The Implications of Russia’s Identification of FBI’s Assets

Yahoo has a piece describing a series of compromises Russia inflicted on FBI — and, to a lesser degree, CIA — communications systems in the lead-up to the 2016 operation.

American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet.

Among the secondary damages, it appears, were some of the FBI’s assets.

Spooked by the discovery that its surveillance teams’ communications had been compromised, the FBI worried that some of its assets had been blown, said two former senior intelligence officials. The bureau consequently cut off contact with some of its Russian sources, according to one of those officials.

At the time of the compromise, some of the FBI’s other Russian assets stopped cooperating with their American handlers. “There were a couple instances where a recruited person had said, ‘I can’t meet you anymore,’” said a former senior intelligence official. In a damage assessment conducted around 2012, U.S. intelligence officials concluded the events may have been linked.

Even assuming this is the only time in recent years Russia compromised the FBI’s assets, that raises interesting possibilities given the prominence of once and former FBI assets among those who reached out to Trump flunkies during the 2016 operation. Henry Oknyansky, who first dangled damning information on Hillary to Roger Stone in May 2016, claimed on multiple occasions to be a former FBI asset. While he claimed ongoing communications with the FBI in 2013, the last time he got public benefit parole entry to the US was in 2012. Then there’s Felix Sater, an even more celebrated FBI informant. It’s not entirely clear how long he continued to work for the FBI, but his 5K1.1 letter was submitted in 2009 and the first efforts to unseal his docket date to 2012.

At the very least, former assets would know how FBI communicated, to expose or protect the Trump flunkies accordingly. But once and former assets might also still enjoy a kind of whitelist where they might otherwise be surveilled. And while the Trump flunkies have not done this with Sater (although Judicial Watch just filed a lawsuit for this), when Stone had to admit to his contact with Oknyansky, he immediately claimed it was an FBI sting and not a genuine dangle.

53 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Apparently the Gang of 8 was informed. And McTurtle still refuses to do anything. What hold does Russia have over him? (I wonder if this was why they looked so grim after that one meeting.)

    • NorskieFlamethrower says:

      “What hold does Russia have over him?” Seriously?!! From his well lit closet sexuality, to his bazillions from Russia through the NRA, to his wife the beard and her family, to the … well, you get it. Don’t waste any time wondering about things that can be answered simply: he’s a fuckin’ Nazi.

        • Peterr says:

          Russia and the NRA stuff here from the Guardian

          There’s also the Russian oligarch and his company Rusal who put up the money to fund a new aluminum plant in Kentucky. He was put under sanction by Obama in 2016, but McConnell got that taken care of just in time to get the money for this plant. Oh, and for his own campaign fund:

          To free itself from sanctions, Rusal fielded a team of high-paid lobbyists for an intense, months-long effort in Washington. One of the targets was Kentucky’s own Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who helped thwart a bipartisan push to keep the sanctions in place. Since May, two of McConnell’s former staffers have lobbied Congress on behalf of Braidy, according to filings. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, one of Rusal’s longtime major shareholders, Len Blavatnik, contributed more than $1 million through his companies to a GOP campaign fund tied to McConnell.

    • Desider says:

      Jeffrey Epstein fractured his neck just by kneeling on the floor and leaning against a sheet to asphyxiate himself. (no, he didn’t fall from a height)
      May be just an occupational hazard. Shame none of the cameras were working or we might have gotten some good medical science to apply to similar cases.

      • bmaz says:

        Likely not so much. The cameras claimed to be not working were hall control cams. There were no cameras inside the SMU cell, nor pointed into it from outside. So there was never going to be video of what he did inside his cell.

        • Desider says:

          Alright. Bigger point is still that while older people breaking their hyoid bones in hanging is not that unusual (10%?), those are from what I understand from a fall, not the type of hanging/asphyxiation Epstein did.
          And it’s rather frustrating that the press releases about coroners statements only give these typical cases and excuaes, without noting where Epstein’s case deviated. Which of course inspires paranoia and distrust where there was already distrust. Not seeing who was last to go into his cell and when of course doesn’t help a bit, especially in light of the previous incident. Couldn’t check those camwras after that?

