I've read (well, listened to) Luke Harding's Collusion
, which I highly recommend. Anyone who can read this book and still assign "nothingburger" status to Russiagate must be either a purchased propagandist or an Alt Right zealot.
I'd like to draw your attention to the book's section on General Michael Flynn's time at the Defense Intelligence Agency. At one point shortly before the annexation of Crimea, Flynn attended an intelligence conference in Cambridge, where he met "a talented Russian-British postgraduate."
The woman, born in Moscow, showed Flynn some of her recent discoveries in Russian archives. Flynn was so struck with her that he invited her to accompany him on a forthcoming visit to Moscow, as his official interpreter.
The trip didn't come off: soon afterward Putin annexed Crimea. According to Andrew, Flynn and the postgraduate student subsequently conducted an "unclassified correspondence" via email. Their discussion were on Soviet history the woman had written her dissertation on the Cheka. She was researching the role of GRU spies in infiltrating the fledgling US nuclear program for a future book.
The woman, Svetlana Lokhova, is understood to dispute some aspects of Andrew's account. There is no suggestion that she is linked to Russian intelligence. Flynn would normally have been expected to report any meeting with a foreign national to the DIA. He didn't.
In his emails, Flynn signed off in an unusual way for a U.S. spy. He called himself "General Misha."
Misha is the Russian equivalent of Michael.
Actually, "Misha" is the short, familiar form of "Mikhail." (It also means "bear.")
"Andrew," in this passage, refers to Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge, the official historian of MI5. At this point, it is traditional to say these words: "He has excellent ties to the British intelligence community." So consider that duty fulfilled.
One may have to read the above excerpt a few times before formulating a should-be-obvious question: How did Andrew gain access to the Flynn/Lokhova emails?
The first thing that popped out at me when I heard this passage was the phrase "There is no suggestion that..." Most Americans aren't familiar with this ploy. In the UK, libel laws are rather more onerous than in the US, especially when dealing with an individual with a litigious history, as is the case with Lokhova. British writers have come up with a workaround: They deny an idea in order to get it on the record. The phrase "there is no suggestion..." often proves useful in these instances. Example: "There is no suggestion that Sir Michael Hanley covered up an MI5 smear campaign against Prime Minister Harold Wilson." Nowadays, one can make that claim directly, but in former times...well. There was no suggestion.
(This trick does not work in the United States. I've tried it. American readers are simply too thick.)
Who is she?
There are a number of stories about Lokhova on the internet. This one
traces back to Luke Harding. He and his co-writers offer some additional details:
Lokhova also listed Flynn as one of four referees who would provide selective endorsements for her book, which is expected to detail how Russian spies penetrated the US atomic weapons programme.
Though there is no suggestion of impropriety, Flynn would have been expected to “self report” any conversation with an unknown person, especially with links to an “adversary” country, such as Russia. Lokhova has informed us that she does not have privileged access to any Russian intelligence archive and there is no suggestion that she has ever worked with or for any of the Russian intelligence agencies.
Price Floyd, a spokesman for Flynn, said: “This is a false story. The inference that the contact between Gen Flynn and a Russian [dual] national described in this story should be seen in any light other than incidental contact is simply untrue.”
Multiple sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the CIA and FBI were discussing this episode, along with many others, as they assessed Flynn’s suitability to serve as national security adviser.
The Cambridge meeting was part of a wider pattern of “maverick” behaviour which included repeated contacts with Russia, the sources said.
After he resigned from the DIA in 2014, Flynn became a contributor to RT, formerly known as Russia Today, the Kremlin’s English-language news channel.
At this point, a digression may be in order.
What happened to Flynn?
In the context of a discussion of Flynn -- was it on Stephanie Miller's show? I believe so -- Malcolm Nance once noted that Russian spies often try to recruit individuals recently fired from positions in the American intelligence community, on the theory that a man bearing a grudge may be approachable. I'm quite sure that Flynn would angrily deny that he switched loyalties. There is no suggestion that he became pro-Russian. However, I think it may be fair to suggest that there has been a certain evolution
in Flynn's mentality, and that -- contra Nance -- this evolution occurred before
he was "axed" to leave DIA.
has this to say about Flynn's DIA period:
One source, citing DIA sources, spoke of Flynn's obsession with Iran and his incapacity for "linear thought." He had a tendency to "jump around. People thought Flynn was crazy."
Those who spend too much time in the company of Michael Ledeen often catch a bad case of Iranophobia.
I nodded in recognition when I read about Flynn's alleged incapacity for linear thought and tendency to "jump around." These phrases remind me of the time I spent hobnobbing with conspiracy buffs, who were infuriatingly
non-linear. On many occasions, I would try to develop a normal argument in which A leads to B which leads to C, but the buffs would have none of it. Their minds don't work that way. In their minds, A leads to Q leads to C leads to Pre-A leads to Post-X leads to Orange leads to Pi leads to Lando Calrissian. And so on. When a conspiracy buff speaks, the results resemble what you'd expect from a random word generator.
