the Trump campaign.

In October, 2017, Team Mueller shared some of Manafort's emails with the rabidly anti-Trump The Atlantic, and thus with the world. It seems that as soon as Manafort joined the Trump campaign he began trying to leverage his new position of influence to "get whole" with Oleg Deripaska, whom he owed a considerable amount of money. As The Atlantic reports:

On the evening of April 11, 2016, two weeks after Donald Trump hired the political consultant  Paul Manafort to lead his campaign’s efforts to wrangle Republican delegates, Manafort emailed his old lieutenant Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked for him for a decade in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. 
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote. 
“Absolutely,” Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. “Every article.” 
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asks. “Has OVD operation seen?” 
According to a source close to Manafort, the initials “OVD” refer to Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and one of Russia’s richest men. The source also confirmed that one of the individuals repeatedly mentioned in the email exchange as an intermediary to Deripaska is an aide to the oligarch. 
The emails were provided to The Atlantic on condition of anonymity. They are part of a trove of documents turned over by lawyers for Trump’s presidential campaign to investigators looking into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. A source close to Manafort confirmed their authenticity. Excerpts from these emails were first reported by The Washington Post, but the full text of these exchanges, provided to The Atlantic, shows that Manafort attempted to leverage his leadership role in the Trump campaign to curry favor with a Russian oligarch close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Manafort was deeply in debt, and did not earn a salary from the Trump campaign.

What was the purpose of the leak to The Atlantic, besides raising the question of why no effort was made to warn Trump of the seamy side of Manafort's Ukraine ties? In point of fact, as soon as Trump got an inkling of Manafort's self dealing Manafort was out the door (we won't go into the truth of those inklings):

Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign later that month, following a New York Times report that Manafort’s name was listed in a secret ledger of cash payments from the ruling pro-Russian party in Ukraine, and detailing his failed venture with Deripaska. He submitted his resignation on August 19. [We leave aside the tendentiousness of the characterization: "pro-Russian party."]

Perhaps the leak was an attempt to put some flesh on the threadbare narrative that emerged immediately in the wake of Brennan's testimony before HPSCI, as spread through the NYT the day after Brennan's performance:

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence. 
The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia. 
See how that works? Michael Flynn has "indirect ties to Russian officials" so the obvious next step is to open an investigation on Flynn as a Russian agent. Who would ever be so silly as to, say, interview Flynn about those "indirect ties"--whatever that actually means.
Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort. 
The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign. 
The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election. 
John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Was the leak to The Atlantic an attempt--at a point in time when Team Mueller already knew that there was "no there", no collusion, "there" in its witchhunt--to gin up some credibility to connect to Brennan's vague references to nameless "Russian officials"? By providing some names--the Ukraine based Konstantin Kilimnik and Viktor Boyarkin, an aide to Oleg Deripaska? Was Team Mueller hoping that this leak could somehow force Trump into submitting to a "perjury trap" interview that would actually focus on "obstruction"?

If so, it represents a significant comedown from the type of articles that were circulating in the first months of the Trump administration. For example, as early as February 14, 2016, the NYT was trumpeting:

"[M]embers of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials" claimed the NYT. 

It's instructive to reread some of those stories to refresh one's recollection of just how unhinged it all was. Unhinged--and fake, as it turned out. From collusion with "senior Russian intelligence officials" to conversations with ... a Ukrainian politician who also speaks with an aide to a wealthy Russian who knows Putin? Not exactly the stuff that will validate a hoax.

However, of note is the fact that the NYT story does appear to connect to the April, 2016, intercept from a Baltic country. Paul Manafort is explicitly named, and the date referred to is

"around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee."

Signficantly, that places the intercepts before the intelligence Brennan claims to have handcarried to the White House on July 28, 2016. It also demonstrates a consistent attempt at a narrative--a narrative that began in early 2016 but was/is still looking for validation.

Of further interest is the fact that this narrative of Trump aides communicating with Russian intelligence officers (RIOs) is continued in the Senate intel committee's report, by claiming an intelligence affiliation for Kilimnik and Boyarkin. It begins to look like coordination--still ongoing:

SSCI's RIO designation of Kilimnik and Boyarkin, besides giving cover to Brennan, also served the purpose of validating various news articles starting from February 2017.

The problem with the entire narrative is that at the same time that the NYT was making these baseless assertions in a series of inflammatory and false articles, fed to them by "four current and former American officials," Peter Strzok was texting and emailing FBI colleagues making obvious references to what he believed were CIA--and presumably Brennan inspired--leaks:

Strzok texted bureau colleague Lisa Page on Dec. 15, 2016, [when Brennan was still at the CIA]: "Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they're kicking in to overdrive." 
Strzok's email to FBI colleagues on April 13, 2017, when he wrote that an unidentified "agency" might be the "source of some of the leaks" to the media that he'd been seeing.
"I'm beginning to think the agency got info a lot earlier than we thought and hasn't shared it completely with us," Strzok wrote, according to documents that the senators included in their letter to the ICIG. "Might explain all these weird/seemingly incorrect leads all these media folks have. Would also highlight agency as a source of some of the leaks."

