U.S. Attorney John Durham, tasked to look into the origins of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, is now “investigating CIA resistance to sharing Russian secrets,” according to a Feb. 13 report in The New York Times.
According to the article, “Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former Director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result—and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal.”
Additionally, Durham is reportedly looking into “whether and how information from foreign governments or the C.I.A. played any role in stoking suspicions at the F.B.I. about Trump campaign links to Russia.”
Brennan’s Role in Disseminating Foreign IntelligenceIn late 2015, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was involved in collecting information regarding then-candidate Donald Trump and transmitting it to the United States. The GCHQ is the UK equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).
“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 [FBI],” Brennan said in his testimony.
“I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians, either in a witting or unwitting fashion, and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred,” Brennan said.
Justice Department (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz recently determined that, despite repeated assurances by members of the Intelligence Community to the contrary, “unverified information from Steele’s dossier”—referring to the opposition research paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee—was used “in an interagency assessment of Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 elections.”
Horowitz did note that the CIA was somewhat reluctant to include Christopher Steele’s reporting in their assessments but that “the FBI, including [Director James] Comey and [Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe, sought to include the reporting in the ICA [intelligence community assessment].”
While Brennan has publicly denied using the dossier for the ICA, he did attach a two-page summary of the dossier to the intelligence community assessment that he, along with Clapper and Comey, delivered to President Barack Obama on Jan. 5, 2017.
According to Horowitz, former FBI Director James Comey said that Brennan and Clapper “thought it was important enough and consistent enough that it ought to be part of the package in some way, and so they had come up with this idea to make an [appendix].”
The Russian SourceThe NY Times notes that over the last several months, “Durham and his team have examined emails among a small group of intelligence analysts from multiple agencies, including the C.I.A., F.B.I., and National Security Agency, who worked together to assess the Russian operation.”
The article noted that intelligence analysts at the NSA wanted to know more about the “identity and placement” of a specific Russian source, in order “to weigh the credibility of his information.” But, according to the article, the CIA “was initially reluctant to share details about the Russian’s identity but eventually relented.”
But the article also noted that there were some doubts within the CIA. Following the refusal of extraction in late 2016, some officials within the CIA “wondered whether the informant had been turned and had become a double agent, secretly betraying his American handlers.”
“Instead, Mr. Brennan sent separate intelligence reports, many based on the source’s information, in special sealed envelopes to the Oval Office,” according to the article.
But the nature of the source raises some significant questions. If, for example, the source was indeed so highly placed, why then was the United States so seemingly ill-informed regarding many of Russia’s foreign policy actions, particularly in Syria or Crimea, when Russia forcibly annexed the peninsula from Ukraine?
The Post noted that “the intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives—defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.”
Did CIA Withhold Information From FBI?Another reported area of focus for Durham is regarding the raw information that was in the CIA’s possession. Although it isn’t entirely clear what this information is, it appears there was some disagreement over whether the CIA needed “to filter the data to mask names and other identifying details about Americans and American organizations” before handing the information to analysts at the National Security Agency (NSA).
Nunes continued, “The Committee also understands that Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports. However, there was no meaningful explanation offered by these officials as to why they needed or how they would use this U.S. person information, and thus, the Committee is left with the impression that these officials may have used this information for improper purposes, including the possibility of leaking.”
In addition to the disagreements regarding unmaskings, there were reportedly some internal conflicts over “access to unclassified emails of American officials that the Russian government had previously hacked, including at the White House and State Department.”
It isn’t clear if that’s a reference to either the DNC server or emails from the private email server that Clinton utilized while at the State Department.
The NY Times also reported that a foreign ally of the United States had “obtained its own copy of the stolen messages and provided drives with another reproduction of them to the United States government.”
The FBI wanted to examine these emails, which reportedly included emails from Obama, along with some members of Congress. According to the article, “Obama’s White House counsel, W. Neil Eggleston, decided that investigators should not open the drives, citing executive privilege and the possibility of a separation-of-powers uproar if the F.B.I. sifted through lawmakers’ private messages.”
Durham’s Investigation Moves ForwardAccording to an Oct. 19, 2019, NY Times article, Durham has already interviewed “about two dozen former and current F.B.I. officials” and the “number of interviews shows that Mr. Durham’s review is further along than previously known.” The paper also reported that Durham’s efforts were being aided by “two former senior F.B.I. agents” who were assisting with the review.
The number of interviews conducted, as well as the widening scope, suggests that Durham has been gathering all available facts, evidence, and data prior to approaching central figures such as Brennan and Clapper in his inquiry.