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FTR #965 Are We Going to Have a Third World War?

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Atomic Bomb [5]National Security Agency [6]Intro­duc­tion: Recent devel­op­ments are sug­ges­tive of the omi­nous pos­si­bil­i­ty of an immi­nent Third World War. We present some new infor­ma­tion and recap and fur­ther ana­lyze sto­ries cov­ered in pre­vi­ous pro­grams in order to under­score and high­light the poten­tial dev­as­ta­tion of these events.

As the furor (“fuehrer”?) sur­round­ing the poten­tial­ly lethal polit­i­cal hoax known as “Rus­sia-gate” gains momen­tum, it should be not­ed that the point man for the Trump busi­ness inter­ests in their deal­ings with Rus­sia is Felix Sater. A Russ­ian-born immi­grant, Sater is a pro­fes­sion­al crim­i­nal and a con­vict­ed felon with his­tor­i­cal links to the Mafia. Beyond that, and more impor­tant­ly, Sater is an FBI infor­mant and a CIA con­tract agent [7]:

A stun­ning devel­op­ment con­cerns extreme ret­i­cence on the part of the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty:

The Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence had an “inter­est­ing” response to a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act law­suit demand­ing the release of the clas­si­fied report giv­en to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma back in Jan­u­ary pur­port­ing to show the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment was behind the hacks. Accord­ing to the ODNI, the request­ed doc­u­ment would present a risk to human intel­li­gence sources by reveal­ing the com­par­a­tive weight giv­en to human vs tech­ni­cal evi­dence, risk­ing US sources and meth­ods. But the ODNI went fur­ther, sug­gest­ing that even releas­ing a ful­ly redact­ed doc­u­ment [11] would present sim­i­lar risks!

It is NOT easy to see the ODNI’s reluc­tance to release even a ful­ly-redact­ed copy of the report as any­thing but disin­gen­u­ous. In the con­text of poten­tial­ly dev­as­tat­ing dete­ri­o­ra­tion of Russian/U.S. rela­tions over Syr­ia, Ukraine, and the Russ­ian “elec­tion-hack­ing” uproar, the ODNI’s behav­ior can­not be any­thing but dis­qui­et­ing:

” . . . . The intel­li­gence offi­cial argued that a redact­ed ver­sion of the orig­i­nal report would allow a trained eye to assess ‘com­par­a­tive weight’ of human intel­li­gence and sig­nals intel­li­gence report­ing includ­ed in the com­pendi­um. Release of some of the infor­ma­tion the pri­va­cy-focused orga­ni­za­tion wants made pub­lic ‘could prove fatal to U.S. human intel­li­gence sources,’ [Deputy Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence for Intel­li­gence Inte­gra­tion Edward] Gis­taro warned.

Gis­taro also appears to argue that even if offi­cials blacked out the whole report, high­ly clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion would be at risk.

‘I agree with the [Nation­al Intel­li­gence Coun­cil] that a heav­i­ly or even ful­ly redact­ed ver­sion of the clas­si­fied report can not be pub­licly released with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty infor­ma­tion prop­er­ly clas­si­fied as SECRET or TOP SECRET,’ he wrote. . . . ‘The ODNI should release the com­plete report to EPIC so that the pub­lic and the Con­gress can under­stand the full extent of the Russ­ian inter­fer­ence with the 2016 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,’ EPIC’s Marc Roten­berg told POLITICO Tues­day. ‘It is already clear that gov­ern­ment secre­cy is frus­trat­ing mean­ing­ful over­sight. The FBI, for exam­ple, will not even iden­ti­fy the states that were tar­get­ed by Rus­sia.’ . . . ”

With the high-pro­file hacks being attributed–almost cer­tain­ly falsely–to Rus­sia, there are omi­nous devel­op­ments [12] tak­ing place that may well lead to a Third World War. Dur­ing the clos­ing days of his Pres­i­den­cy, Oba­ma autho­rized the plant­i­ng of cyber weapons on Russ­ian com­put­er net­works. Oba­ma did this after talk­ing with Putin on the Hot Line, estab­lished to pre­vent a Third World War. Putin denied inter­fer­ing in the U.S. elec­tion.

The con­clu­sion that Rus­sia hacked the U.S. elec­tion on Putin’s orders appears to have been based on a CIA source in the Krem­lin. Even when that intel­li­gence was deliv­ered, oth­er agen­cies weren’t ready to accept the CIA’s con­clu­sion and it took intel­li­gence from anoth­er nation (not named) to pro­vide the final intel­li­gence tip­ping point that led to a broad-based con­clu­sion the not only was the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment behind the cyber­at­tacks but that Vladimir Putin him­self ordered it.

