Thinking Like an Intelligence Officer: Anthony Weiner and Russian Spies

There are many reasons why Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey is interested in the emails on Anthony Weiner’s home computer, emails which may include United States government information pertinent to Hillary Clinton or those communicating with her.

The majority of those reasons for Comey’s involvement, for good or for bad depending on your political position, have been laid out across the media spectrum.

But there may be one more reason not yet discussed. Since we seem to be spending so much time this election cycle on the Russians this year, let’s think like Russian intelligence officers. Comey may be looking at an intelligence operation.

Professional intelligence officers do not risk international incidents to play the equivalent of pranks on nation states, say by embarrassing the Democratic National Committee with leaked documents months before the election. That’s WikiLeaks level stuff. No, when you want to rig an election, you rig an election. Have a look at the way the CIA historically manipulated elections — assassinations, massive demonstrations, paid off protesters and journalists, serious stuff that directly affected leaders and votes. You don’t mess around with half-measures.

Now have a look at the Edward Snowden documents, and the incredible efforts the National Security Agency went to to gather information, and then let’s think like intelligence officers. The world of real “spies” is all about “the take,” information. Putin (or Obama, or…) doesn’t likely have on his desk a proposal to risk cyberwar to expose a CNN contributor for handing over debate questions. He wants more of hard information he can use to make decisions about his adversary. What is Obama (or Putin, et al) thinking, what are his plans, what are his negotiating points ahead of the next summit… information at a global strategic level.

That’s worth risking retaliation, maybe even a confrontation, for. So let’s think like intelligence officers. How do you get to that kind of stuff?

How the great game of intelligence gathering works is in the end very basic: who has access to the information you want, what are their vulnerabilities, and how do you exploit those vulnerabilities to get to the information. What do they want and how can you give it to them?

Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had access to extraordinarily sensitive information, both classified and unclassified. Huma Abedin is arguably the most powerful person in Clinton’s circle, and had access to much or all of that pool of information. What Huma knows would be of great interest to Moscow.

How to get the info? Huma’s husband is a publicly outed sexual predator. Everyone in the world knows he sexts, trolls online message boards, and seemingly does little to hide his identity while doing it all. He is a target, the kind of dream package of vulnerabilities an intelligence officer waits a whole career to have fall into their lap.

Baiting the trap appears to be easy. As recently as August Weiner was in a flirty chat with someone he thought was a young woman named Nikki, but was actually Nikki’s male, Republican friend using the account in order to manipulate him (Weiner later claimed he knew he was being set up.)

So perhaps for the Russians, contacting Weiner would have been as easy as posting a few fake sexy photos and waiting for him to take a bite. Placing malware on his computer to see what was there was as easy as trading a few more sexy photos with him. He clicks, he loads the malware, NSA 101 level stuff. An intelligence officer then has access to Weiner’s computer, as well as his home wireless network, and who knows what else. An Internet-enabled nanny cam? A smartphone camera? Huma’s own devices?

To be fair, I doubt any intelligence agent could have believed their own eyes when they realized Weiner’s computer was laden with (presumably unencrypted) official U.S. government documents. Depending on the time period the documents covered, it is possible the Russian intelligence could have been reading Clinton’s mail in near-real time. Somebody in Moscow may have gotten a helluva promotion this year.

If I was a sloppy journalist these days, I guess I could package all this for you by claiming it came from “several anonymous government officials.” Instead, you know it’s all made up. Just like a spy novel. Because no real intelligence agent could have put these pieces together like this.


Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

44 thoughts on “Thinking Like an Intelligence Officer: Anthony Weiner and Russian Spies”

  1. So, how does Podesta’s satanism expedition with Marina Abramovic (if I interprete the shrieking blogosphere correctly) fit into all of this?

  2. HA Goodman has been discussing this same premise. Anyone could have found there way in Clinton’s server via Weiner.

  3. The fact that it is ‘all made up’ makes it easier to sell.

    Remember Collie Powell’s WMD spiel at the UN? His little vial of phony anthrax had everybody in the UNSC chamber wonder how he’d sneaked it past security? That of course enabled them to accept the rest of the claptrap at face value.

    Hey presto! there’s new war in town.

  4. The game might have been played using higher stakes. Consider the strategic pivot here for Russia this decade: sowing discord and/or reveal corruption and/or serious flaws at the highest levels in Western governmental institutions simply because a West divided and spending its energy cleaning out their own junk will be less of a threat to Russian interests. And certainly would decrease Western meddling in Russian affairs and of the immediate abroad.

    Having the emails from Clinton’s private server, the Democratic campaign and several important aids is of course of great interest but how to USE this?

    It’s unclear how the Podesta mails came at Wikileaks but I suspect the one who got into this account decided to dump it (as well) at Wikileaks. It might have been an individual decision. The international cyberwar uses mercenaries and marketplaces of information and tool exchange. If you cannot afford something like the NSA, one needs to become a bit more …flexible.

