Intelligence services of nations allied with the United States reported “suspicious” contacts between associates of Donald Trump and “known or suspected Russian agents” during the first six months of 2016, according to separate reports in the Guardian newspaper and CNN.
On Thursday, the Guardian reported that the CIA first learned of such contacts between Trump associates and Russians from its colleagues at Britain’s GCHQ spy agency no later than the end of 2015. During the months that followed, several other allied intelligence services in Europe and elsewhere reported similar contacts between Russians and figures connected with the Trump campaign, the Guardian said.
On Thursday evening, CNN broadcast its own version of the same findings.
Quoting a source “close to UK intelligence,” the Guardian described the information that was delivered to the US as initially part of a regular data exchange between agencies. Other countries that passed along information gleaned from electronic surveillance of Russian agents included Australia, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland, the newspaper’s sources said.
Contrary to what Trump and his spokesmen have claimed, the Guardian article emphasized that none of the intelligence was derived from “a targeted operation against Trump or his team.” Instead, conversations were reportedly picked up in routine surveillance of Russian agents and intelligence assets in those countries. During 2016, various intelligence agencies observing the activities of the same individuals saw “a pattern of connections” that were then disclosed to American intelligence officials.
The same sources told the Guardian that between late 2015 and the summer of 2016, several Western intelligence agencies transmitted additional information about contacts between “Trump’s inner circle and Russians.” Those sources described the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies as “slow” to understand the extent and gravity of the Russian “active measures” campaign and its apparent connections with the Trump campaign.
As the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, the FBI’s counter-intelligence division eventually obtained warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to conduct electronic surveillance of several individuals and entities — notably including Carter Page, a foreign policy consultant to the Trump campaign.
Page, a former investment banker and oil industry consultant known for his vociferous advocacy on behalf of the Kremlin, had previously surfaced in a counter-intelligence prosecution of a Russian spy ring in New York, which had sought to recruit him as a source. He was included in the FISA warrant because the FBI allegedly suspected him of acting as an “agent of influence” for the Russians. Page has complained that the investigation is abusive and “politically motivated.”
Quoting sources in Congress and U.S. law enforcement as well as American and European intelligence agencies, CNN published a report on its website that essentially confirmed the Guardian account (which the network duly credited):
The communications [of several Trump associates] were captured during routine surveillance of Russian officials and other Russians known to western intelligence. British and European intelligence agencies, including GCHQ, the British intelligence agency responsible for communications surveillance, were not proactively targeting members of the Trump team but rather picked up these communications during what’s known as “incidental collection,” these sources tell CNN.
The European intelligence agencies detected multiple communications over several months between the Trump associates and Russian individuals — and passed on that intelligence to the US.
It seems probable that this is the same surveillance data disclosed to Senate and House investigators, provoking cryptic public comments by committee members concerning the seriousness of the probes now underway — and, evidently, a rising sense of panic in both the White House and its stooge Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chair forced to remove himself from the Russia investigation last week.
IMAGE: President Donald Trump leaves the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters accompanied by then-national security adviser Michael Flynn (2nd L) after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia U.S., January 21, 2017. U.S. REUTERS/Carlos Barria