When the former director of our Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, showed up in Moscow to fete Vladimir Putin at a Russia Today (RT) anniversary gala on December 10th, 2015, the American intelligence community noticed and they were not impressed. Here’s how they reacted at the time, as relayed by Michael Crowley in Politico Magazine‘s May/June 2016 issue:
“It was extremely odd that he showed up in a tuxedo to the Russian government propaganda arm’s party,” one former Pentagon official told me.
“It’s not usually to America’s benefit when our intelligence officers—current or former—seek refuge in Moscow,” said one senior Obama administration official.
Eighteen months earlier, Flynn had been cashiered by President Obama, reportedly at the insistence of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Pentagon’s undersecretary for intelligence Michael Vickers. Dana Priest told a fuller story of Flynn’s failures in a New Yorker feature last November.
In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in charge of all military attachés and defense-intelligence collection around the world. He ran into serious trouble almost immediately. I’ve spoken with some two dozen former colleagues who were close to Flynn then, members of the D.I.A. and the military, and some who worked with him in civilian roles. They all like Flynn personally. But they described how he lurched from one priority to another and had trouble building a loyal team.
That’s just the warmup.
His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true, like when he asserted that three-quarters of all new cell phones were bought by Africans or, later, that Iran had killed more Americans than Al Qaeda. In private, his staff tried to dissuade him from repeating these lines.
Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues. Soon, according to former associates, a parallel power structure developed within the D.I.A. to fence him in, and to keep the nearly seventeen-thousand-person agency working. “He created massive antibodies in the building,” the former colleague said.
Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go.
Dana Priest also interviewed Michael Flynn for the Washington Post in August 2016 and got Flynn to talk about one of his trips to Russia:
PRIEST: Let me ask me about Russia. There has been a lot in the news about your trips …
FLYNN: One in the military [while director of the Defense Intelligence Agency]. I went there [in 2013] on a fully approved trip. I had a great trip. I was the first U.S. officer ever allowed inside the headquarters of the GRU [Russian intelligence]. I was able to brief their entire staff. I gave them a leadership OPD. [Professional development class on leadership] and talked a lot about the way the world’s unfolding.
He also told Priest, falsely as it turns out, that he “wasn’t paid a dime” to make television appearances on the state-sponsored RT news network. But, on that visit to talk to the GRU, that’s a little bit interesting because he applied to make a repeat appearance there and was denied. I think we all need to know why his request was denied. Maybe the annexation of Crimea was the reason, but maybe it was something more specific to Flynn.
While Flynn was forced to announce his retirement on April 30th, 2014, he was given a grace period so he didn’t actually step down until August 7th of that year. We don’t know exactly why Flynn lost his job, but we now know that the Intelligence Community became alarmed about a meeting he had at Cambridge University in February 2014.
One concern involved an encounter with a Russian-British graduate student, Svetlana Lokhova, whom Flynn met on a trip to Cambridge in February 2014.
At the time, Flynn was one of the top US spies and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which provides information to the Pentagon about the military strengths and intentions of other states and terrorist groups.
A historian and a leading expert on Soviet espionage, Lokhova has claimed to have unique access to previously classified Soviet-era material in Moscow.
You can quickly go down a rabbit hole trying to figure out what’s up with Svetlana Lokhova because she made news in 2015 for winning a massive sexual harassment settlement against her former employer, Russian investment bank Sberbank. The effort took three and a half years, during which she appeared at Cambridge as a graduate student who was presented as a leading expert on Russian espionage with unique access to GRU documents. Something seems amiss here, I have to say, and it sounds like our Intelligence Community felt the same way.
Ostensibly, Flynn and Svetlana met somewhat by chance when they were introduced “at the end of a dinner attended by 20 guests who included Sir Richard Dearlove – the former head of MI6 – and Prof Christopher Andrew, the official MI5 historian.” Flynn was taken with her and asked her to accompany him as a translator on his next trip to Russia. And it gets sketchier:
Flynn says the meeting with Lokhova was “incidental” and lasted just 20 minutes. However, [Christopher] Andrew has said Flynn invited Lokhova to accompany him on his next official visit to Moscow to help with simultaneous translation. The trip fell through soon afterwards because of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Andrew wrote in the Sunday Times.
The Guardian understands Flynn and Lokhova remained in email contact, conducted through an unclassified channel. In one email exchange described by Andrew, Flynn signed himself as “General Misha”, Russian for Mike.
Lokhova denies she is a Russian intelligence officer, but she can’t explain her metamorphosis from being a mistreated employee at the equity sales desk of Sberbank in 2011 to being a uniquely privileged source of GRU intelligence materials in 2014.