    It’s true, as Peter wrote, that intelligence agents would not have “believed their own eyes when they realized Weiner’s computer was laden”. Perhaps too good to be true? Wouldn’t loading these mails by *another agency* not be way more effective to disrupt, in one swoop, the FBI, the DJO, the Democrats and the nations faith in what is fair and what’s not? Even beyond this election? Especially this election? Would Russia not be correct to say they don’t have a favorite? That’s indeed not the level they play at.

    If true, we’re looking at one of the greatest intelligence games seen since a long time. But perhaps, it’s all coincidence, a “black swan”?

    1. Faaar out…. This makes a lot of sense. Huma’s initial reaction was that she didn’t know how the Hillary private server emails got onto the Weiner computer. Maybe she knows something about their home wireless setup, or at least she should have known. She looks like a truthful person…..under oath, and with 2-4 years at Leavenworth hanging over her. And she is going to have to turn on this. Somebody is going down for Gross Negligence here, and it ain’t Weiner. The irony of it is that the Weiner investigation is being conducted by the NYPD, and they don’t have jurisdiction to go after Huma (or her boss) on a Federal charge. Then there’s the food fight going on inside the FBI itself. The basic thesis, that Weiner was “meat on the table” for foreign intel, has to be correct. It’s not necessarily true, however, that only the Russians made the score on this. There’s plenty of other possibilities, including a certain small state in Palestine.

      1. Douglas, I believe you just nailed this one perfectly. One certain small state in Palestine .. hmmm .. the Zionist Entity! Bingo!!

    2. if they wanted it to influence the election… it would have been leaked well in advance that there WAS classified stuff on the PC.

      thats not what happened. there was no leak. It was the FBI telling us about it just so if there WAS hillary secrets on it.. the FBI would not be blamed for sandbagging information for the election.

  5. The question no one is asking is how the emails got on Weiner’s machine in the first place. The most logical explanation is Abedin hid them there for 1) to keep them safe from a warrant search on HER machines, and 2) for leverage in case she needed something to bargain with the FBI.

    No one is asking this question because the answer is “obstruction of justice” – and no one wants that before the election.

    1. That’s strange, though. If Abedin wanted to hide the emails, wouldn’t she have gone ahead and taken the step of encrypting them too?

      I have another guess: Weiner is obviously a creepy dude. I think he had the emails because he hacked (loosely speaking) her email accounts and downloaded the material to keep a constant eye on her. She probably didn’t know it until the FBI found them on his computer.

      1. That’s actually not a bad theory. It’s the only other theory I’d consider.

        As for encrypting them, given the level of IT incompetence among the Clinton crowd, I’m not surprised they weren’t. The smart thing would have always been to keep them on a flash drive buried in the back yard. Never keep digital info you want hidden actually ON a computer. Which is why Weiner shouldn’t have had them on his machine either. But then he probably wasn’t smart enough to break them out into individual email files he could search and view with a viewer.

        But the point is: No one is asking the QUESTION. It’s all become a side-show over how many emails could be searched in a week, which is irrelevant.

        The issue is how many were new and had to be read CBS said the following: “These emails, CBS News’ Andres Triay reports, are not duplicates of emails found on Secretary Clinton’s private server.” And reported elsewhere based on CBS News: “A U.S. official told CBS News that the emails are not duplicates of
        documents previously reviewed during the investigation into Clinton’s
        private email server. ”

        Now the FBI says they were ALL duplicates. So which is it?

        1. there are no duplicates, rather, they are emails that were intentionally withheld from the original investigation … the Weener knew it, too.

    2. Why not store on a thumb drive? I don’t have an opinion on what’s real and what’s not. I just say thumb drive seems more reasonable.

      1. Why would anyone want to keep them on a thumb drive. They were on that computer and on at least one e-mail provider’s server somewhere else, too.

        Most likely they were clueless about hygiene and just set e-mail to download everything locally.

        1. Well, if storing them somewhere, a thumb drive is easier to keep hidden than on a laptop.

          What you say is perhaps most likely; but you assume there was no cause to preserve the emails. There might have been a reason to preserve them.

          It’s just odd for them to be so lazy, but maybe you’re right.

          1. Actually I read somewhere that law enforcement are now training dogs to sniff out electronics the way they do drugs, precisely to be able to find hidden thumb drives and SD cards during searches.

  6. We are talking about “Russians” because the Clinton media manipulators saw that as a good talking point to use since “al-Qaeda BOO” is not believable coming from Hillary’s mouth.

  7. Weiner alleges he downloaded the emails so she didn’t accidentally lose them. Evidently he didn’t bother to tell her. Could it be the vehemently pro-Israel Weiner was just positioning himself to help his favorite nation state? I wonder if the govt has lifted his passport. In any case if that’s what he was up to, the govt will just suppress that information – if Hillary wins. (Still unknown as I write 12:11 am 11-9-16.)

    1. The official version is that she manually forwarded some emails to Wiener and that most of them were automatically backed up to his laptop from her Blackberry. In any case, Comey’s testimony was 100% in its essentials. She DID “forward” (manually or through automation) “hundreds and thousands” of emails to Wiener’s laptop and 12 of the email threads DID include classified information. Everything else is just chaff and flares.

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