How To Recognize A Russian Intel Operation

When you work at a place like Los Alamos, one of the potential job hazards is that the spy services of other countries may try to recruit you. Between required training sessions and the rumor mill stories about successful and other attempts, you learn how it’s done.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen explains some of it. The Donald Trump, Jr., meeting was of a different sort than what I was warned against, although there are many similarities.

The warning signs are clear if you are aware of how such things work. A Russian (or Chinese, or perhaps other nationalities) colleague offering help out of nowhere, which seems to have been the case for Donald Jr., should raise questions. At a lower level, an acquaintance would not start with such an offer, but merely a personal interaction. Then favors might be exchanged, copies of scientific papers shared, leading up to more questionable types of sharing.

Considering that sequence, I suspect that Mowatt-Larssen’s article is not quite complete. Russian contact with Rob Goldstone, who then contacted Donald Jr., was a gentle testing of the waters, but it’s likely that even gentler testing preceded that.

Both Donald Trumps have been fascinated by Russia since the 1980s. But that is not the same as being willing to work with Russia during his political campaign. The earlier testing would have been among people working for the Trump campaign. This is where Jeff Sessions’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Carter Page’s talks in Russia, Michael Flynn’s romance with RT, and probably other contacts paid off for the Russians.

It’s possible that none of those contacts amounted to offers of collaboration,* just collegiality and trust-building. The responses from the Trump campaign, however, must have been favorable enough for Russian intelligence to believe a next step would be reasonable. Colin Kahl points out that Trump senior was also showing public indications in that direction.

Clearly, Donald Jr. had not had the briefings that Los Alamos employees do. But one might expect some caution when an email proclaims Russia’s desire to help get your candidate elected. The fact that he expressed enthusiasm suggests that 1) winning was all, and any help was welcome or 2) there was a continuity of relationship between the Trumps and Russian figures that made the offer seem normal. Caution was eclipsed.


* I dislike the horrendously overused word collusion. Lawyers say it has no legal meaning.


Cross-posted at Balloon Juice.