TSG IntelBrief: Russian Kompromat and U.S. National Security
May 9, 2017
Bottom Line Up Front:
• Testimony during a Senate hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election revealed serious concerns that were raised over the potential for a compromised national security advisor in the early days of the Trump administration.
• On May 8, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she alerted the White House to Lt. General Michael Flynn’s susceptibility to blackmail over his public and private misstatements.
• The concerns about potential blackmail and poor judgment—and the subsequent resignation—of a new national security advisor are unprecedented in U.S. history.
• The cancerous partisanship in U.S. politics effectively obscures the extent of the damage this issue and other Russian-related concerns have caused to national security.
On May 8, former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Yates’s testimony provided more details about the level of concern surrounding the misstatements by then-National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn regarding his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The misleading and false statements by Flynn, both publicly in interviews and privately to Vice President Mike Pence—who then publicly echoed those statements—led to his resignation after 24 days on the job. Yates testified that on January 26, she warned White House Counsel Donald McGahn that the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States was seriously vulnerable to Russian blackmail over his statements that both the U.S. and Russia knew to be false.
Despite false claims of illegal wiretapping, the U.S. government was aware of the details of General Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak because—as a matter of proper, well known, and longstanding counterintelligence protocols—the U.S. monitors the communications of foreign officials inside the United States. Russian officials are of particular interest given how extensive Russian espionage efforts have been inside the U.S., both historically and currently.
Russian officials would have known that Flynn’s statements were not only misleading, but in fact false. They also would have known that every additional false statement made then-National Security Advisor Flynn that much more vulnerable to blackmail. The Russian term for such compromising information on public officials is kompromat, which is a well-used tool in the Russian espionage tool box. Government employees with Top Secret clearances and higher access undergo an extensive vetting process throughout their employment that includes a Full Scope polygraph. The Full Scope polygraph incorporates the usual Counterintelligence polygraph about foreign contacts as well as the more intrusive Lifestyle polygraph that focuses on potential vulnerabilities for blackmail. Such vulnerabilities include financial difficulties, drug or alcohol use, infidelity, and provable lies to the government.
Though the divisions in U.S. politics are obvious in many different ways, few issues demonstrate the potential damage of extreme partisanship more clearly than the case of General Flynn. The ongoing shift in American politics from rank partisanship—which for years has conflated tactical partisan ‘success’ with true governance—to something far more destructive has obscured the truly unprecedented nature of the resignation of such a high-level national security official over false statements and blackmail concerns. Indeed, Russian disinformation campaigns targeting the 2016 U.S. election are the subject of parallel House and Senate investigations—both of which have been politicized to varying degrees. The FBI is conducting a much less public but far more intensive investigation regarding potential improper and possibly illegal contacts between individuals with ties to the Trump campaign and Russia. The FBI’s investigation certainly did not end with Flynn’s resignation on February 13, and will undoubtedly continue to have enormous repercussions across the U.S. intelligence and national security communities.
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