“A New York Times report sheds new light on the close ties between Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and Kremlin cronies in Ukraine and elsewhere” — the Atlantic, Aug. 15. “U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections” — The Post, Sept. 6. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia?” — Donald Trump, July 27.
One of the year’s most underreported stories is the Kremlin’s covert efforts to influence our presidential election — a development with potentially far-reaching impact on our nation’s security. That U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are reportedly investigating this broad Russian operation in the United States is reassuring. Voters heading to the polls, however, ought to be aware of the threat.
To be sure, my view of the former U.S.S.R. and today’s Russian Federation is rooted in both my military service and my work as a sworn federal law-enforcement officer with responsibility for the security of State Department personnel and sensitive information.
I was a newly minted U.S. Army second lieutenant on active duty in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy activated some 150,000 reservists in preparation for military conflict with the Nikita Khrushchev-led Soviet Union over the status of Berlin.
I was the duty officer on the October 1962 evening when the cable arrived at my upstate New York military post raising our alert status. Elsewhere, B-52s went on airborne alert for strikes within the Soviet Union, and plans were developed for a strike on Cuba. It was a crisis brought on by the discovery of Russian attempts to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. Thirteen days on the brink of nuclear war.
There was nothing abstract about the Cold War.
In August 1968, we watched from the U.S. Embassy in Bonn as Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia to break the back of the reform movement there.
It wasn’t only what we saw, but also what we knew, that convinced us Russia was a chief adversary. There was the fact of Soviet-bloc agents embedded in West Germany surrounding our diplomatic missions. It was a country filled with Soviet-controlled spies out to obtain classified information through the recruitment of our staff or the technical penetration of our facilities.
Donald “wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia” Trump undoubtedly will put down this column as a throwback to days long gone. It’s now a Russia led by Vladimir Putin, a man who Trump gushed is “so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
Espionage sagas are things of the past, the man who lavishes praise on KGB veteran Putin might say.
He would be wrong.
The U.S.S.R.’s annexation of the Baltic States in the 1940s has nothing on Putin. Recall Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The KGB may be gone, but Russian foreign intelligence, operating with the initials “SVR,” is thriving.
Proof: Evgeny Buryakov, the Russian agent who, beginning in 2012, operated undercover as a banker in New York City gathering intelligence, trading coded messages with other Russian spies who sent clandestinely collected information back to Moscow. He was caught, was indicted and pleaded guilty in March.
There’s the reported Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the release of 20,000 DNC emails. Jumping to Putin’s defense, Trump said at NBC News’ Wednesday night national security forum, “Well, nobody knows that for a fact.” Tell that to the intelligence community.
Then there was the temporary elevation of Paul Manafort to Trump campaign chairman — the same Manafort who helped elect former Kremlin puppet Viktor Yanukovych president in Ukraine. After Yanukovych failed to sign a European Union trade deal, he fled protests in Ukraine for Putin’s Russia — and his ouster sparked Russian intervention in Ukraine.
The same Manafort whose Trump campaign team at the Republican convention in Cleveland, my Post colleague Josh Rogin reported, “orchestrated a set of events to make sure that the GOP would not pledge to give Ukraine the weapons it has been asking for from the United States.”
With media attention drawn to allegations of secretive payments for his Ukraine work — which he denies — Manafort quit the campaign.
Then there’s Trump himself.
Reports The Post: “There is strong evidence that Trump’s businesses have received significant funding from Russian investors.”
Turn over the keys to Trump, who mingles with Putin’s Russian oligarchs, hustles business opportunities in Moscow, blithely looks past Putin’s annexation of Crimea, and glosses over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its support for Iran and Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Who says the NATO-member Baltic states can count on our help only if threatened by Russia if they have “fulfilled their obligations to us” ? Who says of Russian election meddling: “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do”?
No wonder Putin, covert manipulator of the West, smirks.
In Donald Trump, Russia will never have had it so good.
Something voters may wish to think about.
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