That's NOT an "unidentified agency". In LE/Intel circles the CIA is simply referred to as "the Agency", just as the FBI is referred to as "the Bureau." Strzok knows where the leaks are coming from.

Most tellingly, Strzok subjected the February 14, 2017, NYT article to a withering analysis that he sent around to colleagues and superiors. Given that Strzok is blaming the CIA for all these leaks, his analysis--well worth quoting--is a direct attack on the Russia Hoax collusion narrative that Brennan had been flogging around DC for the better part of a years by then:

Mr. Strzok, who was fired for his anti-Trump texts, wrote 15 Times story comments, including: 
On the lead paragraph, “This statement is misleading and inaccurate as written. We have not seen evidence of any individuals affiliated with the Trump team in contact with IOs [intelligence officers].” 
On the second paragraph, which said U.S. intelligence began collecting Trump-Russia intercepts in the spring, “We do not know nor can we figure out what this means or where it might be coming from (i.e. something we can identify as a source of misunderstanding.)” 
On the paragraph that said former campaign manager Paul Manafort was picked up on calls to Russian intelligence, “We are unaware of any calls with any Russian government official in which Manafort was a party.” 
On the story saying FBI has banking records, “We do not yet have detailed banking records.” 
On they story saying in subsequent paragraphs there were lots of contacts, “Again, we are unaware of ANY Trump advisors engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.” 
On The New York Times assertion that the National Security Agency intercepted Russian-Trump aides calls, “If they did we are not aware of those communications.” 
Mr. Comey checked with NSA after he read the story and was told there were no such intercepts.

What we appear to be seeing in all this is that, while Brennan and his close aides may have been on the same "get Trump" page as Comey and his top management, the two organizations were each wed to their own sources. The FBI, in spite of obvious flashing alarm signals, clung to Chris Steele and his "dossier," while Brennan was infatuated with his own sources.

And in that regard Fool Nelson links to a lengthy account of what appears to have been Brennan's primary source for his big picture conspiracy theory. The account is by Scott Ritter--The Spy Who Walked Away: Oleg Smolenkov’s role as a CIA asset and the use of his data by the director of the CIA to cast doubt over the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The article, which I highly recommend, is far too long to summarize here. It covers Smolenkov's entire career as a (supposed?) CIA mole inside the Russian government--from his (supposed?) recruitment to his eventual "exfiltration" and resettlement in Virginia. Obviously I'm not in a position to confirm the entire article, but to me it hangs together to present a compelling picture that fits with what we know from other sources.

Here are some relevant highlights.

Smolenkov was recruited while stationed in DC, no later than 2008. At that time he was working in a low level position and was openly unhappy with his situation. Upon his return to Moscow, however, he advanced rapidly. He quickly found a position working for a close adviser to Putin.

However, at about the same time (2013), the CIA experienced catastrophic failures in its entire overseas spying operations. Think about this:

First, the CIA’s internet-based covert communications system, ..., had been globally compromised. Smolenkov had been trained on this system, and it provided his lifeline to the CIA. The compromise first occurred in Iran, and then spread to China; in both countries, entire networks of CIA agents were rounded up, with many being subsequently executed. China is believed to have shared the information on how to detect the covert communication-linked web pages with Russia.

Not only that, but beginning two years earlier (2011), the Russian FSB began regularly identifying and expelling CIA case officers stationed in Moscow:

In the fall of 2011, the CIA’s chief of station in Moscow, Steven Hall, had been approached by his counterpart in the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI) and warned that the CIA should stop trying to recruit agents from within the FSB ranks; the FSB had detected several of these attempts, which it deemed inappropriate given the ongoing cooperation between the intelligence services of the two countries regarding the war on terrorism.

Go figure, huh? Who do the Russians think they are?

The CIA ignored the warning and continued trying to recruit Russians, with disastrous results: More and more CIA officers exposed and expelled. And this situation continued to the end of the Obama administration. The question--one of several possibilities--is: During this period could Smolenkov have been identified by the FSB as a CIA asset and turned back against the CIA as a double agent? Consider this:

Moscow Station’s string of bad luck continued into 2016, ...
The FSB indicated, at the time these two officers were being expelled, that it had evicted three other CIA officers during the year. In addition to the decimation of its staff, Moscow Station was experiencing an alarming number of its agents being discovered by the FSB and arrested. While the Russians were circumspect about most of these cases, on several occasions they indicated that they had uncovered a spy by intercepting the electronic communications between him and the CIA. This meant that the Russians were aware of, and actively pursuing, the Google-based internet-based system used by the CIA to communicate with its agents in Russia. 
Meanwhile, Smolenkov continued to send his reports to his CIA handlers unabated, using the same internet-based system. Under normal circumstances, an exception to compromise would raise red flags within the counterintelligence staff that evaluated an agent’s reporting and activity. But by the summer of 2016, nothing about the work of the CIA, and in particular the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center could be considered “normal” when it came to the Russian target.