I suspect that, while head of DIA, Michael Flynn became converted to -- or perhaps addicted
to -- the conspiratorial viewpoint. Nowadays, the path of paranoia often leads to Putinism. I'm not sure why.
(Hmm. Is this very essay guilty of non-linear argumentation? Perhaps so. Apologies.)
Let us return to Svetlana Lakhova
. Here's her website
. "Svetlana Lokhova is generally regarded as the world's leading expert on Soviet and Russian espionage." But there is no suggestion that she has ever worked for Russian intelligence. Similarly, there is no suggestion that Christopher Andrew is a spook.
At least, I
make no such suggestions. However, Dr. Dena Grayson (wife of former congressman Alan Grayson) wrote a rather suggestive tweet
Gen "Misha" #Flynn flipped to #Putin tool thanks to classic honey trap at Cambridge named Svetlana.
Although the term "honeytrap" implies a sexual relationship, I do not
think that such a thing occurred in this case. Seriously. Don't read between the lines of this paragraph. I believe that Lokhova and Flynn became entwined on a purely intellectual level. That said: An intellectual relationship can be more compelling than the usual boy-meets-girl-on-foreign-trip scenario.
At this point, we turn to this BBC profile
"Are you a Russian spy?" I begin by asking her. "Absolutely not," she replies. "I have no formal or informal connection with Russian intelligence whatsoever."
She acknowledges that the cynical will respond: "She would say that wouldn't she" - which has left her in what she describes as a "Kafkaesque situation"'.
The context of the story, she acknowledges, was part of the problem. She is female, originally from Russia and linked to Cambridge, home of the famous Cambridge spy ring recruited by the KGB in the 1930s.
Claims she was asked to travel to Russia and act as his translator, Lokhova says, are not true. She says she exchanged some emails with Flynn and his assistant after the event, although Flynn soon after left the DIA, after reportedly being forced out. "We had maybe a few emails going backwards and forwards," Lokhova says. These included details of events at Cambridge.
Hm. Luke Harding, whose source appears to be Christopher Andrew, says that Lakhova was
supposed to function as interpreter. Andrew's source of information seems to be the Flynn/Lakhova email chain, which somehow seems to have reached his eyeballs. There is no suggestion that GCHQ intercepted these emails and handed them over to Christopher Andrew. (If you want to read between the lines of this
paragraph, I can't stop you.)
Christopher Andrew and Lakhova.
Here's where things become more interesting:
On the contrary, she says that because of her work with Prof Andrew, who has worked with defectors from the Soviet Union such as former KGB archivist Vasily Mitrokhin, who smuggled out its secrets, she is viewed with suspicion in Russia.
"In Britain, I am now being accused of being a Russian spy. In Russia, some think I am a British spy. And I am neither. I am just a historian who writes about an area that has become incredibly politicised."
So she works with
Christopher Andrew, who somehow was given access to the emails between Flynn and Lakhova. In fact, she was a post-graduate student under Andrew.
Is she, in fact, just a historian? If so, she appears to be a uniquely privileged historian
Ms Lokhova claims to have unique access to previously classified Soviet-era GRU material. This is highly unusual to say the least… According to a Russian historian:Her other life.
“At least with the FSB and SVR [domestic and foreign spy agencies] there are places you can apply to view the archives, but with the GRU there’s not even a place to apply.”
But there is an even more intriguing side to Lakhova. You see, she is not just an academic with an interest in the world of espionage: She's also a banker.
Ms Lokhova used to work for the London branch of Russia’s state-controlled Sberbank.
In 2015, she won a £3.2million payout after winning an employment tribunal case in London against Sberbank CIB for sex discrimination and harassment.
How Ms Lokhova metamorphosed from a Russian banker into a UK historian with expertise in GRU espionage and US atomic weapons is a bit unclear at this point.
"A bit unclear"? I'll say!
Remember when I said that Lakhova is litigious? Here are the details
A banker dubbed 'Crazy Miss Cokehead' by her bosses claims her £3million pay-out was not worth the gruelling legal battle and the toll on her health.
Cambridge University graduate Svetlana Lokhova, 34, was driven to a breakdown by a 'vicious' campaign of sexual harassment by bullying male colleagues.
She won her case against Russian investment bank Sberbank after judges accepted she was unfairly forced to leave her £750,000-a-year role in London.
But Miss Lokhova says her huge pay-out – including £3.14million for lost earnings, £44,000 for hurt feelings and £15,000 in aggravated damages – has been a hollow victory.