Flynn describes his contact with Lokhava as fleeting and temporary, but that’s not true. He needs to make that claim though because any contact more substantial than that should have been self-reported, and he didn’t do that. His backup defense is that Lokhava holds dual British citizenship and maybe that will hold water and maybe it won’t.
In any case, Flynn was forced out shortly after his contacts with Lokhava began and he never made a follow-up trip to Russia while serving as the head of Defense Intelligence.
He left his job in August 2014 and was in Moscow sitting with Putin at the head table of the RT gala in December of 2015. He took money to make the appearance there, a fact that he didn’t report and which he was legally obligated to report as a former military officer. He also took money for other speeches and for appearing on RT. All of this opened him up to blackmail.
By the time he arrived in Moscow in 2015, he had already met Donald Trump in the “late summer” of that year. Flynn described the meeting: “…this was all before, really, the primaries kicked in. … I found [Trump] to be very attuned to what was going on around the world. We were going to meet for 30 minutes; we met for an hour and a half. His son Eric came in. He was really good.”
So, Flynn already had an “in” with the Trump family by the time he exposed himself to the Russians and became a potential pawn in their hands. The Intelligence Community didn’t know all of this at the time, but they knew enough to be very suspicious. Remember, a senior Obama administration aide remarked “It’s not usually to America’s benefit when our intelligence officers—current or former—seek refuge in Moscow.”
That’s how they saw it, as seeking “refuge” in Moscow. That’s an odd thing for an intelligence officer to do. They suspected he was taking money and they were correct.
Much of the focus on Flynn comes from activities he undertook later in the timeline. Primarily, people are concentrating on what got him fired as National Security Advisor, which was his communication with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his misrepresentations about just some of those contacts. Obviously, he’s opened himself up to all kinds of legal liabilities by not disclosing his work on behalf of Turkey and not being honest and forthcoming in his applications for security clearances.
The most extreme allegations against Flynn haven’t been proven, but they’re worth reading anyway:
Mike Flynn may also have interpreted Donald Trump’s text to him, ‘Stay Strong,’ on the day the subpoenas for evidence in the ongoing case against him were announced, as a threat. Sources believe that Flynn informed the FBI, and multiple other persons, of Trump’s text himself.
Separate sources with links to the intelligence community confirm our earlier reporting on how Mike Flynn co-ordinated Russia’s propaganda attack on the West on behalf of Trump, giving advice across Europe to far-right parties linked to the Russian state. These include, but are not limited to, UKIP, Marine Le Pen in France and a far-right party in Austria. Flynn regarded himself as a partisan of the Russian state, and his assistance in Russia’s messaging was not limited to hacking the American election, but in trying to boost Nazi ideology and Putin allies right across Europe. These sources state that Gen. Flynn could receive the death penalty for espionage for these activities, if charges are brought on the matter and he is found guilty.
Flynn is being decommissioned, sources say, meaning that he is telling the FBI what he knows.
I wrote about Flynn and the Austrian Nazis back in December, so even if I think talk of the death penalty is completely unhinged, it’s not like the connection isn’t there. As for the connection with the UKIP and Brexit, I wrote about Nigel Farage being a possible WikiLeaks cutout for Roger Stone back in March. It’s likely that this is a bit of hyperventilating about something which is serious but not quite this serious.
The more important thing is that Flynn is in some really deep water right now. There’s at least one grand jury all up in his business and he just told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he won’t cooperate and will cite the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination. The Special Counsel’s office will be on him like white on rice, and the Russians could tell what they know if it suits them at any time. On top of that, the president of the United States is pressuring him to “stay strong.”
He’s got no real defense against some of the more ticky-tack charges, but there are enough of them now that they could add up to substantial jail time. I don’t even know what to say about his scheme to kidnap and illegally extradite Fethullah Gulen to Turkey where he would have been killed. All I know is that the witness, James Woolsey, is a former Director of Central Intelligence.
Clearly, the investigators and prosecutors are not looking for an easy conviction which Flynn can plea to. They’re looking for much bigger fish. That means that he can’t cut some minor deal. He has to deliver the goods.
It still bothers me that the FBI only began talking about Flynn being subject to blackmail in January after he lied about his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak. He’s been subject to blackmail since at least December 2015 when he began taken tens of thousands of dollars from the Russians and didn’t disclose it and subsequently lied about it.
What did he do for his own purposes and what did the Russians compel him to do? And how could an intelligence officer be so stupid?
At this point, I think he’s going to have to tell us the answers to these questions or he’s going to be “staying strong” for a very long time, in prison.