by Daniel Ashman
Theoretically speaking, one of the FBI’s core responsibilities is counterintelligence. The FBI lists eight priorities on their website and counterintelligence is second: “Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage.”
During Robert Mueller's reign at the FBI, Russia’s intelligence services clowned America numerous times.
Robert Mueller, when he was the FBI Director, had the responsibility of stopping Russian intelligence operations against America. He reigned a full twelve years, from 2001 to 2013, marking the longest tenure of any director apart from Hoover. He had ample opportunity to run American counterintelligence as he saw fit, and even to put in place a foundation, set a culture, and hire the right people, to protect America going forward.
However, Mueller was unable to bring victory to the intelligence department of the FBI. Indeed, Russia’s intelligence services clowned America numerous times.
Mueller’s mindset can clearly be seen in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on June 13th, 2013. In his opening statement, he listed the FBI’s top priorities: terrorists, homegrown violent extremists, and cybercrime. Counterintelligence didn’t make the top of his list, the bottom of the list, or even get a passing moment during the three hours of testimony. In fact, when Mueller brought up cybercrime, he even listed off what entities may commit cybercrime, but left out state actors and certainly didn’t name Russia.
Given Mueller’s biography, none of this should be surprising. He was in law school around 1970 and worked as a lawyer up through 2001. He has good training to prosecute criminals. But it is another matter entirely to recognize, understand, prevent, and stop the activities of a foreign intelligence service.
Back in 2005, Judge Richard Posner anticipated precisely these problems with FBI counterintelligence in his book Remaking Domestic Intelligence. He argued that the FBI was incompetent insofar as counterintelligence went. The FBI was primarily concerned with finding crimes, gathering evidence, and prosecuting criminals. Such a mindset would be counterproductive as far as anticipating and preventing threats from foreign actors.
One only has to look at the absolute mayhem engulfing America, due to an intersection of the FBI and the Russian intelligence community, to see Posner has been vindicated.
As most people understand, Russia -- successor to the USSR, child of the KGB, plaything of Vladimir Putin -- has continued to execute covert operations against America. Mueller’s inability to understand this threat perhaps exacerbated the problem.
One example of successful Russian intelligence operations against America, which were carried out while Mueller was director, was their funding of American environmentalist groups. Their goal has been to stymie the American energy industry, drive up world prices, and profit from export of their own oil and gas.
Specifically, in 2010 and 2011, Russia laundered $23 million to the Bermudan cutout Klein Ltd., who then funneled it to the California based Sea Change Foundation, who distributed that money to more well-known “American” environmental groups.
This particular Russia plot hasn’t gotten much attention. There hasn’t been around-the-clock coverage from CNN with breaking stories like: “Senior FBI official claims Obama’s anti-fracking push got Russian help.”
Klein and Sea Change were only uncovered as nefarious groups in 2014 by a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee report. In 2015, Lachlan Markay at the Free Beacon made the connection between the shadowy Klein group and Russia.
Mueller’s FBI didn’t address this matter (nor did Comey’s). In 2017, two Republican Congressman had to write a letter requesting the Executive Branch finally take action to investigate and stop this corruption of American politics.
Another unhandled foreign operation was Russia’s support for Occupy Wall Street, the 2011 movement which pushed the political debate left, caused immense property damage, strife, and even despair for traditional Americans opposed to communist ideology.
The Occupy movement was American, but Russia worked to promote and infiltrate it. This fact was recently confirmed by none other than a founder of the Occupy movement, Micah White, in a fascinating article he penned for the Guardian.
White explained, “although it is rarely discussed, the Occupy movement received substantial support from Russia.” That is an important fact to know if one is to understand the leftist movement and Russian policy. If only someone in the government had let people know.
White also wrote, “Russia’s efforts are part of a larger shift in the nature of war in which activists are becoming pawns of the superpowers.” He has this partly right, I would just add that this isn’t so much a shift, but a continuation of earlier tactics. For example, Colonel Stanislav Lunev, a high-level GRU defector from Russia, stated that Russia had spent more on anti-war movements in the U.S. than they had on arming the Vietcong.
The proper response to Russian infiltration of America’s domestic political movements is not clear. It merits a serious debate, which is impossible as long as Americans don’t know this is going on. What is clear, however, is that the FBI should not act thunderstruck by Russian operations to, in Mueller’s words, “sow discord” in American politics. It’s not new.
Here is one more example that shows the abject failure of FBI counterintelligence: the Snowden case.
Mueller left the FBI in September of 2013. In July of 2012, Eric Snowden began taking advantage of a flaw in the intelligence community’s security to steal massive amounts of top secret data even though he was a just a low-level information technology worker. Snowden took those American secrets to Hong Kong in May of 2013 and reached Moscow by June.
In testimony to Congress in June of 2013, Mueller explained to Congress that he had initiated a criminal investigation into Snowden’s actions. Did you catch that? Criminal, not counterintelligence. America had just suffered its most catastrophic loss of secrets in history, the culprit went to China and Russia, but Mueller still refused to even acknowledge a counterintelligence issue. Even the most fervent supporter of Snowden must admit that the FBI had a responsibility to at least investigate Snowden, if only to definitively clear him of nefarious foreign connections, and to address the security gap which Snowden had exploited.
Years later, in 2016, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a report slamming the FBI: “the IC assessment on Snowden does not contain an assessment of Snowden’s background and motive, an assessment of whether he was the agent of a foreign intelligence service, or recommendations for how to improve security in the IC.”
There is one final Russian operation that we need to talk about: their campaign to meddle in America’s 2016 election. You see, according to Mueller’s own indictment, Russia began taking concrete actions to implement their plan in July of 2013. That, of course, was when Mueller was in charge of anticipating and stopping these threats.
Properly understood, the Mueller Special Counsel is a Mueller investigation into Mueller’s failure as the FBI director.
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