Feb 02

The Russian Connection: File Under WTF?

While much of the news media has been transfixed by the Nunes memo, the news that the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, had met with Russian spy chiefs here in the US last week. One of those chiefs, Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, was behind the Russian interference of our 2016 election. This news comes to us from Russian state media. Naryshkin has been under US sanctions for three years after the Russian invasion of the Crimea, as reported by Spenser Ackerman at The Daily Beast.

Also at this meeting were Alexander Bortnikov, who runs the FSB, which is the main successor to the Soviet-era security service the KGB, and the head of Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU.

A senior U.S. intelligence official based in Moscow was also called back to Washington for the meeting with the CIA chief, said a person familiar with the events, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive meeting.

The meeting, which addressed the countries’ mutual interest in preventing terrorist attacks, took place amid high tensions between Russia and the United States over a Kremlin-directed campaign to interfere with the 2016 elections. The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a 2016 report Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ordered the interference operation, and three congressional committees and a special counsel are investigating any possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian agents during the campaign. [..]

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said they could not recall so many heads of Russia’s espionage and security apparatus coming to Washington at once and meeting with a top American official. They worried the Kremlin could conclude the United States is open to forgiving Russia for its actions and was not resolved to forcefully prevent future meddling.

A description of the meeting sent to U.S. intelligence officers portrayed Russia as a partner willing to work with the United States and said the countries should look for ways to cooperate on counterterrorism issues. [..]

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday also demanded to know why Naryshkin, who is on the sanctions list, was allowed to enter the United States. “The Trump administration must immediately come clean and answer questions. Which U.S. official did he meet with?” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, told reporters.

The main job of the SVR is to spy against democracies and spread disinformation, also, recruiting Americans like, say, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. When the Russian interference in the election came to light, SVR was suspected as the most likely player.

Sergei Naryshkin is a veteran of the Soviet security service, the KGB, and a longtime ally of another veteran, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Born in Leningrad in 1954, Naryshkin attended the Soviet Union’s KGB Higher School in Moscow and later received a doctorate in economics. His thesis, “Foreign Investment in Russia as a Factor in Economic Development,” was later shown to have been plagiarized, but this has not damaged his highly successful career. (Putin plagiarized his dissertation as well.)

In the early 1990s Naryshkin worked with Putin in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office, where he was involved in the city’s foreign trade. After Putin became Russia’s president, Naryshkin moved to the prime minister’s office and later served in the presidential administration. In 2011 he was elected a deputy to the State Duma, or parliament, as a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party and in December that year he became speaker of the Duma. He remained in that post until Putin appointed him to head the SVR in October 2016.

Judging from his public statements, Naryshkin, who reportedly speaks fluent English, views the West, and the United States in particular, with deep distrust.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reports on the instances of Americans learn about meetings between Donald Trump and high ranking Russian officials from reporting from the Russian media. In the case of this latest meeting violating US sanction laws.