In the never ending hunt for low-hanging fruit regarding Russia, Russia, Russia, a woman by the name of Maria Butina was arrested earlier this month. She’s accused of being a Russian spy who was attempting to secretly infiltrate American organizations.
In a hilarious “mistake,” one media outlet actually took a picture of Administration official Cari Lutkins and attempted to assert it was actually Russian super-spy Maria Butina hanging out in the oval office.
What all this hysteria actually amounts to is less clear. Was she actually a spy? Was she really being directed by the Russian FSB? Was she just a foreign agent who went unregistered, who otherwise would of been operating legally? We don’t know quite yet. What we are learning though points to her not quite being James Bond.
As a special treat, I’ll even quote CNN to make the case to show my open-mindedness. After spending the first part of the article spinning conspiracy theories about how her aloofness, stupidity, and complete lack of spy-ness were actually part of Putin’s master plan, we get to some real details about how she operated.
With distinctive red hair, a fiery personality and an affinity for social media, Butina operated at a higher decibel than one might expect from an alleged covert agent.
In her graduate-level classes at American University — a cover for work on behalf of the Russian government, according to prosecutors — Butina vociferously defended Putin. She also claimed, in class, to be a liaison between the Trump campaign and the Russians, according to a person familiar with the situation.
People who met her through school and through political events described her as a little too friendly. She was quick to start playing footsy under the table or sidle up to an older man at a political event and suddenly request that they become friends on Facebook, according to people who knew her.
CNN continues with some more of her not so subtle actions…
On at least two separate occasions she got drunk and spoke openly about her contacts within the Russian government, even acknowledging that Russian intelligence services were involved with the gun rights group she ran in Moscow. Twice, classmates reported her actions to law enforcement because they found her comments so alarming, sources said…
…But the under-the-radar approach never seemed to suit Butina.
Before moving to the US for school, she was featured in a 2014 Russian GQ spread, wielding two handguns and sporting Dolce & Gabbana briefs, a leather trench and stilettos.
On a visit to the US in July 2015, she attended a political event in Las Vegas, identified herself as a visitor from Russia and asked then-candidate Trump whether he would pursue sanctions against her homeland.
Then, she documented the encounter on social media, a pattern she followed when she attended NRA events and met politicians including former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who all ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Santorum is now a CNN contributor.
There’s little hint Butina had the same type of formal training as Chapman.
She’d literally document her encounters on social media. She’d get drunk and openly claim she had Russian intelligence connections.
She’d use Twitter and un-encrpyted messaging services to communicate. Real professional stuff for a spy.
CNN’s article concludes with this reasoning for why she sucked so bad at being a secret agent…
Traditional tradecraft focuses on stealing defense secrets. But understanding American culture and how to undermine it is increasingly valuable to countries like Russia and their efforts to disrupt US democracy.
“Access to human beings is hard to replicate,” said Philip Mudd, a veteran of the CIA and the FBI and a CNN counterterrorism analyst. “Human beings can shortcut, ‘What’s their plan going into the next election. What do they talk about?'”
I’m not even going to deny that CNN is right here. Of course Russia is using people on the ground to gauge the culture and how to respond in their own interests. The question is just how much foaming at the mouth this is worthy of? Is this par for the course or a grave advancement in Russian intel operations? Is it even accurate to call this woman a “spy?”
Keep in mind, this is the same media who had an aneurysm over the definition of the word “spy” just a few months ago after President Trump used it to describe government agents attempting to infiltrate his campaign. What’s Maria Butina accused of? Attempting to infiltrate political special interest groups. The media at large told us the first isn’t a spy, but now tells us the second is. You figure out the lack of consistency in that one.
As I said in the beginning, this woman is low-hanging fruit. She’s no different than the myriad of unregistered Iranian lobbyists that ran around D.C. all throughout the Obama years. In fact, Obama hosted such unregistered “agents” more than 30 times in the oval office. The press couldn’t of cared less.
Does that mean Butina shouldn’t be prosecuted? No, the law is the law and if evidence exists she was operating on behalf of Russia, have at her for not registering. Yet, trying to spin this parody of a foreign agent into a super-spy that is part of a sophisticated master plan by Vladimir Putin is stretch at best. She’s one of hundreds of people the FBI could of chosen to scoop up in the last ten years. The only reason it’s happening now is because of the narrative at play.