Meanwhile, back in Langley, in 2013, Brennan had come up with a reorganization of CIA intelligence operations. A seemingly highly qualified official was put in charge of all Russian operations. His duties included all aspects of handling Smolenkov--communications, tasking, vetting of reports, etc. We'll never know how that might have worked out with regard to the Russia Hoax, whether a sober analysis might have led to a balanced assessment. That's because Brennan personally took over the management of election related matters with regard to Russia--including the handling of Smolenkov. Normal operations were circumvented. To do this Brennan formed that "fusion cell" or "task force" we've heard so much about:

Sometime in early August 2016, [John Brennan] arrived at the White House carrying a plain, unmarked white envelope. Inside was an intelligence report from Smolenkov that CIA Director Brennan considered to be so sensitive that he kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restrictive process was too inclusive to adequately protect the source. The intelligence was to be read by four people only — Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. The document was to be returned to the courier once it had been read.
The contents of the report were alarming--Putin had personally ordered the cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. [I know. You want to know why Obama didn't demand that the FBI take physical custody of the DNC server. Ask John Brennan.]
The intelligence report was not a product of Clement’s Europe and Eurasia Mission Center, but rather a special unit of handpicked analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI who were brought together under great secrecy in late July and reported directly to Brennan. These analysts were made to sign non-disclosure agreements protecting their work from their colleagues.

According to Ritter, this report genuinely alarmed Obama. Whatever the real case, it marked a complete departure from normal business at the CIA. We don't know exactly when Brennan injected himself into the handling of Smolenkov. Was it shortly after the April report from that Baltic country? We don't know, but that possibility raises an important question: If Brennan took the Baltic reporting seriously, did that lead him to task Smolenkov specifically with regard to the upcoming election? The significance of this possibility is pointed out by Ritter:

It is not publicly known what prompted the report from Smolenkov which Brennan found so alarming. Was it received out of the blue, a target of opportunity which Smolenkov exploited? Was it based upon a specific tasking submitted by Smolenkov’s CIA handlers in response to a tasking from above? Or was it a result of the intervention of the CIA director, who tasked Smolenkov outside normal channels? In any event, once Brennan created his special analytical unit, Smolenkov became his dedicated source. If Smolenko was in this for the money,  as appears to be the case, he would have been motivated to come up with the “correct” answer to Brennan’s tasking for information on Putin’s role.  By late 2016, Western media had made quite clear what kind of answer Brennan wanted. 
Every intelligence report produced by a controlled asset is subjected to a counterintelligence review where it is examined for any evidence of red flags that could be indicative of compromise. One red flag is the issue of abnormal access. Smolenkov did not normally have direct contact with Putin, if ever. His intelligence reports would have been written from the perspective of the distant observer. His report about Putin’s role in interfering in the 2016 election, however, represented a whole new level of access and trust. Under normal circumstances, a report exhibiting such tendency would be pulled aside for additional scrutiny; if the report was alarming enough, the CIA might order the agent to be subjected to a polygraph to ensure he had not been compromised. 
This did not happen. Instead, Brennan took the extraordinary measure of sequestering the source from the rest of the Intelligence Community.

Now, recall that the "fusion cell" "stood down" in mid-November, 2016. However, as I said, it lived on in spirit. That spirit was embodied in the interagency analytical group that wrote up the ICA in the first week of 2017. The ICA's endorsement of the Russia Hoax--Russia meddled to get Trump elected--has formed the basis for most public discussion ever since. Virtually everyone who speaks on the matter takes as a given that Russia really did "meddle" and that the meddling was at the personal direction of Vladimir Putin.

In this we see the hand of Smolenkov and Brennan:

The 2016 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) was produced differently — no Mission Center involvement, no NIO assigned, no peer review. Just Brennan’s little band of sequestered analysts.
Smolenkov’s information took top billing in the ICA, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” published on Jan. 6, 2017. “We assess,” the unclassified document stated, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Smolenkov’s reporting appears to be the sole source for this finding.

And the evidence for that influence campaign is, where exactly? But you can imagine the amount of work that Durham has put into sorting all this out. What was behind Brennan's circumvention of normal procedures and safeguards, especially with regard to Smolenkov? How was the "fusion cell" staffed and, especially, what instructions did they receive? Who was responsible for the leaks, filled with disinformation?

Ritter concludes--but at considerable length--with the rest of Smolenkov's story: his firing, his exfiltration from Russia, and his extraordinary handling and resettling in Virginia:

Normally a defector would be subjected to a debriefing, inclusive of a polygraph, to confirm that he or she had not been turned into a double agent. Smolenkov had, over the course of a decade of spying, accumulated a considerable amount of money which the CIA was holding in escrow. This money would be released to Smolenkov upon the successful completion of his debriefing. In the case of Smolenkov, however, there doesn’t seem to have been a detailed, lengthy debriefing. His money was turned over to him. Sometime in June 2018, Smolenkov and his wife bought a home worth nearly $1 million in northern Virginia. The couple used their real names. They were not afraid.

Right. Smolenkov had apparently never heard of Sergei Skripal.

Ritter then speculates on various possibilities regarding Smolenkov, all centering on the possibility that Smolenkov was either controlled by Russian intelligence or manufactured his reporting to suit the predilections of John Brennan. I leave that to the reader, observing only the extremely vague and--as it developed--utterly unreliable character of much of the "intelligence" that Brennan has purveyed to the nation, through voluminous leaks.