That ally’s intel­li­gence is described as “the most crit­i­cal tech­ni­cal intel­li­gence on Rus­sia,” how­ev­er the NSA still wasn’t con­vinced based on what sounds like a lack of con­fi­dence in that source. Thus, it looks like a CIA Krem­lin source and an unnamed for­eign intel­li­gence agency with ques­tion­able cre­den­tials are the basis of what appears to be a like­ly future full-scale US/Russian cyber­war.

Of para­mount sig­nif­i­cance is the fact that IF, on Putin’s orders (and we are to believe such) Rus­sia con­tin­ued to hack U.S. com­put­er sys­tems to influ­ence the elec­tion, Putin would have to have gone utter­ly mad. Those hacks would have pre­clud­ed any rap­proche­ment between Rus­sia and the Unit­ed States under a Pres­i­dent Trump. There is no indi­ca­tion that Putin went off the deep end.

Also augur­ing a pos­si­ble Third World War are two devel­op­ments in Syr­ia. Sey­mour Hersh pub­lished an arti­cle in Die Welt [13] reveal­ing that, not only was the April 4 alleged Sarin attack NOT a chem­i­cal weapons attack but there was wide­spread knowl­edge of this in Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence cir­cles.

What did the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty know about the attack? The Russ­ian and Syr­i­an air force had informed the US in advance of that airstrike that they had intel­li­gence that top lev­el lead­ers of Ahrar al-Sham and Jab­hat al-Nus­ra were meet­ing in that build­ing and they informed of the US of the attack plan in advance of the attack and that it was on a “high-val­ue” tar­get. And the attack involved the unusu­al use of a guid­ed bomb and Syria’s top pilots. ” . . . . Russ­ian and Syr­i­an intel­li­gence offi­cials, who coor­di­nate oper­a­tions close­ly with the Amer­i­can com­mand posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was spe­cial because of the high-val­ue tar­get. ‘It was a red-hot change. The mis­sion was out of the ordi­nary – scrub the sked,’ the senior advis­er told me. ‘Every oper­a­tions offi­cer in the region’ – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – ‘had to know there was some­thing going on. The Rus­sians gave the Syr­i­an Air Force a guid­ed bomb and that was a rar­i­ty. They’re skimpy with their guid­ed bombs and rarely share them with the Syr­i­an Air Force. And the Syr­i­ans assigned their best pilot to the mis­sion, with the best wing­man.’ The advance intel­li­gence on the tar­get, as sup­plied by the Rus­sians, was giv­en the high­est pos­si­ble score inside the Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. . . .”

Fol­low­ing the attack, US intel­li­gence con­clud­ed that there was no sarin gas attack, Assad wouldn’t have been that polit­i­cal­ly sui­ci­dal. The symp­toms of chem­i­cal poi­son­ing fol­low­ing the bomb­ing was like­ly due to a mix­ture of chlo­rine, fer­til­iz­ers, and oth­er chem­i­cals stored in the build­ing that was tar­get­ed by the Syr­i­an air­force cre­at­ed by sec­ondary explo­sions from the ini­tial bomb­ing” . . . ‘This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,’ the advis­er said. ‘That’s a fairy tale. . . .”

The symp­toms of chem­i­cal poi­son­ing fol­low­ing the bomb­ing was like­ly due to a mix­ture of chlo­rine, fer­til­iz­ers, and oth­er chem­i­cals stored in the build­ing that was tar­get­ed by the Syr­i­an air­force cre­at­ed by sec­ondary explo­sions from the ini­tial bomb­ing” . . . . A Bomb Dam­age Assess­ment (BDA) by the U.S. mil­i­tary lat­er deter­mined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syr­i­an bomb trig­gered a series of sec­ondary explo­sions that could have gen­er­at­ed a huge tox­ic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fer­til­iz­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and oth­er goods stored in the base­ment, its effect mag­ni­fied by the dense morn­ing air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. . . .”

The behav­ior of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion was not only in direct con­flict with intel­li­gence on the attack, but rein­forced pro­pa­gan­da by some of the Al-Qae­da-linked jihadists the West has been using as proxy war­riors in Syr­ia and else­where:  ” . . . . The Salafists and jihadists got every­thing they want­ed out of their hyped-up Syr­i­an nerve gas ploy,’ the senior advis­er to the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty told me, refer­ring to the flare up of ten­sions between Syr­ia, Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca. ‘The issue is, what if there’s anoth­er false flag sarin attack cred­it­ed to hat­ed Syr­ia? Trump has upped the ante and paint­ed him­self into a cor­ner with his deci­sion to bomb. And do not think these guys are not plan­ning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and hard­er. He’s inca­pable of say­ing he made a mis­take.’ . . .”

