Yesterday I wrote that having failed to find any evidence against any of the other people involved in the Russiagate inquiry, the investigators have turned on Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Today predictably there is the leak intended to cause him harm from our old friends, ‘three anonymous current and former officials’.
This leak alleges that in early December at a meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak in Trump Tower which General Michael Flynn also attended Kushner discussed with Kislyak the setting up of a back channel between General Flynn and the Russians.
The idea apparently was that Flynn would use this back channel to discuss with the Russians the conflict in Syria and other security issues. Here is how The New York Times describes the purpose of the ‘back channel’
…..the idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues……
The idea behind the secret communications channel, the three people said, was for Russian military officials to brief Mr. Flynn about the Syrian war and to discuss ways to cooperate there.
Neither side followed up on it. And less than two weeks later, the idea was dropped when Mr. Trump announced that Rex W. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil who had worked closely with Russian officials on energy deals, was his choice to become secretary of state.
There is no suggestion here that the back channel was intended to discuss possible collusion between the Trump team and the Russians relating to the US political process. Of course by this point the election was over, so this proposal for a back channel can have no bearing on the allegations of secret collusion during the election between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which are the subject of the Russiagate investigation.
It should be said clearly that there is nothing remotely unprecedented or even sinister about a US President having a back channel to the Russians that circumvents the bureaucracy.
The Kennedy administration used a back channel which ran through Alexander Feklisov, the KGB Resident at the Soviet embassy in Washington, to communicate directly with the Kremlin during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is now generally acknowledged that the eventual agreement that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis – and with it the threat of nuclear war – was largely negotiated via Feklisov and the back channel.
The expression ‘back channel’ is however more closely associated with the actions of former US President Richard Nixon.
Before his election victory in November 1968 – ie. during the election campaign – Nixon established two back channels to the Kremlin, one set up by his friend Robert Ellsworth, which ran through Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Soviet Charge d’Affaires Yuri Cherniakov, and the other set up by his future National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, which like Kennedy’s back channel ran through the KGB Resident at the Soviet embassy in Washington, who was by this point Boris Sedov.
Nixon’s back channels to the Kremlin continued to function after he became President. Eventually they evolved into the famous Kissinger-Dobrynin back channel, which enabled Nixon and Kissinger to conduct secret diplomacy directly with the Kremlin circumventing the State Department.
Nixon’s back channels to the Kremlin have remained controversial. However there has never been any suggestion that they were illegal. Most historians today credit them with easing the process of negotiation of the web of arms control and other agreements of the early 1970s which established the so-called period of detente.
Back in December, shortly after Kushner had his meeting with Kislyak, an article appeared in the Washington Post discussing the Nixon back channels and speculating that the Trump transition team might be thinking of copying them. Kushner is specifically mentioned in the article.
The New York Times says that US intelligence learnt about the discussion between Kushner and Kislyak about setting up the back channel ‘months ago’.
The article in the Washington Post about Nixon’s back channels looks like it was inspired by the Kushner-Kislyak meeting. Putting this together with what the New York Times says about US intelligence learning about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting “months ago”, that suggests that knowledge of the meeting was already widespread by mid December, in which case US intelligence must have learnt about the meeting almost immediately, probably as soon as it happened.
That suggests two possibilities, both hinted at by the New York Times
American intelligence agencies first learned about the discussion several months ago, according to a senior American official who had been briefed on intelligence reports. It is unclear whether they learned about it from intercepted Russian communications or by other means.
If US intelligence learnt about the Kushner-Kislyak discussion “from intercepted Russian communications” then once again the release of information to the media about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting constitutes a very serious leak of classified information, which will have alerted the Russians to the fact that their secret communications have been compromised.
Since the Russians will almost certainly in that case take steps to tighten up the security of their communications as a result of the publication of this story, that could lead to the US losing an important intelligence source. If so then yet again individuals within the US intelligence community, obsessed with their feud with Donald Trump, have damaged the national security interests of the US.
The other possibility is that US intelligence learnt about the discussion “by other means”, either from a source within the Trump transition team or – what has to be more likely – from electronic bugging of Trump Tower. In the latter case then this confirms that Trump Tower was bugged despite the heated denials to the contrary.
The back channel was never set up because Donald Trump decided to make Rex Tillerson rather than General Flynn his point man in his dealings with the Russians.
If the idea of the back channel came from Flynn – as is likely – then that supports my theory that Flynn was seeking to carve out a position for himself as Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser akin to those held in the 1970s by Nixon’s and Carter’s National Security Advisers, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and that this was the real reason why he was forced to resign.
Putting that aside, the key question about this story is not why Kushner discussed with Kislyak the idea of setting up a back channel. The New York Times professes to be mystified about it
Even if the proposal was designed primarily as a conduit to discuss policy issues, it is unclear why such communications would have needed to be carried out though a secret channel.
In fact – as the New York Times of course knows – the answer is obvious. The attempted sabotage of every move the Trump administration has made to pursue a diplomatic opening to Russia shows why senior figures within the Trump transition team might have searched for ways to circumvent the bureaucracy in order to carry out the President’s policy.
Rather the key questions about this story relate to how the information about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting was obtained, and the use this information has been put to.
Specifically, was the information obtained because (1) Trump Tower was bugged; or (2) from an informer within the Trump transition team; or (3) through the interception of Russian communications; and (4) in the case of (3) has the leaking of this information to the media damaged the national security interests of the US?
Needless to say these are precisely the questions that the media in the US are not going to ask.
In any of these cases the story again shows how the leaking of classified information has once again been used illegally to damage the reputation of a US citizen – in this case the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – by insinuating that he has done something illegal and wrong, when in fact he has not.
I will finish with one general observation about the Russiagate affair.
Donald Trump won the election saying openly and frankly that he wanted to improve relations with Russia. He made it clear that this was his intention throughout the election campaign. He was constitutionally elected to the Presidency specifically saying that he would carry out that policy.
Instead of being allowed to do as President what he said he would do before he was elected, and which was elected by the people to do – which is improve relations with Russia – elements of the US bureaucracy and the media are obstructing him whilst trying to destabilise him and his administration so as to drive him from office.
If that is not a soft coup by the Deep State – seeking to obstruct the foreign policy the President was elected to follow, and seeking to remove from office a constitutionally elected President for trying to carry out the policy the people elected him on – I do not know what is.
In 1964 there appeared a film in the US – Seven Days in May – about an attempted coup against the President of the United States provoked by his attempts to improve relations with Russia.
In the US – as happens all too often – fiction has now become fact.