Washington Post Divulges Intelligence Methods

In their May 26, 2017 article Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin, Washington Post Reporters Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller and the Post’s National Security Editor divulged a US Intelligence Community method.

Let’s analyze what happened, as reported by the Post.

Leak

Kushner – Kislyak Meeting

Nakashima, Entous and Miller reported in a 332 word article:

Purported Facts (italics are verbatim pulls from article)

  1.  Kislyak and Kushner met in Trump Tower on Dec. 1 or 2,
  2. The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser,
  3. Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring,
  4. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications,
  5. Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team,
  6. The White House disclosed the meeting only [sic] in March,
  7. Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance,
  8. The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment,
  9. Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts,  
    Note Bene! — Disclosure provide the Russians with confirmation that the communication channel is monitored.

Speculation

  1. Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.
  2. people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) December 16, 2008 has 4 instances of the term “investigative interest”:

  1. (U) More broadly, detecting and interrupting criminal activities at their, early stages, and preventing crimes from occurring in the first place, is preferable to allowing criminal plots to come to fruition. Hence, assessments may also:be undertaken proactively with such objectives as detecting criminal activities; obtaining information on individuals, groups, or organizations of possible investigative interest, either because they may be involved in criminal or national security-threatening activities or because they may be targeted for attack or victimization in such activities; and identifying and assessing individuals who may have value as confidential human sources. (AGG-Dom, Part.II).  [pg 40]

  2. (U//FOUO) The sensitivity related to an academic institution arises from the American, tradition of “academic freedom” (e.g., ah atmosphere in which students and faculty are free to express unorthodox ideas and views and to challenge conventional thought without fear of repercussion). Academic freedom does not mean, however, that academic institutions are off limits to FBI investigators in pursuit of information or individuals of legitimate investigative interest. [pg 83]

  3. (U//FOUO) The sensitivity related to an academic institution arises from the American tradition of “academic freedom” (e.g., an atmosphere in which students and faculty are free to express unorthodox ideas and views and to challenge conventional thought without fear of repercussion). Academic freedom does not mean, however, that academic institutions are off limits to FBI investigators in pursuit of information or individuals of legitimate investigative interest. [pg 105]

  4. U//FOUO).An “undercover operation” is an operation that involves a series of related “undercover activities” over a period of time by an “undercover employee.” A series of related undercover activities consists of more than five separate substantive contacts by an undercover activities in employee violation with the individuals under investigation. In investigations relating to of federal criminal law that do not concern threats to the national security are listed or in foreign the AGG-UCO intelligence, undercover activity involving sensitive circumstances, which and the FGUSO, constitutes an undercover operation regardless of the number of contacts involved. A substantive contact is a communication, whether by oral, written, wire, or electronic means, that includes information of investigative interest. Mere incidental contact (e.g., a conversation that establishes an agreed time and location for another meeting) is not a substantive contact within the meaning of this policy.  [pg 137]

The first seems most applicable to the Trump Tower and the Russian Banker meetings.  The key phrases are:

  1. either because they may be involved in criminal or national security-threatening activities
  2. or because they may be targeted for attack or victimization in such activities;
  3. and identifying and assessing individuals who may have value as confidential human sources.

Since it is unlikely they would try to recruit Jared as a confidential human source, we can eliminate number 3.  The remaining choices are criminal or national  security-threatening activities or or they may be targeted for attack or victimization in such activities.

Until someone cites a criminal or national security-threatening activity that was potentially violated, I will lean towards the FBI is worried that Jared may be targeted for attack or victimization in a criminal or national security-threatening activity.

My Analysis

Let me define a few of my terms, some of which are in widespread use without specific definition:

  • Trump Russian Collusion – I interpret this to refer to collusion/conspiracy by the Trump Campaign team to help/coordinate with the Russian Government to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.  This would have occurred between June 16th 2015 and November 8th 2016.
  • Trump Transitions – November 8th 2016 – January 20th 2017.
  • SAP – Special Access Program – Special Access Program (SAP) is a high state of enforced need-to-know, and only a minimum number of cleared employees are given access to SAP information. It is established to control access, distribution, and provide protection for sensitive classified information beyond that normally required.
  • SSO – Special Security Officer – The Special Security Office (SSO) is a function within multiple arms of the United States federal government and armed forces with the mission to provide a reliable and secure means to receive and disseminate Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP) to authorized recipients in the United States government and military organizations.
  • Diplomatic Pouch – A diplomatic bag, also known as a diplomatic pouch, is a container with certain legal protections used for carrying official correspondence or other items between a diplomatic mission and its home government or other diplomatic, consular, or otherwise official entities.