Finally. I was struck when read Ritter's account of the CIA's Moscow disasters during the period 2011 to 2016, in which agents were lost and CIA officers expelled for attempting to recruit FSB officers. What struck me was the comparison to events during the same period in New York City. It was during that period that a former CIA asset--Carter Page--helped the FBI make a case against Russian IOs. One of the charges brought against the Russians was that they attempted to recruit Page. In the big picture of US-Russian intel relations during those years, I believe that this case--which might seem rather nickel-dime to most of us, since it didn't involve classified information--held great importance for the FBI and CIA. It was part of getting a bit of payback against the Russians, who were eating the CIA's lunch otherwise. For the FBI, it provided additional prestige as an example of effectively dealing with Russian intel here in the US. For that reason, I'm quite sure that Carter Page was well known to FBIHQ.


  1. The only way Durham is ever going to get to Brennan is if Brennan can be tied to either Mifsud or Steele by documentary evidence- e-mails, texts, and/or phone calls.

    1. I'll say this: It won't be easy. Being a liar, foisting false information on the public--that won't be good enough. They could get him on a false statement or possibly a leak, but that'll be tough, too.

      Still, our prognostications are limited by what we don't know.

    2. Brennan lying to Congress... how could that not be good enough?
      I realize that would be small potatoes, but if all else failed, how many years would that be?

    3. How could that not be good enough, in that he'd still be the *first* CIA boss busted (for any conduct in *that* capacity)?
      Esp. as long as he can be branded as a Felon, even if he serves only a few months.

  2. Or someone who worked for Brennan can be tied in such a way, and is willing to cooperate.

  3. Wow. What a great read. It sure seems like whatever Durham has gotten from Smolenkov himself and from others that could shed more light on just what role he played, and in general what he knows, should be pretty key to all this.

    Also, that point about Carter Page is really intriguing. Not only would the atmosphere of the times make it more likely the FBI, as you say, knew who he was, but Page's role, looked at in this light, would have been a real solid service to God and Country -- the sort that should never be repaid the way Comey's FBI, Mueller's SCO, and the entire Democrat Mafia/Media Complex repaid him.


    1. My pleasure. It's like I mentioned so and so had a good recipe for stuffing and next thing I know you've made a Thanksgiving feast :)

  4. To compare Ritter's take on the IC's normal vetting etc. procedures, w/ those of prior times, see the views of Amb. Jack Matlock, at .
    E.g., he compares Brennan's approach to this Russia stuff, to Clapper's approach in the Saddam WMD affair.
    "If you can hand-pick the analysts, you can hand-pick the conclusions."

    1. And that's undoubtedly why Durham insisted on interviewing the analysts, over the objections of the USIC.

  5. Consider this report -- some interesting potential implications, if true ...

    >> Quote:

    CIA Director Gina Haspel lamented how the Justice Department's review of the Russia investigation would be a "nightmare" for her agency, according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward's new book.

    Haspel and then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats made an appointment with Attorney General William Barr after he announced the investigation in May 2019, which would look, in part, into alleged spying into President Trump's 2016 campaign, possibly by law enforcement and intelligence agency officials.

    Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Woodward wrote in Rage, "had already torn inconclusively through the intelligence agencies, they said. Why did this need to be done? It will be very disruptive to the agencies." Barr told the pair there was more out there that had not been investigated in the review that was being taken up by U.S. Attorney John Durham.

    Haspel said such an investigation would have a negative effect on morale at the CIA, and some of her people were wondering if they needed to get an attorney, Woodward wrote.

    Although Barr insisted that the investigation would not be disruptive, Haspel disagreed. According to Woodward, she said it was like Mueller 2.0 and a "nightmare" for the CIA.

    Still, Coats and Haspel said they would provide the Justice Department with any documents that were needed because of a presidential order. They also urged Barr not to pull any fast ones.

    "I hope you can do this in a way that it's not going to cause a lot of problems," Haspel said, according to the book. "And can we stay informed in terms of what you plan to do and make sure we know what's happening?"

    Barr told them not to worry and that he would keep them apprised of any developments. "Your people won't need to be concerned," he said.

    "Don't worry, don't worry," Barr added. "This is not a witch hunt. There's more out there and we just need to know what it is."

    [snip] <<

    My comments:

    What jumps out at me is that CIA personnel managed to endure Mueller's sniffing their underwear without freaking out, but when Bar unleashed Durham to look into what was done by CIA in relation to the Russia Collusion Hoax, some of the CIA people started to think about lawyering up. You don't normally think about hiring a criminal attorney just because a US Attorney is collecting information at the request of the AG, unless you think you might have broken the law, or are about to be accused of it.

    I submit this is evidence of a "guilty mind," in as much as there was never any reporting of CIA personnel seeking lawyers when Mueller was collecting info from them/CIA during his probe. This implies the CIA people involved knew Mueller wasn't concerned about what CIA did in the Russia Collusion investigation because they knew his target was Trump, and Trump associates.

    But When Barr turned Durham loose to figure out what really happened, CIA people involved with the Russian Collusion investigation furiously began spinning their roledexes, looking for phone numbers of criminal attorneys in DC.

    Barr's answer -- that "this isn't a witchhunt" -- suggests the targets of Durham's investigation, if there were to be targets, would likely be those who orchestrated an illegal operation, not the worker bees who carried it out, perhaps unwittingly, at the behest of leadership. At CIA, that, of course, was Brennan.

