As Trump won primary after primary in 2016, a rattled John Brennan started claiming to colleagues at the CIA that Estonia’s intelligence agency had alerted him to an intercepted phone call suggesting Putin was pouring money into the Trump campaign. The tip was bogus, but Brennan bit on it with opportunistic relish.
Out of Brennan’s alarmist chatter about the bogus tip came an extraordinary leak to the BBC: that Brennan had used it, along with later half-baked tips from British intelligence, as the justification to form a multi-agency spy operation (given the Orwellian designation of an “inter-agency taskforce”) on the Trump campaign, which he was running right out of CIA headquarters.
The CIA was furious about the leak, but never denied the BBC’s story. To Congress earlier this year, Brennan acknowledged the existence of the group, but cast his role in it as the mere conduit of tips about Trump-Russia collusion: “It was well beyond my mandate as director of CIA to follow on any of those leads that involved U.S. persons. But I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the bureau.”
But if his role had truly been passive, the “inter-agency taskforce” wouldn’t have been meeting at CIA headquarters. By keeping its discussions at Langley, Brennan could keep his finger wedged in the pie. Both before and after the FBI’s official probe began in late July 2016, Brennan was bringing together into the same room at CIA headquarters a cast of Trump haters across the Obama administration whose activities he could direct — from Peter Strzok, the FBI liaison to Brennan, to the doltish Jim Clapper, Brennan’s errand boy, to an assortment of Brennan’s buddies at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, and White House.
The bogus tip from Estonia led the group into its first cock-up: sending FBI agents to sniff around the computer server connected to Trump Tower. After that effort flopped, Brennan’s group had to go back to the drawing board (on the electronic intelligence front, it had already hatched plans for national security letters and FISA warrants). Someone in the group must have proposed blasting a swampy old CIA source and Hillary supporter, Stefan Halper, into the Trump campaign orbit to see if he could catch a couple of minor campaign volunteers out in collusion.
Halper had entered the Deep State through a door opened by his father-in-law, Ray Cline, whose work for the CIA was legendary. Behind that door Halper found a treasure trove of jobs and government contracts, making his life as a transatlantic jet-setting academic possible. Brennan’s Langley group had access to Halper’s file and sized him up as the perfect embed: a Republican-oriented foreign policy scholar who could plausibly interact with Trump officials while serving as a nexus between the CIA and Brennan’s friends in British intelligence. Halper’s ties to Richard Dearlove, a former head of British intelligence, are well known, and Halper knows Alexander Downer, the pub-crawling Aussie diplomat, through a mutual association with Cambridge University.
That Halper came out of the brainstorming of Brennan’s group is clear from the fact that his first known meeting with Carter Page preceded the formal opening of the FBI’s probe. The Washington Post hinted at the role of Brennan’s group in hatching Halper:
Many questions about the informant’s role in the Russia investigation remain unanswered. It is unclear how he first became involved in the case, the extent of the information he provided and the actions he took to obtain intelligence for the FBI. It is also unknown whether his July 2016 interaction with [Carter] Page was brokered by the FBI or another intelligence agency [italics added].
The FBI commonly uses sources and informants to gather evidence and its regulations allow for use of informants even before a formal investigation has been opened. In many law enforcement investigations, the use of sources and informants precedes more invasive techniques such as electronic surveillance.
A veteran of the intelligence community tells TAS that Brennan’s CIA was full of Hillary supporters, some of whom decorated their desks with her campaign paraphernalia. Brennan, whom the press noted would walk the halls of the CIA in an LGBT rainbow lanyard, encouraged this open political atmosphere. While Brennan knew his spying operation on the Trump campaign was an “exceptionally, exceptionally sensitive” matter (as reported by journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff), he assumed its machinations would never come to light.
The members of Brennan’s working group at Langley “were just a bunch of out-of-control idiots,” says a former high-ranking CIA official to TAS. He finds it flabbergasting that Brennan would bring CIA officials and FBI officials into the same room to cook up schemes to send a spy into the Trump campaign’s ranks. One of those schemes involved money (Halper paid George Papadopoulos $3,000 for a phony research paper as a way of luring him into a London meeting); another involved sex (Halper’s assistant, with a name out of a bad spy novel, Azra Turk, tried to coax information from Papadopoulos at flirty bar outings, according to the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross).
Like Brennan, Halper didn’t bother to hide his support for Hillary even as he conducted this infiltration. He told the press that he feared a Trump presidency, as it could harm the “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain. That rationale must have figured into Alexander Downer’s motivation for working with Brennan’s Langley group too. Downer traveled in the same elitist circles as Christopher Steele, Halper, and John Kerry. It appears he sent word of his boozy evening with Papadopoulos back to Brennan’s group through these circles — either through Hillary partisans at the State Department or through Clinton Foundation channels, for whom he had worked as a kind of bag man.
Halper had come up empty, so Brennan’s group at Langley went with Downer’s tale, as feeble as it was. But it at least had the advantage of coming from a “diplomat.” Yet if Congressman Nunes is right and the originating document for the FBI probe doesn’t even contain a reference to an official intelligence product passed to Brennan from the Australian government, Downer’s hearsay must have been exceedingly flaky, so flaky no one would want to be on the record treating it as “evidence” for something as momentous as a probe into a presidential campaign.
According to press accounts, Downer’s bumptiousness caused a diplomatic row of sorts between the two countries. Who resolved it? John Kerry? Susan Rice? Or was this another case of Obama leading from behind — behind a CIA director briefing him daily on “Russian interference” while running an anti-Trump spy ring out of Langley.