The singular thing to take away from the indictment Robert Mueller’s crew announced to day is that virtually 100% of the investigatory work that led to this indictment was accomplished by the FBI’s counterintelligence office before Robert Mueller was ever appointed special counsel. The only exception to this statement is that the identity theft complaints were discovered after Mueller’s office started working with Facebook in September 2017.
It is obvious that not only was the FBI aware of what was going on, but they were under surveillance. Phone calls between the defendants and U.S. persons are referred to. Conversations are referred to. Travel by the defendants in the United States is discussed. It appears as though their own computer network might have been penetrated by U.S. intelligence:
While it would be possible to detect their travel to the U.S. in retrospect, the fact that what they did while they were here is laid out, and the fact that they produced an intelligence report on the trip indicates the FBI was a) aware of who they were and b) aware of who their employer was.
What makes it more probable that they were under surveillance during this period is this:
The Obama administration received multiple warnings from national security officials between 2014 and 2016 that the Kremlin was ramping up its intelligence operations and building disinformation networks it could use to disrupt the U.S. political system, according to more than half a dozen current and former officials.
As early as 2014, the administration received a report that quoted a well-connected Russian source as saying that the Kremlin was building a disinformation arm that could be used to interfere in Western democracies. The report, according to an official familiar with it, included a quote from the Russian source telling U.S. officials in Moscow, “You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe … and in the U.S., Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments and militaries in all of these places.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes identified the threat posed to U.S. interests by Russian information operations and warned about the dangers of not confronting Russia in August 2014.
It appears as though someone in government was aware of the problem:
Intelligence officials “had a list of things they could never get the signoffs on,” one intelligence official said. “The truth is, nobody wanted to piss off the Russians.”
Officials outside the White House blamed micromanagement by the National Security Council for the lack of a more forceful response, while a former NSC official says any failure to act forcefully against Russia was because of concerns by the State Department and, less frequently, the Defense Department about potential retaliation by Moscow.
“The frustrations [about lack of forceful action] are justified and, frankly, were shared by the White House,” said the former official, who requested anonymity due to this person’s continuing work in Russia.
“The options were being discussed. They weren’t being implemented,” the former official added.
The real question is why, in light of what seems to have been known before the election, was this project allowed to proceed with no interference from U.S. counterintelligence. If the administration was really that afraid of “pissing off” the Russians, then one explanation is that they assumed the program would be as ineffectual and joke-worthy as it turned out to be and they assumed that Hillary Clinton would win so it wouldn’t matter.