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The Department of Justice will interview senior CIA personnel as part of a sweeping investigation into the origins of ‘Russiagate,’ according to the New York Times, citing anonymous sources briefed on the matter.
The interview plans are the latest sign the Justice Department will take a critical look at the C.I.A.’s work on Russia’s election interference. Investigators want to talk with at least one senior counterintelligence official and a senior C.I.A. analyst, the people said. Both officials were involved in the agency’s work on understanding the Russian campaign to sabotage the election in 2016. –New York Times
The Times notes that while the DOJ probe is not a criminal inquiry, CIA employees are nervous, according to former officials, while senior agency officials have questioned why the CIA’s analytical work should be within the purview of John H. Durham – the US Attorney for Connecticut appointed by Attorney General William Barr to oversee the review.
Justice Department officials have given only broad clues about the review but did note that it is focused on the period leading up to the 2016 vote. Mr. Barr has been interested in how the C.I.A. drew its conclusions about Russia’s election sabotage, particularly the judgment that Mr. Putin ordered that operatives help Mr. Trump by discrediting his opponent, Hillary Clinton, according to current and former American officials.
Mr. Barr wants to know more about the C.I.A. sources who helped inform its understanding of the details of the Russian interference campaign, an official has said. He also wants to better understand the intelligence that flowed from the C.I.A. to the F.B.I. in the summer of 2016. –New York Times
The Obama Department of Justice and FBI targeting of two low-level Trump aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, was carried out in the spring of 2016 because they wanted to spy on the Trump campaign but needed a way in. They enlisted an American academic and shadowy FBI informant named Stefan Halper to repeatedly sidle up to both Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Page. But complementing his work for the FBI, Mr. Halper had a side gig as an intelligence operative with longstanding ties to the CIA and British intelligence MI6.
Another foreign professor, Joseph Mifsud, who played an important early part in targeting Papadopoulos, also had abiding ties to the CIA, MI6 and the British foreign secretary.
A third operative, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, targeted Mr. Papadopoulos in a London bar. It was Mr. Downer’s “tip” to the FBI that provided the justification for the start of Russia counterintelligence investigation, complete with fraudulently-obtained FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign.
All of these interactions reek of entrapment. Mr. Papadopoulos now says, “I believe Australian and UK intelligence were involved in an active operation to target Trump and his associates.” Like Mr. Halper and Mr. Mifsud, Mr. Downer had ties to the CIA, MI6 and (surprise!) the Clintons.
Given the deep intelligence backgrounds of these folks, it’s difficult to believe that former DOJ/FBI officials such as Peter Strzok or even James Comey and Andrew McCabe on their own devised the plan to deploy them.
It should also be noted that Papadopoulos has suggested Stefan Halper’s fake assistant ‘Azra Turk’ is CIA, not FBI as widely reported, and that what happened to him “was clearly a CIA operation.”
According to the Times, CIA director Gina Haspel has told senior officials that the agency will cooperate – up to a point, as “critical pieces of intelligence whose disclosure could jeopardize sources, reveal collection methods or disclose information provided by allies” will not be shared.
Interestingly, Haspel was the CIA’s station chief in London during the Russiagate investigation – where the majority of the espionage against the Trump campaign aides took place.
The Justice Department has not submitted formal written requests to talk to the C.I.A. officers, but law enforcement officials have told intelligence officials that Mr. Durham will seek the interviews, two of the people said. Communications officers for both the C.I.A. and the Justice Department declined to comment.
One of the CIA officers Durham wants to question works at the agency’s counterintelligence mission center – one potential conduit between the CIA and the FBI through which the agencies might have passed information during the Trump-Russia investigation. Another senior analyst Durham wants to talk to was involved in the CIA’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The ties between the efforts by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to examine Russia’s election interference are broader. In the summer of 2016, the intelligence community formed a task force housed at the C.I.A. to investigate Russian interference. The group shared intelligence with F.B.I. investigators who opened the bureau’s Russia inquiry in an effort to determine whether any Americans were working with the Russians on their interference during the election. –New York Times
Of note – the CIA focuses on foreign intelligence and is not supposed to investigate Americans. Instead, the agency is required to pass domestic issues which arise during investigations to the FBI.