          • bmaz says:

            The forensic pathologists I know do not say that anything is particularly “deviating” in the Epstein case. Obviously they did not have the benefit of being in attendance, much less conducting, the Epstein autopsy, but then neither did we. There is still not one shred of affirmative evidence that Epstein’s death was anything more than the suicide it appears to be. The rest is, without more, conspiracy imagination.

            • Desider says:

              Yeah, sorry the party of endless conspiracies & intrigue & WTF brazen behavior has me leaning towards conspiracy as one of the basic explanations. But considering the whole history of the case, Acosta’s rise in this administration, the backroom sweetheart sentencing deals, Epstein’s seeming special treatment in jail with the visiting room, et al, it’s too out of the normal for me to let go with a supposed normal autopsy.
              [quick review of literature does still support hyoid breakage is rare for this type of hanging vs strangulation, but low percentage events still happen. and for an old guy who supposedly had tried to kill himself a few weeks before, I presume that bone could have been weakened more than cases in a typical study.]

  2. Savage Librarian says:

    I have not yet read the links you provided in this post, but my immediate reactions are:

    I can’t help but wonder whether the Yuri Ushakov/Sergey Kislyak oddities (from your preceding post) and the Henry Oknyansky (Greenberg?)/Stone oddities have links to Florida via Mikhail Z. Morgulis and Millian.

    Morgulis has links to Kislyak and bragged about getting the Russian-American vote for Trump. Maybe that explains the Flynn/Kushner appeal for Kislyak.

    I don’t recall seeing Ushakov’s name on the 47 page program for the 2016 SPIEF. But we know Tillerson, Putin, Lavrov, Chaika, Dmitriev, Deripaska, Prikhodko, Sechin, Vekselberg, Peskov, and more were there. It seems reasonable that Ushakov might have been there.

    And, about hacking into devices not connected to the internet, some time back the Daily Beast did an article about some way (I believe the Saudis had) to ingeniously do this. The article may have related to Bezos. Or Weinstein? Or both? It sounded quite threatening.

  3. orionATL says:

    good lord. this is not just fbi communications within the u.s. what the yahoo story does is lay out a multi-year, multi-nation failure of u.s. operational security – iran, china, russia.

    when you add in the bradley (chelsea) manning and wikileaks state/defense documents, the snowden nsa documents, and joshua schulte’s making off with loads of cia documents including its vital and dangerous digital phone surveillance tools, it looks like the the entire intelligence community was severely negligent with respect too critical security for years. what a colossal, system-wide failure!

    i have to wonder if this is not an unforeseen consequence of the american political obsession with “terror, terror, terror” beginning in 2001, together with v-p cheney’s invasion and war to seize Iraqi oil reserves. terror was never the large, long-term threat that russia and china present.

      • Eureka says:

        The middle east secure comms failure debacle was the first thing I thought of, along with the contractor who discovered it relatively early on and tried in vain to get anyone to address the problem.

        ETA: that, and all the fiber optics mapping excursions, etc., that Russians were caught doing in plain sight within the US.

        • Old Antarctic Explorer says:

          To see the magnitude of the problem check out “TEMPEST” in Wikipedia. Tough problem! There’s not much that’s really secure.

          • JohnJ says:

            Yaa. Thank you! I found it in public !
            My first electronics job was in the TEMPEST R&D lab. Some very slick technology. One example: These guys figured out how to reassemble a CRT screen just from it’s EM radiation. Point an antenna at the Russian Embassy (cold war still) and we could see what they were typing on their word processor.

      • orionATL says:

        check out all the “blue line” citations in this long yahoo piece. i didn’t know they even did this kind of deep reporting. the cites lays out the long history of opsec failures from the current russia story to the china comm security debacle of the past. very interesting reading.

    • Katherine M Williams says:

      It may help explain how the Russians got away with hacking the 2016 election. How did such a thing slip past our Intelligence Agencies? How is it Russia is still giving orders to our president and an entire (GOP) political party, and lord knows who/what other entities?

      • timbo says:

        It didn’t. The whole thing was political dynamite so the Obama administration did what they could while trying not to influence the election directly themselves. That limits what and how you can do things to start with. And then a lot of this meddling was done on social media, the scale and danger of which was not well understood until after 2016 election had concluded. Etc.

