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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The latest

I'm not going to talk about the Gorsuch nomination right now. Vile as he is, he is a symptom; let's focus on the cancer.

1. The Russian "traitors." As you know (if you have followed this humble blog), the Russian government has accused two FSB officials of treason. Many of us presumed that the charge was linked to the Orbis dossier -- but now the Guardian tells a slightly different story:
“Sergei Mikhailov and his deputy, Dmitry Dokuchayev, are accused of betraying their oath and working with the CIA,” Interfax said, quoting a source familiar with the investigation.

It is unlikely the news agency would have published the story without official sanction, though this does not necessarily mean the information is true.

The story did not make it clear whether the pair were accused of being CIA agents or merely passing on information through intermediaries.

According to earlier reports in the Russian media, Mikhailov was arrested some time ago, in theatrical fashion, during a plenary session of the top FSB leadership: a bag was placed over his head and he was marched out of the room, accused of treason.

His deputy, Dokuchayev, is believed to be a well-known Russian hacker who went by the nickname Forb, and began working for the FSB some years ago to evade jail for his hacking activities.

Together with the two FSB officers, Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of the computer incidents investigations unit at cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, was also arrested several weeks ago.
Obviously, we can't rule out that Mikhailov aided Christopher Steele -- but it also seems likely now that CIA has pursued an independent effort to determine the nature of Putin's connection to Trump. I am not surprised to see elements of the FSB turn against Putin's initiative. I think that much of the Russian establishment fears that their leader has bitten off the unchewable.

Which brings me to this side observation: There used to be a popular meta-theory of intelligence services which held that spy agencies are usually at their boldest in the first few decades of their existences. Over time, an intelligence agency becomes more cautious and less likely to pursue any covert operations that stand a good chance of backfiring.

According to this theory, the KGB was less prone to adventurism than was the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s, simply because the Russian service was older. The KGB originated in the 19th century (as the Cheka), while the CIA came into being during WWII (as the OSS).

This "meta-theory of spying" was discussed in many newspaper op-ed sections back in the 1970s. Writers used this theory to explain the outlandish exploits of the CIA which were exposed by the Frank Church hearings. Does the idea still hold up? I don't think so. Our own services have been playing it cool and cautious lately, while the Russians have been operating in "fortuna audaces iuvat" mode.

President Bannon. Historians may one day consider Steve Bannon to be the true power in this administration. Trump may well be his marionette.
Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

The intelligence official, who said he was willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt when it took office, is now deeply troubled by how things are being run.
Actually the Cheka originated with Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution. The Tsarist equivalent was the Okhrana, which actually was pretty damn reckless in its day.

None of this invalidates your overall point, of course.

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