    1. "targets, would likely be those who orchestrated an illegal operation, not the worker bees who carried it out".
      Hopefully Barr won't hesitate to press the worker bees, if that's what it takes to get to the wheels.

      That Haspel would whine about "I hope you can do this in a way that it's not going to cause a lot of problems" is a classic DC ploy, to sabotage probing of what, anywhere else, would be understood as normal truth-seeking.
      Any odds on whether Barr buckles?

    2. Nightmares for thee but not for me.

    3. It's no longer a witch hunt once you have identified the "witches".

  6. "The compromise first occurred in Iran, and then spread to China; in both countries, entire networks of CIA agents were rounded up, with many being subsequently executed."

    And how much of this was thanks to Hillary's unsecure illegal homegrown bathroom mail server?

    1. Probably none--she wouldn't have had access to that information. If she did, heads should roll.

  7. from Larry Johnson's article linked above:

    "So what did John Brennan do? My friends said that a Trump Task Force was running in early 2016 and may have started as early as the summer of 2015".

    Trump came down the escalator in June 2015. What was Brennan so afraid of so early on?

  8. If Barr and Durham let them all escape justice it will destroy any hope of gaining the taxpayers faith in the fbi, cia and the disgusting department of selective justice.

  9. Mark, I must add this is some of your best stuff. I'd also like to express my appreciation for your compliment early in the blog with respect to:

    "I tend to be a bit cautious with some of the speculation that goes on at this site, but I found this thread to be incisive."

    While I do speculate often and throw caution to the wind some times Mr. Crawford does come through.

    With respect to the Baltic state, the only reference I've seen written about in the past had to due with Estonia. Then candidate Trump in his early stages questioned the value of US role in NATO. Estonia being on the front doorstep of Russia was making noise and being queasy about Trump's NATO statements. Perhaps Brennan's primary source, Oleg Smirnoff references this (later shown to be false) as part of his sourcing.

    Further, shortly after the early August time frame Brennan briefs Obama, Rice, Haines, and McDonough, he then proceeds to brief the "Gang of 8" individually. However, 7 of the 8 got the same briefing and 1 (Harry Reid) got additional information. Reid was informed of the Steele/Dossier.

    Undercover Huber
    Mar 13, 2019
    CIA Director John Brennan almost certainly told the then Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid about the Steele dossier allegations on Aug 25 2016

    And by his own admission Brennan passed that off as “considered intelligence” from “CIA”

    Here’s 3 pieces of evidence

    1) Brennan says he briefed the Gang of 8 about “Russian attempts to interfere in the election” (then including Harry Reid)

    IMPORTANT: Brennan says he provided “the same briefing to each gang of eight member”

    2) Brennan says to @chucktodd he told Mitch McConnell in his briefing that what he was passing on was the “consider[ed] view and assessment from CIA”

    Since he gave “the same briefing” to Reid as McConnell, logically Brennan said the same thing to Reid about the intelligence

    3a) Only two days after Brennan briefed Reid on Aug 25, Reid fires off a letter to FBI Director @Comey on Aug 27

    He mentions allegations that @carterwpage (unnamed) “met with high ranking sanctioned individuals while in Moscow in July of 2016”

    *That is from the Steele dossier*

    3b) Q: How do you know that the allegation Reid mentions about
    @carterwpage meeting “sanctioned individuals” is “from the Steele dossier”?

    A: Because that allegation wasn’t made public *until weeks later*, on Sep 23 when Yahoo News reported it (with Steele as an unnamed source)

    —John Brennan testimony to HPSCI, May 23 2017:

    I believe this is one of the many criminal referrals that Devin Nunes has made to the DOJ in the past year or so.

    1. Lee Smith in his new book argues that the Steele "dossier" reflects the reporting of Smolenkov. There may be more to all this that has still not come out.

    2. Perhaps Nellie Ohr's CIA connections enter into this. So far we have no idea whatsoever whether Durham has looked at Fusion GPS.

    3. Major questions regarding Mike’s research ... and, yes, it has been gone over here in one way or another ...

      Why would Russia support Trump? Hillary, while publicly bellicose towards Russia, in private by deed, was extremely supportive of Russia or, at least, Russian state controlled corporations, and had no issues with Russia having a major control of US nuclear assets even while US Secretary of State.

      If there was real corroboration between the dossier and the CIA’s save for a smaller portion, then why could not the FBI verify and why would the CIA not provide such information. Remember, Brennan, with a gleam in his eye, gave what I consider a disturbing public interview in which he confidently proclaimed Trump would not be president. This matched all of Obama’s administration, including Obama (mike drop theatrics), and the media’s confidence.

      If the media was soo confident of the dossier and it’s assertions, why did they all refused to go publicly with it till it came out by non-traditional media?

      The only verified Russian “interference” is social media ads that were for both Trump and Hillary.

      Combine this with the disdain Obama and the media had for Romney about his assertion in a debate that Russia is an enemy, it seems, to me, the dossier was BS, the spy was either BS or could not actually corroborate anything.

      In a different time, people would be in jail or hanged for this and that was not that long ago.