The Meeting

A meeting between an Ambassador and the Transition Team of an incoming President-elect is neither uncommon nor illegal.  There is much made of the “non-reporting” of the meeting.  To the best of my knowledge there is no requirement to report the meeting to any government agency, in a manner that would be public record.  In general anyone holding a SAP clearance is required to report foreign contacts to their Special Security Officer (SSO), but these would not be public record.  I believe there may be an exception for official duties.

I find it interesting that the date of the meeting is vague, I would expect the Intelligence Community (IC) transcript would have the date of the meeting, assuming that Kislyak would have included the date in his report or the IC would have the date from their surveillance of Kislyak.

ABC reportsKushner asked Russian ambassador for back channel on Syria and other policy matters.

The sources stress that the talk between Kushner and the Russian envoy about communications was focused on the U.S. response to the crisis in Syria and other policy-related matters.

The Post reporting has three obvious effects:

  1. Confirms the IC monitoring of the communications channel used by the Russians.
  2. Put Kushner and Flynn on notice that they need to coordinate their recollection of the meeting.
  3. Put Kushner and Flynn on notice that they need to provide their lawyers with copies of any notes they may have made.

The Intercept

The communications between Kislyak and the Russian Foreign Office (his superiors?) was either:

  1. Open channel – plain text, in which case the Russians would have known it would be intercepted.
  2. Open channel – encoded text, in which case the Russian now know the code has been broken.
  3. Secure channel – again confirmation that the secure channel has been intercepted and the code broken.
  4. Diplomatic Bag – confirms that US has access to information prior to being place in the bag, has illegally breached the bag to gain access, or had a source after it has been removed from the pouch at the destination.
  5. Diplomatic Courier – Same as above, with exception of breaching the bag.

Transmission of the report via 1 – 3 above, with a priori knowledge that the channel is insecure lends credence to the possibility of  disinformation (fact 9 above).

There were published reports of investigations into  “establishment of back channel communications” going back to September 2016.  Therefore a disinformation campaign would support other reports.

The Criminal Activity

The government official who disclosed classified information to the Post Team is guilty of violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 (18 US Code S-798).  Other than that the reportage has not cited any criminal violation.

Note; the duration of the back channel communications is implied to be the period between the meeting and January 20th 2017, base on “ between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin”.  After January 20th President Trump would have direct secure communications with the Kremlin, via White House communications systems.

The Back Channel

As described in Ellen’s video (below) the back channel would consist of using the Russian Embassy’s secure communications.  Like me she finds it incredulous to consider using the facilities of the most surveilled place in the US as a clandestine back channel.  Let’s see Jared would put on sunglasses, a fake mustache and a wig, sneak out the back door of the White House, Uber to the Russian Embassy, have a secure conversation with Sergey Lavroy and return to the White House undetected.

I have to wonder if Kislyak is sitting back laughing at the uproar his report is creating, especially if it was disinformation.

Does anyone else wonder why Kushner would be attempting to set up a back channel, if all of the reported communications between the Trump Campaign and Russia during the campaign existed.  The transition team should have been able to use the existing collusion channels.

My Conclusion

Either the Washington Post Team disclosed US Intelligence methods, assuming Kislyak didn’t send his report via an open or known compromised channel, or they participated in a Russian disinformation campaign, if the report was sent by an open or known compromised channel.

Ellen Nakashima’s Video

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/4faa27a8-427e-11e7-b29f-f40ffced2ddb

Video caption from WP
“Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, asked him about setting up a communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in the United States. (Video: Alice Li,McKenna Ewen/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)”

The headline’s photo, by Jabin Botsford, is completely unrelated, the photo and its original caption:

Botsford170420Trump14331

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Trump and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni participate in a joint news conference at the White House on April 20. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

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