  4. drouse says:

    I find myself more than a little confused over the motivations behind this story. The whole first half of the story was a gruesome tale of institutional fail. Then came the only names quoted in the entire piece, mainly a out there GOP Rogers, telling how they fixed things. Except for the part at the end concerning Mueller, the whole thing could be read as an attack on the FBI and the intelligence community in general.

    • Peterr says:

      I can see at least two major motivations behind telling this story.

      1) In-house folks in the intelligence community have been stymied at getting the White House to take Russian meddling seriously.

      From the piece (with emphasis added):

      American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet. Senior FBI and CIA officials briefed congressional leaders on these issues as part of a wide-ranging examination on Capitol Hill of U.S. counterintelligence vulnerabilities.

      These compromises, the full gravity of which became clear to U.S. officials in 2012, gave Russian spies in American cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco key insights into the location of undercover FBI surveillance teams, and likely the actual substance of FBI communications, according to former officials. They provided the Russians opportunities to potentially shake off FBI surveillance and communicate with sensitive human sources, check on remote recording devices and even gather intelligence on their FBI pursuers, the former officials said.

      That’s seven years ago. In 2016, as the election meddling was becoming apparent, Obama went to the leadership of both parties in Congress and wanted their backing to a general statement about the meddling, and McConnell refused to go along. With Trump’s arrival in the WH, any mention of Russian interference of any kind is probably frowned upon quite heavily. Trump glibly sharing classified intelligence with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the US (outing an Israeli source inside ISIS without the permission of the Israelis) early in his days at the WH did not inspire any confidence among intelligence professionals about Trump’s ability to handle classified materials, and the fact that he did so with the Russians was especially troubling to the folks who live in the world of this story. Trump’s statements at Helsinki about trusting Putin over his own IC have not been forgotten by anyone involved in foreign intelligence work, and only add to the headaches of those involved in watching the Russians.

      2) IC folks, particularly at the FBI, who have been screaming about the need to get integrated secure communications systems, are tired of being ignored and are happy to point out the problems that failure to fund these things have caused.

      From the piece:

      The FBI teams were using relatively lightweight radios with limited range, according to former officials. These low-tech devices allowed the teams to move quickly and discreetly while tracking their targets, which would have been more difficult with clunkier but more secure technology, a former official said. But the outdated radios left the teams’ communications vulnerable to the Russians. “The amount of security you employ is the inverse of being able to do things with flexibility, agility and at scale,” said the former official.

      A former senior counterintelligence official blamed the compromises on a “hodgepodge of systems” ineffective beyond the line of sight. “The infrastructure that was supposed to be built, they never followed up, or gave us the money for it,” said the former official. “The intelligence community has never gotten an integrated system.”

      The limitations of the radio technology, said the former senior officials, led the FBI’s surveillance personnel to communicate on the backup systems.

      “Eventually they switched to push-to-talk cellphones,” said a former counterintelligence executive. “The tech guys would get upset by that, because if they could intercept radio, they might be able to intercept telephones.”

      That is indeed what happened.

      While it’s a Hollywood trope to highlight all the nifty gadgets and gizmos available to the Intelligence Community, the reality for the FBI and others is far different. Yes, some stuff is quite stunning, but the level of much of the tech is far more likely to lag behind the private sector because of budgets. These unnamed FBI and IC senior officials are pointing the finger directly at Congress and the White House.

      • P J Evans says:

        Some of it is also on earlier management at the FBI, which didn’t understand tech more recent than the IBM Selectric. (While the rest of us were adopting computers and the like at work as well as at home, the FBI was still stuck in the 50s and 60s.)

          • P J Evans says:

            Friend had one he called the Giant Green Toad, for its color and general appearance. (I’ve used one – and also an IBM Executive, which was a strange typewriter.)

            The one I used with font balls was an Olivetti. Theirs had a slide latch, less likely to break off.

              • Frank Probst says:

                This actually came up when Oliver North testified, if memory serves. I think it was because he typed a document up in a retail store on a demo typewriter. The typing looked like crap, and he made a comment to the recipient that he “literally dropped the ball”, referring to the font ball.