      - TexasDude

    4. There is no way Russia wanted Trump to win the Presidency.

      Russia had Hillary by the short hairs, what with the payment of about $150 million to the Clinton foundation in exchange for the Uranium 1 deal.

      China also has plenty of evidence of Bill and Hillary's crimes to use to extort whatever they wanted from a Hillary administration.

    5. To me, the hanging question about Smolenkov is...who was he really working for? In this regard, I found the comments to Ritter's article most fascinating. Ritter certainly entertains the possibility that Smolenkov was a double agent working for Russia who fed Brennan disinformation; numerous of the commentators take the ball and run with it. It seems its anybody's guess as of today what the truth about Smolenkov really is.

    6. That was the most fascinating part, IMO. After all, given the continuing disasters in the CIA's Russian asset program, how could they continue to operate sources with any degree of confidence? How could they present their reporting as reliable with any degree of confidence--reliable, as opposed to disinformational?

    7. Dunning-Kruger Effect!

    8. It makes me want to reread or rewatch Tinker Tailor. Reading this is pretty mind boggling. I mean, the degree or real world contact between the CIA and Smolenkov operating in Moscow had to be close to zero. How can you possibly be confident that he remains reliable when the rest of your program there is turning to sh*t?

    9. Smolenkov was Brennan's "Source Merlin" -- dispensing "witchcraft" material to the unwitting dupes in MI-6?

      Don't forget, that the Witchcraft material, which quickly devolved into chicken-feed, was paid for with the most sensitive secrets of the inner workings and operations of MI-6 by the mole "Gerald," handed off to Merlin's London agent, Polyakov.

      What did Brennan give Smolenkov in return for his "intel"? Who in CIA scrutinized the Smolenkov intel to independently assess its veracity/disinfo potential?

      That was the problem with "Witchcraft" material -- Gerald the Mole and his unwitting dupes in MI-6 walled it off, as well as Merlin's identity and that of his London front man, so that no one outside of the team that supposedly had recruited source Merlin was allowed to assess his material.

      That protected the fact that Merlin didn't exist, Witchcraft intel was chickenfeed, and Gerald the mole had used the hoax Merlin to pass the Crown jewels of MI-6 operations to his handler, Karla, in KGB HQs in Moscow.

      And Brennan walled off Smolenkov intel with his "fusion cell" -- no one else in CIA was allowed to independently assess its veracity.

      Was Brennan the CIA's Gerald the Mole?

      Or is he just a moron who got played by the Russians?

      Third possibility: Brennan ran Smolenkov and told him what to report, or made up his reports himself when he needed to justify doing something.

    10. The other uncanny parallel from "Tinker, Tailor..." is Smiley's admonition: "topicality is always suspect."

      When a mysterious intel source in Russia just happens to show up with intel about Putin's intentions vis-a-vis preferences in US POTUS elections, at the very moment that other sources that ultimately appear to trace back to Russia (Danchenko's sources) are waling about Russian election collusion (according to Steele's memoes,) one needs to heed Smiley's admonition.

      It's all "too convenient." And that's not how the real world works most of the time.

      But by walling off the Smolenkov intel, Brennan prevents any independent assessment of the Smolenkov material, except by the koolaid-drinking buffoons like Brennan and his "hand-picked" goons in his Fusion Group, who have already bought into the Russia Collusion Hoax hook, line, and sinker.

    11. It's almost as if Brennan read the book and decided to emulate Percy Alleline's "tradecraft." Or was Clapper Alleline and Brennan Haydon?

    12. Obviously, if Brennan read "Tinker, Tailor,.." he forgot to finish reading the final chapter, where both Alleline and Haydon met their destruction, both professionally, and one mortally.

    13. EZ--That's an excellent analogy to "Tinker Tailor..." It's been a while since I watched the original Alec Guinness version, but it comes right back with your description. Well done.

      Based on the assumptions made here about Smolenkov, I'd say he was a double agent for Russia. What former Russian intelligence agent could live openly in the West after betraying his employer??

    14. If Smolenkov was actually working for Russia while "pretending to work for us while working for Russia," there would be no reason for him to come to the West at all (unless we blackmailed him, like Smiley did to Karla.)

      I think Smolenkov was just some low level bureaucrat who had little access to Russian Intel, who Brennan set up up as something much more than he really was, and attributed to him things that he either first told him to regurgitate, or Brennan wrote the intel reports himself, and Smolenkov never even knew it was attributed to him, similar to the crap Steele reported in his dossier, but Danchenko says he never told him.

    15. I just finished watching Tinker Tailor (Gary Oldham version). Smiley's world seems no different than Brennan's. But Brennan is clearly no Smiley.

      So, who is Brennan? Who is Smolenkov?

      Hard to say (certainly hard for me to say) at this point...

    16. If the Russians really wanted him, wouldn't they have already staked out 78 Partridge Lane, Stafford, VA? Isn't poison their choice of weapon these days? and all the so called "fake" outrage in Russia at the time at his and his families disappearance? No... he meant nothing to them... He meant everything to Brennan...

    17. "Why would Russia support Trump?"

