Analyst: Trump, Congress should investigate all foreign efforts to subvert U.S. policy

by WorldTribune Staff, January 5, 2017

The Trump administration and Congress must expand the scope and time frame of foreign subversion investigations of U.S. politics and policy beyond Russia and the recent presidential campaign, an analyst said.

U.S. intelligence concluded that China was responsible for a catastrophic 2014 cyber attack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that exposed the names, Social Security numbers and addresses of more than 22 million current and former U.S. federal employees and contractors, as well as 5.6 million fingerprints.

President-elect Donald Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan. /Reuters
President-elect Donald Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan. / Reuters

No action was taken by the Obama administration.

“Trump must raise the ante. He must broaden any investigation to cover all foreign subversion,” J. Michael Waller, a senior fellow in Information Operations at the Center for Security Policy, wrote for Forbes on Jan. 4.

Investigations into foreign subversion had been routine until the 1970s, when Congress shut them down, Waller said.

“For almost 60 years after our involvement in World War I, Congress had bipartisan, standing committees and subcommittees to investigate foreign-sponsored subversion that manipulated or undermined our democracy.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have known for some time of Russia’s skullduggery and have ignored or downplayed it, Waller said.

“By expanding the investigative focus, we can learn from cases like the FBI’s Operation Ghost Stories, a brilliant, decade-long effort that broke up a network of deep-cover Russian spies in 2010. The agents’ assignment was to get close to influential American academic, business and political figures. Mostly under false identities, the agents lived as normal-looking Americans. Russian tradecraft terms them “illegals” because they went without diplomatic protection. The network of 11 known illegals operated primarily in the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C. corridor, with the heaviest concentration in New York City.

“One of the Russian spies, federal prosecutors said, worked as a financial advisor to the 2008 presidential campaign chairman of then-senator Hillary Clinton. Another was connected to a New York-based confidant of an unnamed ‘cabinet member’ in 2009 whose identity, though redacted from declassified Justice Department documents, was understood to be then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The purpose of the massive intelligence operation may not have been only to steal secrets. Like some of Moscow’s most successful human intelligence coups, a purpose may have been to subvert American decision-making at crucial times.”

Waller continued: “When the FBI wrapped up the network on June 27, 2010, after one of the illegals escaped, Clinton moved with unusual speed over an extended Independence Day weekend to whisk the remaining ten spies back to Russia. On July 9, a Friday, the U.S. swapped them in Vienna, Austria for four Russians who had been convicted of spying for the United States.

“Clinton’s office pooh-poohed the magnitude of the Russian illegals operation. ‘There is no reason to believe that the secretary of state was a special target of this spy ring,’ Clinton spokesman P.J. Crowley said at the time.

“Sen. Chuck Schumer, the outspoken New York Democrat whose job on the Judiciary Committee is to oversee U.S. counterintelligence, also showed little concern. He expressed no interest in doing a damage assessment of Russian penetration, whether of America itself or the political machine in his home state. Few in the Republican-controlled Congress made much an issue of either the spying or Clinton’s cavalier attitude toward it. Everyone seemed to forget about the matter. It didn’t come up in the 2016 campaign.”

Waller concluded: “Trump should handle America’s foreign adversaries the way he treats some of his personal opponents: through the specter or acts of exposure, humiliation and destruction. This is where Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and others are especially vulnerable.

“It’s time to drain the fetid swamp of foreign espionage, subversion and corruption aimed at compromising decision-makers in Washington.”

“An easy, off-the-shelf tool is the Magnitsky Act, which the U.S. has used to put the financial squeeze on individual figures close to the Kremlin. The best way to check against foreign misbehavior is to squeeze the ruling inner circles financially. That will make powerful oligarchs pay high personal prices for their regimes’ meddling in American internal affairs, and incentivize them to pressure their leaders to become more accommodating to the new American leadership.”