Diary

The Role of Human Intelligence in Spygate- Part 1

FILE - This Tuesday, March 7, 2017 file photo shows Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who set up Orbis Business Intelligence and compiled a dossier on Donald Trump, in London. No one has painted a more vivid or lurid portrait of a purported alliance between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia than Steele. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

HUMINT is spyspeak for “human intelligence,” or obtaining information from human sources.  For the CIA, it is the cultivation of human sources in the higher echelons of a targeted government or military.  Intelligence agents are always on the lookout for human sources; it is called “talent spotting.”  Then they are screened and vetted once identified.  Part of that process depends on if the person can provide the required information in the first place, what motivates them (sex?, money?, fame? ideology?, prestige?), their habits so they know how to avoid detection, and most important, their utility.  In law enforcement, these people are called Confidential Human Sources, or CHS for short.  

In this saga, those identified as a CHS are more like covert informants, in one respect, and possibly like agent provocateurs in other respects.  We know the names of at least two of them- Stefan Halper and Joseph Mifsud- and the given name of a third, Azra Turk.  Turk was used in a classic intelligence ploy known as the “honey pot.”  In this method, usually a pretty, young woman is dangled in front of the target so that they can later extract information from the target through “pillow talk,” or sometimes by using a sexual liaison for blackmail.  We know the targets of these plots within the Trump campaign: co-chairman of the national campaign, Sam Clovis, low-level foreign policy advisers George Papadopolous and Carter Page, and Michael Flynn, a key national security adviser to Trump.  

At some point, we know the IC and FBI/DOJ, for whatever reason, began to suspect that the Trump campaign was working with Russian operatives for whatever reason.  We know at this point that there was tremendous electronic intelligence being gathered through contractor access to the NSA databases using “about query” searches and that there was an unusually high incidence from December 2015 to May 2016.  We know that NSA director Mike Rogers cut off contractor access to the query database.  It would make logical sense to use human intelligence sources to fill the gap so that a case could be built which can then be taken to the FISA court in order to legally continue what someone or someones initially did illegally.    

The official FBI investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia did not begin until July 31, 2016 with the official explanation being the Downer conversation with Papadopolous in a London bar.  But there likely was electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign prior to this and that it was likely being done by private contractors accessing the NSA database.  

Officials within the IC and FBI/DOJ surely knew that Mike Rogers was poking his nose into these unauthorized queries sometime in 2015 which explains a suspicious text between Lisa Page and Peter Strozk in December 2015.  In that text, Strozk asks, “You get all our oconus lures approved?”  She responds “no” because there is a bigger policy issue and she would explain later. 

What does “oconus” mean?  “Oconus” is short for “outside the continental United States.”  A “lure” is a common term in counterintelligence parlance referring to the use of people as bait to snag a potential “double agent,” whether they know it or not.  If this refers to the Trump campaign, then this destroys the official narrative for two reasons.  First, it pushes the timeline back to at least December 28, 2015- the date of the text.  Second, a counterintelligence lure is strictly an offensive weapon in the arsenal meaning that someone is intentionally inserted into something without any predicate for doing so other than the simple fact of doing so, or to “frame” someone.

This brings us to our first CHS- Stefan Halper.  Reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post never mentioned him by name, but it did not take much work to figure out who he was by the descriptions given in their articles.  He is an interesting subject with one foot in Republican political circles and another in the IC.  

 Halper is also no stranger to the Department of Defense.  In 2012, he secured a contract with the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) which was created in 1973 to serve as the Pentagon’s internal think tank.  Their work is usually top secret, used by the military to adjust policies, and is privy to intelligence information.  From 2012-2016 Halper secured four contracts with the ONA and was paid over $1 million for his services.    

Halper was also familiar with the CIS group run in London by Richard Dearlove at Cambridge University.  In 2014, during a dinner for the CIS, Halper met Michael Flynn.  At the time, Halper recalled that Flynn was particularly chummy with a Russian woman, whose name, it was learned later, was Svetlana Lokhova, a Russian historian.  Lokhova, although of Russian descent, was a British citizen.  For some reason, Halper believed that Lokhova was a Russian spy.  The interesting part of this story is that Halper said nothing to anyone about his suspicions.  It was only in late 2016 that stories started to circulate in the press that Flynn had a Russian “mistress” who was possibly a spy.

On May 20, Halper met with Christopher Steele in London for some reason.  That same day, Halper extended an invitation to Trump adviser, Stephen Miller, to attend a CIS symposium in London.  Miller declined.  But, it was on July 6th, 2016 that Halper first made contact with Carter Page and dined with him after delivering a presentation at Magdalene College on the Trump-Clinton campaign a few days previous.  This is the first known contact between Halper and Page.  

The following day, Page departed London for a trip to Russia to deliver a lecture.  Upon his return to London, Page attended a conference on US foreign policy and the 2016 election held in Cambridge.  They then started an email correspondence.   It is not known if this contact was at the behest of the FBI.  It is possible that both Halper and Page had similar interests and Halper was known as the consummate networker.  However, Halper likely talked to Page about his trip to Russia and it was soon thereafter that Page’s name started turning up in the Steele dossier.

The FBI claims they never used a CHS before July 31, 2016, the start of Crossfire Hurricane.  Halper was allegedly brought on board sometime in August, 2016.  Regarding the “common interest” line of thinking, Halper and Page really had not much in common, other than both were Republican.  Halper’s area of expertise was the intersection of foreign policy and the military.  Page, like Papadopolous, had interests at the intersection of foreign policy and energy.  

As Page jetted off to Russia, Halper held a private dinner with Madeleine Albright, and a former GOP strategist named Vin Weber.  Weber had worked in the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole in 1996, Bush’s reelection effort in 2004, and the campaign of Mitt Romney in 2012.  Albright and Weber had worked together at the Council of Foreign Relations.  Weber had some ties to Russia as he lobbied for Gazprom.  By the middle of August, Weber was starting to become a vocal critic of Trump.  It is known that when Page returned to Great Britain at the invitation of Halper (who paid his expenses, unusual for someone not speaking at the Cambridge event), he also dined with Albright and Weber and soon after that Weber had developed the impression that Page was a Russian patsy.

On August 20, Page took a 20-mile trek on his bike to visit Halper at his Virginia home.  Some rapport had been built between the two.  But about a week later, Halper began reaching out to Sam Clovis trying to arrange a meeting.  Then Halper does something strange: he reaches out to George Papadopolous and invites him to a CIS event in London and even pays him $3,000 in expenses.  Papadopolous did indeed travel London, attended the event and twice dined with Halper. 

Unknown to Papadopolous, Halper secretly recorded their conversations for the FBI.  For the first dinner, Halper brought along a young, pretty “assistant” he introduced as Azra Turk.  Halper’s recollections were that Papadopolous and Turk were flirtatious with one another, but Papadopolous denies this and instead suspected something was amiss.  In one of their conversations, the subject of the DNC hack, Wikileaks and Russia came up.  When directly pressed, Papadopolous said that cooperating with Russia would have been treasonous.  

A confluence of events likely led the FBI to zero in on Carter Page.  The FBI claims they opened an investigation after receiving the tip from Alexander Downer.  Meanwhile, Christopher Steele was starting his own research and feeding this information to contacts in the FBI (most likely Bruce Ohr). 

In 2013 Carter Page had come under the FBI’s microscope when it was suspected he was being recruited as a spy for the FSB (a case where he cooperated with the FBI).  It was in October 2016 that the FBI and DOJ went to the FISA court and obtained a warrant on Page.  But at this point, Carter Page had been gone from the campaign for a month.

Next: More on Halper, and Joseph Mifsud