Pro­gram High­lights Include: 

1. The Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence had an “inter­est­ing” response to a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act law­suit demand­ing the release of the clas­si­fied report giv­en to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma back in Jan­u­ary pur­port­ing to show the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment was behind the hacks. Accord­ing to the ODNI, the request­ed doc­u­ment would present a risk to human intel­li­gence sources by reveal­ing the com­par­a­tive weight giv­en to human vs tech­ni­cal evi­dence, risk­ing US sources and meth­ods. But the ODNI went fur­ther, sug­gest­ing that even releas­ing a ful­ly redact­ed doc­u­ment would present sim­i­lar risks!

“Feds Won’t Release Redact­ed Intel­li­gence Report on Russ­ian Elec­tion Med­dling” by Josh Ger­stein; Politi­co; 06/27/2017 [11]

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion is refus­ing to release a redact­ed ver­sion of a key report Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma received in Jan­u­ary on alleged Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, court fil­ings show.

Then-Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence James Clap­per made pub­lic an unclas­si­fied ver­sion of that report, but the Elec­tron­ic Pri­va­cy Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter brought a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act law­suit demand­ing a copy of the clas­si­fied report giv­en to Oba­ma at the same time. EPIC said the unclas­si­fied ver­sion omit­ted “crit­i­cal tech­ni­cal evi­dence” that could help the pub­lic assess U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies’ claims that Rus­sia did make efforts to affect the out­come of the 2016 race.

How­ev­er, a top offi­cial in the Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence said in a court dec­la­ra­tion [17] filed Mon­day that releas­ing the orig­i­nal report with clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion blacked out would be a field day for for­eign intel­li­gence oper­a­tives, includ­ing the very Rus­sians the report accus­es of under­tak­ing the inter­fer­ence.

“Release of a redact­ed report would be of par­tic­u­lar assis­tance to Russ­ian intel­li­gence, which, armed with both the declas­si­fied report and a redact­ed copy of the clas­si­fied report, would be able to dis­cern the vol­ume of intel­li­gence the U.S. cur­rent­ly pos­sess­es with respect to Russ­ian attempts to influ­ence the 2016 elec­tion,” Deputy Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence for Intel­li­gence Inte­gra­tion Edward Gis­taro wrote.

“This would reveal the matu­ri­ty of the U.S. intel­li­gence efforts and expose infor­ma­tion about the [intel­li­gence community’s] capa­bil­i­ties (includ­ing sources and meth­ods) that could rea­son­ably be expect­ed to cause seri­ous or excep­tion­al­ly grave dan­ger to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty.”

The intel­li­gence offi­cial argued that a redact­ed ver­sion of the orig­i­nal report would allow a trained eye to assess “com­par­a­tive weight” of human intel­li­gence and sig­nals intel­li­gence report­ing includ­ed in the com­pendi­um. Release of some of the infor­ma­tion the pri­va­cy-focused orga­ni­za­tion wants made pub­lic “could prove fatal to U.S. human intel­li­gence sources,” [Deputy Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence for Intel­li­gence Inte­gra­tion Edward] Gis­taro warned.

Gis­taro also appears to argue that even if offi­cials blacked out the whole report, high­ly clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion would be at risk.

“I agree with the [Nation­al Intel­li­gence Coun­cil] that a heav­i­ly or even ful­ly redact­ed ver­sion of the clas­si­fied report can not be pub­licly released with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty infor­ma­tion prop­er­ly clas­si­fied as SECRET or TOP SECRET,” he wrote.

EPIC sought the infor­ma­tion in Jan­u­ary, just days after offi­cials released the pub­lic ver­sion of the report. The group filed suit in fed­er­al court in Wash­ing­ton in Feb­ru­ary after fail­ing to get any records from ODNI.

“The ODNI should release the com­plete report to EPIC so that the pub­lic and the Con­gress can under­stand the full extent of the Russ­ian inter­fer­ence with the 2016 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” EPIC’s Marc Roten­berg told POLITICO Tues­day. “It is already clear that gov­ern­ment secre­cy is frus­trat­ing mean­ing­ful over­sight. The FBI, for exam­ple, will not even iden­ti­fy the states that were tar­get­ed by Rus­sia.”

Roten­berg said his group is pur­su­ing two oth­er relat­ed FOIA suits: one seek­ing records abou the FBI’s response to the alleged Russ­ian med­dling and anoth­er seek­ing Trump’s tax records from the IRS.

2. The ODNI’s response to the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act Suit brings to mind an obser­va­tion by a Ger­man pro­fes­sor who was opposed to Nazism and sur­vived to relate what it was like sub­jec­tive­ly to live through the rise of Hitler: “. . . .  What hap­pened here was the grad­ual habit­u­a­tion of the peo­ple, lit­tle by lit­tle, to being gov­erned by sur­prise, to receiv­ing deci­sions delib­er­at­ed in secret, to believ­ing that the sit­u­a­tion was so com­pli­cat­ed that the gov­ern­ment had to act on infor­ma­tion which the peo­ple could not under­stand because of nation­al­i­ty secu­ri­ty, so dan­ger­ous that even if the peo­ple the peo­ple could under­stand it, it could not be released because of nation­al secu­ri­ty. . . .”

