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Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump

By Peter Strzok
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Compromised by Peter Strzok

Compromised (2020) is an inside account of the FBI’s handling of the now-famous Midyear Exam and Crossfire Hurricane investigations concerning Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign, respectively. It tackles partisan media and White House accusations head-on, from the point of view of a person at the center of it all.

Key idea 1 of 12

Russia is a master of espionage and intelligence.

By all appearances, Don Heathfield and Ann Foley were ordinary citizens. Their friends knew them as Canadian immigrants who had moved to Massachusetts so that Don could attend Harvard. The couple worked, went out, and took vacations with their two sons.

But Don and Ann had a major secret. Their real names were Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were Russian intelligence agents known as illegals. They lived their daily lives as normal citizens. But all the while, they were secretly feeding information back to Russia.

Don and Ann were far from the only illegals operating within America. The FBI even had a separate investigation into these illegals known as Operation Ghost Stories. The author, Peter Strzok, was one of the case agents. It was his first time dealing with Russian intelligence and espionage. But Russia’s world-class skill at secret intelligence operations meant it wouldn’t be his last.

The key message here is: Russia is a master of espionage and intelligence.

To fully understand Russia’s intelligence operations, we should first define what exactly intelligence means in this context. According to Strzok, it refers to the secret operations a nation conducts to obtain strategic advantage. Don and Ann’s intelligence work, for example, involved meticulously assessing American citizens and identifying those who could be persuaded to help Russia.

With intelligence comes counterintelligence, the effort to thwart an adversary’s intelligence work. While all nations engage in counterintelligence, Russia is particularly skilled at a form of it known as active measures. This involves using false or distorted information to influence political or social outcomes. Later on, we’ll see how active measures played a role in the 2016 US election.

Along with active measures, the Russians also often employ coercion to manipulate their targets. They do this by collecting compromising material, called kompromat, which might disincentivize a target from acting a certain way. Kompromat can consist of anything that a target might not wish to become public knowledge, like sexual advances or bribes. Once Russia obtains kompromat on an individual, he becomes dependent on Russia to keep his secret. The intelligence community would say that that person is compromised.

Unfortunately, the term kompromat is one all Americans should now know, thanks to the actions of the US president, Donald Trump. But the story begins with a wholly different investigation in 2015 – one that centered around the then secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

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