Did a ‘loyal Trumpie’ burn US intel assets in Russia?
This time I say it without irony: it would be irresponsible not to speculate. Two days ago, the New York Times reported
A senior official in the Russian cyberintelligence department that American officials say oversaw last year’s election hacking has been arrested in Moscow on charges of treason, a Russian newspaper reported Wednesday.
The arrest of Sergei Mikhailov, a senior officer of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the main successor agency to the K.G.B., is a rare instance of turmoil in the country’s usually shadowy cybersecurity apparatus slipping into public view.
Mr. Mikhailov served in the F.S.B.’s Center for Information Security, the agency’s cyberintelligence branch, which has been implicated in the American election hacking. But it is not clear whether the arrest was related to those intrusions.
He was detained along with one of Russia’s leading private-sector cybersecurity experts, Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of computer incident response investigations at the Kaspersky Lab, which makes antivirus programs.
The company confirmed in a statement that Mr. Stoyanov had been arrested, but said his arrest “has nothing to do with Kaspersky Lab and its operations.”
Newsweek‘s Gary Schmitt looks at the Times‘ own analysis…
given the two individuals’ “day jobs” and the working assumption that Russian intelligence services had hired Russian criminal hackers to do the dirty work of hacking into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee, there was “the possibility that Mr. Mikhailov and Mr. Stoyanov had interfered in this cooperation.”
Or, the paper speculates, “the detention of an official who would have been in a position to engage in the election hacking in America could indicate a goodwill gesture to the United States, which has sanctioned Russia for the electoral meddling.” Either of these two scenarios could of course be true.
… but then raises a more ominous – and very plausibe – reason for the arrests:
[A] third possibility exists—one ignored by the Times—that Russian officials discovered that Mikhailov and Stoyanov were U.S. intelligence sources and were the reason (or at least one reason) why the intelligence community was as certain as it was that the Kremlin had been complicit in the Russian hacking effort.
It’s not implausible that once the American intelligence reports about the details of the hacking, its motive and Putin’s hand in directing it were put on the public record, Russian counterintelligence went to work and fingered the two Russian “traitors.”
Speculation on my part? Sure.
But it’s in keeping with the history of blown sources as more and more details about an intelligence finding of great note become public.
Now how would Russia have gotten that information? Josh Marshall at TPM writes:
if Mikhailov was a US asset, how was he compromised? Did the information put out by US intelligence somehow lead to his exposure? Without putting too fine a point on it, a number of close advisors to President Trump are being scrutinized for ties to Russia. Some of them participated in the intelligence briefings the President receives.
And if that were true, some – in fact, anyone with half a brain – would call that treason.