Is Trump a Russian agent?: Explaining terms of art and examining the facts

John Sipher writes:

Whereas the U.S. mainly relies on a relatively small cadre of fully-controlled and tested secret sources, Russia sees their foreign intelligence role in a much broader way. They too seek fully vetted and controlled sources with access to unique reporting, but they are also more comfortable with sources who can help them in some manner or other even if they are not fully recruited spies. Throughout the Cold War the Kremlin relied on a wide variety of sources, some witting and some not – from fully recruited spies to semi-witting people willing to spout their nonsense. The Russian services would be comfortable building a relationship with a journalist who accepts background material but does not take specific direction, while the CIA would most likely have no interest in that sort of connection.

The Russians – like the Soviets before them – generally have a much larger stable of assets. They utilize fellow travelers, terrorists, and members of fringe groups as well as maintaining friendships with people who either knowingly or unknowingly accept their propaganda. They call these people “useful idiots.” We have accordingly seen that the Russians use all sorts of people for their benefit – propagandists, useful idiots, witting collaborators, sympathizers, hackers, students, recruited spies, and oligarchs who do the bidding of the Kremlin. A good example of the latter is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire restauranteur close to Putin. Although he has no formal role or experience in intelligence, diplomacy or military affairs, the Kremlin uses him when it is in Moscow’s interest. He is the owner of the now-famous St. Petersburg troll factory, and he also runs paramilitary units in Syria and Ukraine. To maintain your wealth and social status in Russia, it makes sense to say yes when the Kremlin comes calling.

The Kremlin may well have nurtured a private but non-secret relationship with Trump over the years and developed a fairly deep understanding of his mindset and psychology. They may have determined that although he would be unsuitable as a controlled spy, he could well serve the role of a useful idiot or someone they could meet from time to time to put ideas into his head. They would not see him as a reporting source to provide insight into the functioning of the Administration or other institutions of power, but as someone willing to engage in semi-legal activities and willingly spout Russian narratives. Over time, they may have learned that he listens to the last person with whom he has spoken and found a way to get information in front of him.

Even more likely, they may see him as similar to the corrupt oligarchs around Putin. In many ways, Putin has built a mafia/gangster state reliant on a powerful intelligence apparatus. There is no serious distinction between the public and private spheres, and those oligarchs who wish to safeguard their riches need to answer the Kremlin when called. Knowing they cannot rely on the legal system or an ethos of protecting the individual against the state, they’ve created a system akin to the mafia in which those with money and power play along for fear that the Kremlin or others have compromising material that could undermine them – a form of Slavic mutual assured destruction. It is not beyond the pale that Trump’s decades of shady business dealings may have landed him smack in the middle of the Russian system of “kompromat” whereby he is unsure of who holds what compromising information on him. He may suspect the Kremlin has access to past misdeeds in Russia, or knowledge of financial shenanigans elsewhere. Once you swim in the pool of dirty money, corruption, blackmail and espionage, you need to play by the unwritten rules in order to keep your head above water. Mr. Trump therefore may seek to maintain a good relationship with the Kremlin as a matter of practicality. Indeed, these types of corrupt alliances are nothing new to the Kremlin. Russia provides both outright and covert support to a variety of political and fringe groups in Europe. It is hard to imagine that they would exclude the United States or that the highly transactional Trump would resist offers of assistance. [Continue reading…]

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