      They didn't. Otherwise Steele's phony "dossier," supposedly comprised of "Russian disinformation," would not have sought to smear the candidate they allegedly supported. The "Russia wanted Trump to win" myth is a self-evident nonsensical construction.

    18. @ Cassander

      Just your typical self aggrandizing bureaucrats?

    19. Yup. I suppose self aggrandizing is as good a purpose as any for a spy when your occupation is (as the le Carré oeuvre repeatedly points out) immoral and ultimately pointless...

    20. Cassander wrote:

      >> CassanderSeptember 16, 2020 at 7:46 PM

      I just finished watching Tinker Tailor (Gary Oldham version). Smiley's world seems no different than Brennan's. But Brennan is clearly no Smiley.

      It's a decent film in its own right, but you owe it to yourself to watch the original miniseries with Alec Guinness as Smiley. A feature length film simply cannot do justice to the rich details and subtle nuances the miniseries delivers.

      My recommendation is to binge-watch all 6 hours non-stop (other than toilet breaks.)

      And if you want the full experience, watch all six hours of "Smiley's People" (with Guinness reprising his role as Smiley) the next day.

    21. @EZ

      Excellent suggestion. I have the Guinness version on dvd. Might have to wait for a rainy day to do all 6 hours, though... :-)


      "It's almost as if Brennan read the book and decided to emulate Percy Alleline's "tradecraft." Or was Clapper Alleline and Brennan Haydon?"

      Excellent question. Is Brennan Bill Haydon?

      I wonder if Brennan himself knows.

    22. @EZ

      I've just read and reread your excellent posts re Brennan and Smolenkov.

      To summarize, you posit three possibilities:

      1. As fantastic as it sounds, is it possible Brennan was actually working for the Russians? Brennan walled off Smolenkov intel with his "fusion cell" -- no one else in CIA was allowed to independently assess its veracity. By so doing, Brennan prevented any independent assessment of the Smolenkov material, thus facilitating the acceptance of Russian disinformation/lies by the United States Government. In this way, was Brennan the CIA's Gerald the Mole as in Tinker Tailor? I.e., was Brennan working for the Russians?

      2. Or is Brennan just a moron who got played by Russian disinformation fed to him by Smolenkov, who was a double agent?

      3. Or, was Brennan just using Smolenkov as a 'fake' source to invent 'intelligence' not to protect our national security but to destroy Trump? Was Smolenkov just a low level bureaucrat who had little access to Russian Intel, who Brennan set up up as something much more than he really was, and attributed to him things that he either first told him to regurgitate, or Brennan wrote the intel reports himself, and Smolenkov never even knew it was attributed to him. As in the case of the Danchenko reporting in the Steele Dossier?

      Have I accurately summarized?

      Think about these possibilities...Brennan was either a traitor, or an incompetent, or a willing participant in a coup attempt. The fourth possibility...that Smolenkov was a US agent providing truthful information to Brennan about Trump collusion which he was using honestly in the best interests of the United States and its duly-elected President, seems inconceivable at this point.

      I can appreciate the challenge Durham is facing, to apply these facts to existing criminal statutes and file charges in which he has high confidence will lead to convictions. But regardless of whether Brennan's actions fit into possibilities 1, 2 or 3 above and regardless of whether Durham is able to file charges, surely Brennan's a minimum...amount to an utter betrayal of his oath and his responsibilities to the American people.

    23. Most likely it's #3, at SparleFarts' (staff's) behest.
      #3 would fit best w/ the conduct of the other perps (e.g. Comey, Mueller).

  10. So the senate is issuing subpoenas now. Does that mean Durham is done with them?

    1. That's what I'm suggesting in a new post.

    2. Don't forget that Lindsey Graham said on about the 10th (to the effect that) if you think the wiped phones are big news, wait about 10-12 days...

    3. It's possible that a couple of cooperating witnesses--like Pientka, among a few possibilities--could be called to testify and could offer some red meat for the GOP.

  11. "Must watch" video embedded in this tweet:

    >> <<

    John Solomon talking about Brennan, Halper, ONA, and the ICA.

    Nunes referred CIA "spycraft" during Russia Collusion Hoax for review by CIA IG in 2018.

    May learn very soon what this was all about.

    1. Yeah, that was some "spycraft." Looked like malpractice.

    2. Solomon refers to an imminent declassification at the end of the tape. Perhaps the declassification Solomon is referring to is what Lindsey Graham was talking about.

    3. Yes. In that regard, I see that the ONA Baker and Halper are both being subponenaed by Johnson. My belief remains that there is a CIA connection in that. Maybe I'm wrong, but declassified docs in that regard could be interesting. But it's all guesses right now.

    4. @Mark

      Re Johnson's subpoenas...Some of Johnson's 'subpoenas' are styled as 'notices of deposition'. Do you think this means Schiff-style closed depositions in the basement...or Watergate-style televised public hearings?

    5. Sorry, I have no more idea than you do.

    6. Where I was that if Durham now has 'all the facts'...which show unquestionable abuses of power and 'lawfare'-inspired attempts to destroy the President...but doesn't have iron-clad Barr-level criminal cases against all of the participants...then maybe a televised Watergate-style Senate 'show trial' can serve the purpose of informing and persuading the American people of the despicable conduct of the coupetrators.