I'm truly sorry about the indefensible insults that Lakhova had to endure. But one must ask: How does a historian
(albeit one with unique access to GRU archives) get such a high-paying gig at a bank
? I doubt that Lehman Brothers hands out such positions to graduate students who majored in history. I don't think that any high-paid wheeler-dealer at Goldman Sachs has ever said to himself: "Gosh, if I get an advanced degree in history, Mr. Blankfein will be so
The folks at Sberbank certainly don't seem to have had much respect for Lakhova. So why did they hire her and what did she do?
The Moscow-born banker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I am one of the lucky ones in the sense that I obviously had some personal wealth because I have been in banking for a very long time.
She has been in banking a very long time? Even while pursuing a graduate degree in History at Cambridge? Even while poring through intelligence files at the GRU, a privilege accorded to no-one else?
that? How is it possible to have such a career? Two
We need more details on the chronology: Did Sberbank pay her a hefty salary while she was writing Spook History and attending Spook U? (That's my new nickname for Cambridge. Spread it around; I want it to catch on.)
We should note that Sperbank is not just any bank
Sberbank Capital’s CEO, Ashot Khachaturyants, is a former senior official in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and its Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
State-owned Russian financial institutions are common conduits for surreptitious intelligence work in the country.
If you've been following Rachel Maddow -- or perhaps reading this humble blog -- you would know that Sberbank plays a role in the Trump/Russia scandal. From an earlier Cannonfire post:
The Chairman of the Board of Sperbank is Herman Gref, whose ties with Trump are undeniable. Google "Herman Gref Trump." In particular, see here and here. Christopher Andrew is an unusual fellow.
Let us return to the Intel Today blog
. In the following, "CIS" refers to Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, where Flynn met Lakhova:
The CIS was set up by official MI5 historian Professor Christopher Andrew.
On December 17 2016, former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove, former policy adviser at the White House Stefan Halper, and historian Peter Martland resigned from CIS.
“Suspicious were allegedly raised after claims a new digital publishing house called Veruscript, which helps cover some of the CIS’s costs, may be acting as a front for the Russian intelligence services.
The publishing house, which, according to its website, is based in London, is also publishing a new journal, the Journal of Intelligence and Terrorism Studies.
Some of those involved are thought to be concerned that Russia may attempt to use the link to the seminars to influence sensitive debates on national defence and security.”
I'm trying to get my head around this. To reiterate: Andrew is the official MI5 historian and the guy who helped to give us the Mitrokhin Archives (about which I remain dubious, although that is a topic for another time). He is very
tied to British intelligence; one gets the impression that he could waltz into the MI5 archives as though he owned the place. Yet his graduate student is Svetlana Lakhova of Sberbank (an institution very tied to Russian intelligence) -- a banker/historian who was allowed to waltz into GRU headquarters as if she
owned the place. Of course, there is no suggestion that she was ever any kind of a spy.
And Andrew's seminar itself may have been paid for by a Russian front. As though such a thing could happen without his Spookworld friends knowing all about it.
Remember when I called Cambridge University "Spook U"? You will not be surprised to learn that the university has direct ties to Cambridge Analytica
In recent years, the company has moved to exploit the revolution in big data to predict human behavior more precisely, working with scientists from the Cambridge University Psychometrics Center. The United States represented a critical new market.
We all know that Cambridge Analytica helped Trump get elected. Cambridge Analytica, staffed in large measure by British intelligence veterans, has done very sensitive work for the British and American services. CA employed Steve Bannon, America's most beloved "nationalist." (That's the term we're supposed to use in polite society, though some may prefer another word beginning with N.) Robert Mercer is often said to be the owner of CA, although that claim is not quite true. CA has done very sensitive work for the British and American services -- and yet this private intelligence group has strong ties to Russia
In the following excerpt from an earlier Cannonfire post, "Firtash" refers to Dmitry Firtash, the Russian oligarch linked to both Paul Manafort and (but of course!) Vladimir Putin.
How does Firtash -- a notorious Ukrainian gangster linked to both Putin and Paul Manafort -- tie into the firm? To be honest, we can't be sure. We know that a CA/Firtash link exists (doubters need only google Firtash Cambridge Analytica), but we don't know its precise nature.
If you want to trace the ties, start here
. Warning: It gets complicated.
Something very strange is going on here. I don't claim to have a handle on it. Whatever it is, it goes much deeper than even Luke Harding's book suggests.
A final word:
I have tried my damnedest to make this complicated story "linear." My intention was to write a logical, easy-to-follow post in which point A leads to point B which leads to point C. The problem with stories about this underworld is that one soon becomes bogged down in a very non
-linear collision of plotlines. It's difficult to know which points are vital and which are digressions.
To be blunt: It's almost impossible to make sense of this shit. Maybe that's why conspiracy buffs are so "jumpy" in their thinking.