              • P J Evans says:

                That happened with all of them. Daisywheels weren’t a lot better: you had to get them solidly on the spindle, or they’d do Unwanted Things.

      • drouse says:

        Probably a mixture of 1 and 2. The article did say that the revelations did get the money to start flowing. Then again, a strong caution about capabilities. If they have the ability to jump an air gap, then what other capabilities?

  5. drouse says:

    And I guess we know who was operating a bunch of the Stingray type devices in the DC area. I say type because I don’t know if Russia bought actual Stingrays.

  6. Willis Warren says:

    When I read this report from Yahoo, the first thing that popped into my head was Felix Sater. As a mole, he provided excellent intel to the US, and was probably working as a double the whole time.

    • Viget says:

      Certainly possible. The optimist in me wants to think that he was still on team FBI during 2015-2016, and the uncerimonous dumping of him by Cohen in mid June after the infamous June 9th meeting was after the campaign in principle agreed to work on sanctions relief, and their Russian handlers exposed him to them.

      Would be like the Russians to lie in wait on a blown asset for years, and then blow his cover when the time was right.

      Trump et al probably haven’t burned him because they KNOW he has the goods on their early flirtations with Russia, probably with tapes.

      FBI can’t come forward because they may not know the whole extent of the damage his blown cover may have caused, and need him to keep cooperating on the counter Intel side before they can go public with charges.

      Plus, he’s probably a marked man, so he may not want to come forward.

      Mutually assured destruction by blackmail… Sigh

  7. WhileWereAtIt says:

    White lights lead to red lights, but bunnies on the library lawn distract only idiots from exits. Make your own exits in 2019, build your own backsoors 001100 like it’s 1999. Distraction? Yes, of course, a la The Prince. Those drones? Oh sure our common enemy did it, MSB, right bro? Old ally? This is killing two birds w/ 1 stone in neo-geopolitical warfare. Exits and entrances abound. I prefer my catwalks; they’re the new wormholes.

    • PR says:

      Don’t fuck with cat ppl unless you’re a 3rd psychologist on the gov payroll, which is the equivalent to selling your soul to satan. Don’t bother explaining physics or sociology to a self-hating asshole: anything different is bad. Anyone smarter is a danger. Your warnings are painted as threats. Your forecasts are sold as betrayal. There is no science there at all. You could hire middle school children to do a better job. Drones? Yes, UAVs for MSB in proxy to proxy warfare; Trump’s ignorance is matched by his arrogance. Locked & loaded: does he think he’s some kind of formidable force? The clown has been staring in funhouse mirrors too long. Mirrored images on virtual servers…ahh

      [I am letting this through this once to tell you to differentiate your username. More than one account uses “PR.” Future uses of this username will not clear moderation. /~Rayne]

  8. Vicks says:

    Does anyone think there could be a connection between information Russia may have pretended to have picked up and “shared” with people in the Trump campaign/administration that could help explain some of the over the top behavior defending the deep state theory?
    Perhaps some version of a “dodgy dossier”?
    Clearly Trump considers Putin a reliable source, how hard would it be to convince Trump he has enemies out to get him?
    It would be like giving candy to a baby to feed Trump (directly or indirectly) misinformation on a topic so near and dear,

    • Americana says:

      Trump likely considers Putin a reliable source on such information largely because Trump’s been told Putin wanted him to win and wants him to remain POTUS for as long as possible or, rather, as long as he’s willing to push Russian POV. Clearly, Trump knew if he kept repeating that he knew “he’d have a very good relationship w/Putin” throughout the campaign that he was pandering to his champion. You really think Trump needs Putin to beef up his belief in the deep state to spare his ego from the realities of being exposed as a crackpot shyster who’s relying on Russian social media disinformation campaigns to keep his myth alive?

      I don’t think originally Trump would have regarded Putin as quite the same type of ally that he is at this moment. Now that Trump’s Russian ambitions have been pretty much fully exposed to Americans w/the details of the Trump Tower Moscow Letter of Agreement and the bribe of the $50 million penthouse to Putin, Trump knows he’s facing the final hurdle of impeachment and disgrace. Trump must realize that his only lifeline now lies in a continued surge of Russian disinformation to the American public and to Republican members of Congress.

