One Day After Senior Intelligence Official Leaks Details of “Red Phone” Call, Russia Cuts Back Communications with the US

Yesterday, I expressed alarm that someone identified as a “senior intelligence official” not only leaked to NBC that President Obama had used the crisis “Red Phone” with Russia for the first time in his presidency (at least in a cyber context), but characterized the communication as muddled.

A month later, the U.S. used the vestige of an old Cold War communications system — the so-called “Red Phone” that connects Moscow to Washington — to reinforce Obama’s September warning that the U.S. would consider any interference on Election Day a grave matter.

This time Obama used the phrase “armed conflict.”

[snip]

A senior intelligence official told NBC News the message ultimately sent to the Russians was “muddled” — with no bright line laid down and no clear warning given about the consequences. The Russian response, said the official, was non-committal.

But it alarms me that someone decided it was a good idea to go leak criticisms of a Red Phone exchange. It would seem that such an instrument depends on some foundation of trust that, no matter how bad things have gotten, two leaders of nuclear armed states can speak frankly and directly.

Without that conversation being broadcast to the entire world via leaks.

Today, Reuters released a bizarre report — really signals within signals — claiming that most channels of dialogue are frozen.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday it did not expect the incoming U.S. administration to reject NATO enlargement overnight and that almost all communications channels between Russia and the United States were frozen, the RIA news agency reported.

“Almost every level of dialogue with the United States is frozen. We don’t communicate with one another, or (if we do) we do so minimally,” Peskov said

I say it’s bizarre because it’s not a firsthand report. It reports that RIA reported that Peskov said this in an interview with the Mir TV station. So it lacks context.

Moreover, it appears to be false, given that John Kerry spoke with Sergei Lavrov yesterday (with whom he seems to have a pretty good relationship).

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, we weren’t a party to the talks, but Secretary Kerry did speak today to both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, who were there. And they provided the Secretary a sense of how the discussions went.

Nevertheless, this may be a kind of signaling.

It’s precisely the kind of possibility that I worried about when I noted the leak.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. bevin says:

    It is an indication of the serious consequences that political games and demagogy can have that the nonsense about Putin and Russia’s involvement in, yawn, Hillary’s loss may have interrupted lines of communication after the killing of the Ambassador in Ankara.
    A killing that many in Russia are inclined to blame on the US.
    102 years after Sarajevo we ought to have learned that War and Peace are too important for us to allow politicians to play propaganda games over. We are living through an orgy of mendacity from a political/media class which has lost control of itself and is unable to face the reality that it can no longer control, and fine tune public opinion. Until they grow, or discredit themselves into oblivion, up it is impossible to believe a word that they say.

  2. wayoutwest says:

    I think this has more to do with the end of the US being included in the Syria talks than any red phone nonsense. The Obama regime will be gone in a month so why start any new discussions with a very lame duck especially one who was making empty threats.

    It’s probably wise for Putin to sit back and watch the Clintonites and their quislings in the press and government as they self-destruct in flaming outrage at being the losers and on the way out.

    • bloopie2 says:

       
      Interesting point—we have so many fingers in so many pies that when someone says “boo” we can’t tell what they are complaining about–and then how do we react, how do we know what actions to change to avoid further “boos”?
                But how will that all that change under Trump?  Won’t there be a similar number of entanglements that will come back and entangle us?

  3. lefty665 says:

    You are right to be concerned about the consequences of our neocon/lib hawk crusade against the Russians. That includes leaks and criticism of presidential communications.

    “The Russian foreign ministry also said in its statement that U.N.-brokered negotiations in Geneva on the Syrian crisis had hit a dead end due to ultimatums from the Syrian opposition in exile.”

    Considering our support for the Syrian “opposition” and propaganda that the Syrians and Russians committed war crimes in Aleppo and elsewhere, it is not surprising that the Russians are not wasting much time listening to Kerry blather or USG propaganda.

    “they provided the Secretary a sense of how the discussions went.”

    Suppose that went something like “We drank a toast to defeating the terrorists you supported in Aleppo and we are planning our next offensive. Have you found a new job yet?”

  4. Peterr says:

    I think the RIA account is the part that is muddled, especially when you consider that translation issues also figure in here.

    My take is that Peskov is saying that when it comes to big picture discussions and negotiations, everyone is in a holding pattern until Trump takes office. It makes no sense to negotiate with the lame duck Obama while Trump is on the verge of taking his place, especially given how critical Trump has been of Obama and God only knows what Trump will do once he is sworn in.

    On the other hand, the US is still talking to the Russians about day-to-day things like keeping US and Russian planes from hitting each other in the neighborhood of Syria. Similarly, I’m sure the State Department, Commerce Department, and other US agencies on our side and the Russian Foreign Ministry on their side are still talking with each other and each other’s citizens, dealing with visa issues and export licenses and a million and one other little details of international life.

    To me, this is about the same as what’s happening domestically around the transition. Some folks are trying to hurry up and get things done before Jan 20th, for fear that the new administration will oppose what they want done. Other folks are trying to slow things down, so they can bring their requests before what they perceive to be a more favorable audience in the Trump administration. But no one is trying to negotiate anything really big with Team Obama – no big budget deal with Congress, no judicial nomination hearings (for SCOTUS or otherwise), etc. “If you need an answer this week, we can do that; if you want to talk about a five year project, come back in a month.”

    Shorter Peterr: I think this is about the presidential transition, and has little if anything to do with the recent leaks.

  5. greengiant says:

    Obama promises retaliation for Russian election hacking.  One Russian diplomat dead in Ankara,  another dead in Moscow.   When ISIS burns buses to be used to empty Shiite villages as quid pro quo as part of the Aleppo agreement,  lots of fake news that leaves the reader to assume it is the Iranians/Russians/Assad who are burning buses.   US TLAs and deepstate run prop warfare on the US public.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Russia and China seem more adept at signaling than the US.  When they want to make a govt-to-govt point of importance, the message is repeated up and down the bureaucracy, from high to low, and with varying degrees of nuance.  The more consistent the message, the wider the range of bureaucratic machinery that delivers it, the more important the message.  Something that issues only from the top is usually to be understood as political theater, not a firm position.

    The US, on the other hand, seems to be simplistic and top down in its messaging, employing a narrow spectrum of government and private sector signalers.  This emits a weaker signal, which could easily lead a message’s target to confuse posturing with a hard position.

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