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Hullabaloo


Monday, July 10, 2017

 

"Naive" is being too kind

by Tom Sullivan


U.S. embassy in Moscow. Public domain via Wikipedia.

America broke ground in 1979 on a new embassy complex in Moscow. The deal was signed in 1972 "during the heady days of detente" despite reservations from the State Department, according to a 1988 New York Times account. Negotiations had dragged on for years, but Nixon wanted to close the deal. In a "crucial blunder," the U.S. gave the Soviets control of design and construction. By late 1979, precast elements for the structure had arrived on site. Since the U.S. would be doing all the interior finish work, American officials assumed they would easily detect any eavesdropping devices. Not until 1982 did a team of security experts arrive to closely examine the structure itself:

The team was stunned when over the course of a few months, they discovered that the Soviets had put permanent eavesdropping systems into the actual structure of the building.

"We found things that didn't belong there based on shop drawings," said Frank Crosher, a security engineer who worked on the site from 1980 to 1982 and managed the embassy security team from Washington until 1986. "We found cables in the concrete as well as design discrepancies, millions of bits of data."

Along the way, they discovered interconnecting systems so sophisticated that they could not be removed from the steel and concrete columns, the beams, the pre-cast floor slabs and sheer walls between the columns. They found electronic "packages" where a piece of steel reinforcement in the flooring should have been, and resonating devices that allowed the Russians to monitor precisely both electronic and verbal communications.

Their job was made more difficult by decoys made to look like bugs and garbage from the construction process.
The bugging as far more sophisticated than the experts thought capable of the Soviets. Americans ceased construction in 1985 and, after over a decade of recriminations, finger-pointing, and three administrations, agreed to "top hat" the structure rather than tear it all down and start again from scratch. The new structure finally opened in July 2000.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, then-KGB head Vadim Bakatin presented the U.S. ambassador the blueprint for the embassy bugs:
Until that moment, the Soviet Union had steadfastly denied the bugging.

It was a gesture of friendship, Bakatin said. And he hoped the United States would be able to debug the building and move in, he said.

The United States, however, was afraid of being tricked again.
Against that backdrop, and with Russian hacking of the American election systems in 2016 still under investigation, President Trump yesterday morning proposed working with Russian President Vladimir Putin on election security:

Trump's proposal endured a torrent of ridicule from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told NBC's “Meet the Press” it was “not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close.” Representative Adam Schiff, the Democrats' senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," saying, "If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow." By last night, Trump was backing off:

On top of Trump's widely panned performance at the G20 meeting comes news that two weeks after Trump's nomination last summer, Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met at Trump Tower with a "Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer" who promised compromising information about Hillary Clinton. In exchange for what, we still do not know. But essentially, the Trump camp signaled to Moscow that Trump could be bought.

Even people who voted for him knew Trump was hopelessly unsuited to the job he now holds. The fact that “three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it” provided information to the Times was not lost on columnist Will Bunch. "In horror movie parlance, 'the calls are coming from inside the house' ... the White House, in this case." They know. Bunch continues:

If there was nothing underhanded about these meetings between Trump officials and various Russians close to Putin — including his U.S. ambassador, a state banker, and now a lawyer working aggressively to end American sanctions on Moscow — then why have so many high-ranking people risked their reputation and possibly their career to lie about them? The growing list of people who’ve lied about their Russian contacts and what was talked about now includes the U.S. attorney general (Jeff Sessions), Trump’s original national security adviser (Michael Flynn), arguably Trump’s closest West Wing adviser (Kushner, his son-in-law) and now the president’s son. They always say it’s not the crime but the cover-up. What else besides a cover-up can this be called at this stage of the game?
To call Trump hopelessly naive is being too kind. The man is a threat to national security.

Trump is not alt-right, he's ain't-right.