      • Vicks says:

        I was being snarky suggesting Putin was speaking to Trump directly, my theory is more along the lines of feeding misinformation to sources that would instill this bizarre sense of confidence in people like Papadop, Flynn, Nunes and so on.

        • Americana says:

          Don’t get me wrong, Vicks, I do agree w/much of the psychology (of both men) underlying your suggestion but I have a different grasp of the dynamic of how Putin is influencing Trump in terms of the Russian disinformation vs the homegrown American dis/information.

          I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at in the second part of your post, would you explain at greater length? Are you saying Papadop, Flynn, Nunes et al are confident there is a Deep State because of the disinformation that’s being fed to them about the Deep State by Trump? If that’s what you’re getting at, I think Trump could be polishing the apple but this whole Deep State thing has been one of the major tropes of the Koch brothers and various right wing mind-altered minimal gov’t nutters for as long as I can remember. I bet quite a few of Trump’s inner circle believe in the Deep State to one extent or another. They’d far rather believe in the Deep State than take a good hard look at their dear leader and question whether the gov’t needs to protect itself from his ministrations (or administrations, if you don’t mind a sad punny funny!).

          • Vicks says:

            To be clear, I am simply speculating.
            Based on the information that has been made public there is nothing to justify the way several people in the Trump crew seem to be relying on the deep state theory for redemption.
            It gets even odder when you look at the change in behavior/attitude of Flynn and Papadopoulos.
            A simple answer is they could know something the rest of us do not.
            Or they THINK they know something the rest of us do not.

            • Americana says:

              There’s a straightforward explanation for Gen. Flynn’s alliance w/Trump. Flynn believes he’s got the more appropriate strategic vision for the Middle East regarding the Kurds than that of the U.S. under then-POTUS Obama. Flynn knows the Russians and Turkey also believe in at least the central points of his strategic view regarding how the U.S. should treat the Kurds and therefore Flynn was willing to share in their strategic perspective (to whatever degree he does). When Gen. Flynn was selected as Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, Trump may have been somewhat aware and had a superficial understanding of Flynn’s strategic view of the role of the Kurds in Middle Eastern politics but somehow I don’t think Trump understood Flynn’s POV in detail. What Trump knew is that Flynn was acceptable to the Russians because of Flynn’s POV.

              Trump seized on Flynn because he was a big name even if it was a big name carrying a heckuva lot of nasty baggage. Trump ignored Flynn’s reputational baggage because Flynn provided yet another link-up w/the Russian perspective in the Middle East.

              As to other areas where their perspectives align, Flynn would have known he was there to serve Trump’s wishes as his CIC. Flynn did so seemingly without any pushback or questioning the legalities of what Trump requested of him regarding meeting various Russians and conveying messages to Russians. That’s the odd part of Flynn’s behavior to me because Flynn had worked in high enough echelons for long enough he should have been aware of precisely where he was crossing the lines. Trump knew what he had in Flynn as his DNI and whoever told Trump to use Flynn as his DNI believed they were getting a shot at a very good strategic relationship during Trump’s tenure.

  9. viget says:

    Ok…after reading this I am more convinced than ever that McConnell is heavily compromised. How ingenious. Go after the one guy with significant power (other than the President, of course) who cannot be indicted. (thanks Speech and Debate)

    And because of the fillibuster, he who controls at least 41% of the Senate, basically controls the Congress. Not to mention cabinet and judiciary appts.

    Am I too pessimistic about this article? Is this basically the IC saying calling all agents, America has been irreconcilably pwned? :(

    • Frank Probst says:

      As to the last part, that would certainly be my take-home message if I were a foreigner who was contemplating becoming a USA intelligence asset.

    • jamesJoyce says:

      Fascism is alive well.

      Deeming people inferior or cash speech along with barrel of Lugar to side of head is how Nazi and Benito operated.

      Dementia has set in Mitch. It is all over your face!

    • Savage Librarian says:

      This is all very scary. But I think there are both low tech and high tech avenues available that may be pursued. And I think there will always be people who will be willing to step up. Some of them may be the most invisible and unexpected people we could ever imagine. This is bad. Very, very bad. But we can and must move forward. And I choose to believe that we will.

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