The Russian Connection: More Bombs

The bombs keep dropping but not just the ones our military dropped has lobbed at Syria and, now, Afghanistan. No, it’s the on-going investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections and it just got juicier. It escalated with this bomb in The Guardian

Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US. [..]

The Guardian has been told the FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow ahead of the US election. This was in part due to US law that prohibits US agencies from examining the private communications of American citizens without warrants. “They are trained not to do this,” the source stressed.

“It looks like the [US] agencies were asleep,” the source added. “They [the European agencies] were saying: ‘There are contacts going on between people close to Mr Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents. You should be wary of this.’

“The message was: ‘Watch out. There’s something not right here.’”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports on the latest developments in the investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, which GCHQ raised as far back as late 2015.

Besides disgraced NSA director Michael Flynn and the buffoonish Carter Page, who keeps giving interviews and drawing attention to himself, former campaign manager Paul Manafort is back in the news:

A spokesman for Paul Manafort said the former Trump campaign manager has consulted with federal authorities about whether he should register as a foreign agent because of his past political work in Ukraine, and will now take “appropriate steps in response to the guidance.” [..]

NBC has previously reported that the FBI is inquiring into Manafort’s foreign business connections. Manafort earned millions working for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, and also did business with a Russian oligarch and a Ukrainian oligarch. The FBI is also investigating whether any Trump associates colluded with Russian government efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election

Earlier Wednesday, the AP reported that it had obtained financial records showing that at least $1.2 million in payment listed in a black ledger next to Manafort’s name were actually received by his consulting firm in the U.S. in 2007 and 2009. Ukrainian investigators had cited the black ledger entries as evidence of off-the-books payments by the political party that employed Manafort. Manafort has publicly questioned the ledger’s authenticity.

Manafort is also under investigation for possibly laundering Russian money through accounts in a murky Cyprus bank that also has ties to Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

This is not about politics, this is about national security and criminal actvitity. The Trump campaign, and its transition team had close contacts with Russia that they have very clumsily tried to either cover up or deny. We know that Trump and his family have a deep connection to Russia. Just how deep can only be ascertained with examination of Trump’s taxes and his company’s books. Will that ever happen? Maybe, but it will be like pulling that proverbial camel through the needle’s eye.