Scandals, sleaze and now sick and spy stories: The United States’ President-elect Donald Trump continues to court controversy. This time, it is quite serious since it is about the national security of the United States -- and it may lead to his impeachment, if investigations prove that he is being handled by the Russians, who are said to be in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect.
It is an open secret that big powers work secretly to bring about regime change in countries where they perceive the governments to be unfriendly or a security threat. But if the allegations that Russia had hacked into sensitive emails of the Democratic Party National Committee in a bid to ensure Trump’s victory are true, then this may be the first time that the United States had become a target nation for a regime change operation by an outside power. If the allegations are true that the Russians had links with the Trump team, then the script of the Russian game plan will make even John Le Carre’s ‘the Spy Who Came from the Cold’ look like a kindergarten book. Even Ian Fleming’s James Bond would be shocked.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is no stranger to the world of spies. He was a senior member of the KGB, the dreaded intelligence outfit of the former Soviet Union. Since he became the President of Russia, he has been guiding and restructuring Russia’s secret service agencies. In September last year, an influential Russian daily Kommersant reported that Putin had ordered a major new reshuffle of Russia’s security agencies and the creation of a new super agency called the Ministry of State Security by merging the FSB (the main successor agency to the KGB) with Russia’s foreign
The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity towards the US. Russia may not be an economic power, but Putin wants Russia to be regarded as a superpower, just like the United States. He was livid when Washington engineered a coup in Ukraine and overthrew the pro-Kremlin President. He saw the US-led moves to expand the Western military alliance Nato to Russia’s backyard as a serious security threat to his country. In what was seen as retaliation for the US action in Ukraine, he intervened in Syria, turning the United States’ Middle Eastern programmes topsy-turvy. Now, details are surfacing, albeit as allegations, about Putin’s plan to install a pro-Russian president in the White House. If the allegations are true, then Putin is spymaster par excellence.
The allegations surrounding the Trump-Russia affair surfaced after a dossier prepared by a former British spy was leaked to the media.
The ex-MI6 secret agent identified as Christopher Steele, who spied on the football governing body FIFA and exposed its corruption, was initially hired by FusionGPS, a Washington-based research firm, to investigate Trump on behalf of unidentified Republicans who wanted to stop Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination. According to BBC, one of them was Jeb Bush, who bowed out of the race in the early part of the campaign after his dismal performance in the primaries. By the time the agent started his work, the Republican primaries were over. The original clients dropped out. But the secret agent continued his work because the company that hired him wanted the information for new clients -- Democratic Party supporters.
By July last year, the agent had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, but he felt the Bureau was not interested in pursuing it or even trying to cover it up because just days before the elections FBI chief James Comey announced new investigations into Hillary Clinton emails instead of into the dossier.
Reuters quoted people familiar with the FBI investigation as saying that the Bureau indeed opened preliminary investigations into Trump and his entourage’s dealings with Russians, but the Bureau shifted into low gear in the weeks before the election to avoid interfering in the vote.
Frustrated, agent Steele during a visit to New York handed over a copy of the dossier to the Mother Jones Editor, who published a story based on it in the magazine’s October 31 issue. The story did not make a big impact because it only talked about the existence of such a dossier, not much about its contents, because of the highly sensitive nature of the information.
In November last year, a former senior Western diplomat confided in Republican Senator John McCain about the existence of the document, when they were in Halifax, Canada for a security conference. McCain dispatched a trusted emissary to a western capital to meet the agent. The emissary returned with a copy of the document. On December 9, a month after Trump won the presidential election, McCain had a one-on-one with FBI chief Comey. It was following this meeting that US intelligence chiefs met the President elect. They had showed him the document and a two-page memo based on it.
Following the meeting early this week, the document found its way to CNN. As to who leaked it to CNN, little is known. But the website Buzzfeed published an unedited version of the document. It claims that Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room the Obamas had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas. The document claims that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. The dossier also claims that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years and that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen travelled to Prague in August or early September to meet a Russian official. However, the lawyer strongly denies he ever visited the Czech capital.
Trump on Wednesday dismissed the allegations as fake news and accused the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media. “It’s all fake news, it’s phoney stuff, it didn’t happen,” he said, adding that “sick people” had “put that crap together... it’s an absolute disgrace”.
Now the big question that arises is not about Trump. It is about the alertness of US spies. What were they doing when the Russians were executing their plans?
Most, if not all, states suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterised by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalised mistrust of others. A person suffering from this disorder believes that other people’s motives are suspect and they will harm them and, therefore, they constantly look for clues in their surroundings to identify what they perceive as threats.
Those who run or work for state intelligence agencies are required to behave like PPD sufferers but should guard themselves against becoming PPD patients. Unlike PPD patients, state intelligence officers or secret agents confirm or dismiss their suspicions through reason and knowledge. For this, they gather intelligence, which is a basic activity in every intelligence outfit. Counterintelligence measures and covert operations are the next most important activities of spy agencies.
Spies are required not to drop their guard even when they make a courtesy bow to a friend. Their eyes and ears should be attuned to pick and react immediately to any possible unfriendly action or gesture. So the question is: why haven’t the US intelligence agencies probed Trump? The fact that they had to be alerted by a private detective of a foreign country is a damning indictment of the US intelligence agencies’ failures, which include their endorsement that former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.