    7. Right, and such a 'show trial' would be salutary in any case. But I'd still be very--make that VERY--disappointed if your scenario is what it comes down to.

    8. I'll go further and say that that eventuality would be a stunning defeat for our constitutional order and future as a republic under the rule of law.

    9. @Mark --

      I agree.

      "[T]hat eventuality" describes the enormous challenge Barr is facing in a nutshell. It seems impossible to imagine that what the conspirators did is not fact, not the vilest political crimes in the history of our country.

      And yet, to ultimately prevail, Barr must win any cases he brings under the laws as written.

      Imagine the impact and consequences of acquittals!

    10. "doesn't have iron-clad Barr-level criminal cases against *all* of the participants".

      If, say, Durham already has Barr-level criminal cases against *half* of the perps, I won't view that as a stunning defeat for our constitutional order, esp. if Durham will be able to continue to probe the evidence, for 4 more years.

    11. A nation that depends on "show trials" for justice has no claim on "the rule of law".

    12. @Anonymous
      Perhaps 'show trial' was not the best term.

      I can imagine well-run and dispositive public Senate hearings (in addition to prosecutions) helping to round out the 'Normie' response to Obamagate.

      As Mouse says.

    13. "Yeah, that was some 'spycraft.' Looked like malpractice."

      Clowns In Action.


  12. I personally think it is all BS. Bad actors were smart and counting on good actors to follow the law. So far, this has occurred.

    After Trump, no matter when, we are not ruled by the constitution. I personally think that has been true for a long time with Trump trying to bring us back.

    It’s not me I care about, but my children in all this.

    - TexasDude

  13. @American Cardigan

    "If the Russians really wanted him, wouldn't they have already staked out 78 Partridge Lane, Stafford, VA?"

    I thought I had read somewhere that Smolenkov has subsequently vacated 78 Partridge Lane and disappeared...but I can't find a link this morning...

    1. Hadn’t heard Yakoff Smirnoff relocated. Why should he?

    2. Smolenkov bought the house in June 2018 and sold it on February 28, 2020:

      Of interest, I suppose, is the fact that while Smolenkov and his wife were listed as buyers, Smolenkov is not listed as a seller. Instead, his wife and 'Elizabeth A Grannis' are listed as sellers...

      For what its worth (and perhaps not much) a google search of Smolenkov's wife a few moments ago turned up this:

      What's a good spy story without 'a spoiled and greedy wife' who wants 'money, comfort and luxury' who seduces her husband to spy for the CIA?

  14. Anonymous wrote on September 16, 2020 at 7:50 PM
    "Why would Russia support Trump?" "They didn't. Otherwise Steele's phony "dossier," supposedly comprised of "Russian disinformation," would not have sought to smear the candidate they allegedly supported. The "Russia wanted Trump to win" myth is a self-evident nonsensical construction."

    I agree.

    I hope Durham is able to convincingly destroy every element of the Russia fabrication.

  15. new artilcle by Paul Sperry:

    Brennan Overruled Dissenting Analysts Who Concluded Russia Favored Hillary
    By Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigations
    September 24, 2020

    >> <<

    >> Former CIA Director John Brennan personally edited a crucial section of the intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and assigned a political ally to take a lead role in writing it after career analysts disputed Brennan's take that Russian leader Vladimir Putin intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump clinch the White House, according to two senior U.S. intelligence officials who have seen classified materials detailing Brennan’s role in drafting the document. <<

    Can't blame that one on subordinates if he edited it himself.

  16. More from the Sperry article:

    >> The second senior intelligence official, who has read a draft of the still-classified House Intelligence Committee review, confirmed that career intelligence analysts complained that the ICA was tightly controlled and manipulated by Brennan, who previously worked in the Obama White House.

    “It wasn’t 17 agencies and it wasn’t even a dozen analysts from the three agencies who wrote the assessment," as has been widely reported in the media, he said. "It was just five officers of the CIA who wrote it, and Brennan hand-picked all five. And the lead writer was a good friend of Brennan’s.”

    Brennan's tight control over the process of drafting the ICA belies public claims the assessment reflected the “consensus of the entire intelligence community.” His unilateral role also raises doubts about the objectivity of the intelligence. <<

  17. More:

    >> Several Republican lawmakers and former Trump officials are clamoring for the declassification and release of the secret House staff report on the ICA.

    “It’s dynamite,” said former CIA analyst Fred Fleitz, who reviewed the staff report while serving as chief of staff to then-National Security Adviser John Bolton.

    "There are things in there that people don’t know,” he told RCI. “It will change the dynamic of our understanding of Russian meddling in the election.”

    However, according to the intelligence official who worked on the ICA review, Brennan ensured that it would be next to impossible to declassify his sourcing for the key judgment on Putin. He said Brennan hid all sources and references to the underlying intelligence behind a highly sensitive and compartmented wall of classification.

    He explained that he and Clapper created two classified versions of the ICA – a highly restricted Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information version that reveals the sourcing, and a more accessible Top Secret version that omits details about the sourcing.

    Unless the classification of compartmented findings can be downgraded, access to Brennan’s questionable sourcing will remain highly restricted, leaving the underlying evidence conveniently opaque, the official said. <<