They Thought they Were Free: The Ger­mans 1933–1945; by Mil­ton May­er; copy­right 1955 [SC]; Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press; ISBN 0–226-51190–1; pp. 166–167. [16]

. . . .  What hap­pened here was the grad­ual habit­u­a­tion of the peo­ple, lit­tle by lit­tle, to being gov­erned by sur­prise, to receiv­ing deci­sions delib­er­at­ed in secret, to believ­ing that the sit­u­a­tion was so com­pli­cat­ed that the gov­ern­ment had to act on infor­ma­tion which the peo­ple could not under­stand because of nation­al­i­ty secu­ri­ty, so dan­ger­ous that even if the peo­ple the peo­ple could under­stand it, it could not be released because of nation­al secu­ri­ty. . . . This sep­a­ra­tion of gov­ern­ment from peo­ple, this widen­ing of the gap, took place so grad­u­al­ly and so insen­si­bly, each step dis­guised (per­haps not even inten­tion­al­ly) as a tem­po­rary emer­gency mea­sure or asso­ci­at­ed with true patri­ot­ic alle­giance or with real social pur­pos­es. . . . so occu­pied the peo­ple that they did not see the slow motion under­neath, of the whole process of the Gov­ern­ment grow­ing remot­er and remot­er . . . .

3a. It sounds like the con­clu­sion that Rus­sia hacked the U.S. elec­tion on Putin’s orders was based on a CIA source in the Krem­lin. Even when that intel­li­gence was deliv­ered, oth­er agen­cies weren’t ready to accept the CIA’s con­clu­sion and it took intel­li­gence from anoth­er nation (not named) to pro­vide the final intel­li­gence tip­ping point that led to a broad-based con­clu­sion the not only was the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment behind the cyber­at­tacks but that Vladimir Putin him­self ordered it. That ally’s intel­li­gence is described as “the most crit­i­cal tech­ni­cal intel­li­gence on Rus­sia,” how­ev­er the NSA still wasn’t con­vinced based on what sounds like a lack of con­fi­dence in that source. Thus, it looks like a CIA Krem­lin source and an unnamed for­eign intel­li­gence agency with ques­tion­able cre­den­tials are the basis of what appears to be a like­ly future full-scale US/Russian cyber­war.

” . . . .Inside was an intel­li­gence bomb­shell, a report drawn from sourc­ing deep inside the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment that detailed Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s direct involve­ment in a cyber cam­paign to dis­rupt and dis­cred­it the U.S. pres­i­den­tial race. . . .”

We are told that a CIA deep Russ­ian gov­ern­ment source is the pri­ma­ry source of the ‘Putin ordered it’ con­clu­sion. Well, at least that’s bet­ter than the bad joke tech­ni­cal evi­dence that’s been pro­vid­ed thus far. But even that source’s claims appar­ent­ly weren’t enough to con­vinced oth­er parts of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. It took the intel­li­gence from the unnamed ally to do that:

” . . . . But it went fur­ther. 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.

At that point, the out­lines of the Russ­ian assault on the U.S. elec­tion were increas­ing­ly appar­ent. Hack­ers with ties to Russ­ian intel­li­gence ser­vices had been rum­mag­ing through Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty com­put­er net­works, as well as some Repub­li­can sys­tems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an inves­ti­ga­tion of con­tacts between Russ­ian offi­cials and Trump asso­ciates. And on July 22, near­ly 20,000 emails stolen from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee were dumped online by Wik­iLeaks.

But at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment, among those respon­si­ble for man­ag­ing the cri­sis, the first moment of true fore­bod­ing about Russia’s inten­tions arrived with that CIA intel­li­gence.

It took time for oth­er parts of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the pub­lic, in a declas­si­fied report, what offi­cials had learned from Bren­nan in August — that Putin was work­ing to elect Trump.

Despite the intel­li­gence the CIA had pro­duced, oth­er agen­cies were slow­er to endorse a con­clu­sion that Putin was per­son­al­ly direct­ing the oper­a­tion and want­ed to help Trump. “It was def­i­nite­ly com­pelling, but it was not defin­i­tive,” said one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial. “We need­ed more.”

Some of the most crit­i­cal tech­ni­cal intel­li­gence on Rus­sia came from anoth­er coun­try, offi­cials said. Because of the source of the mate­r­i­al, the NSA was reluc­tant to view it with high con­fi­dence. . . .

“. . . . The most dif­fi­cult mea­sure to eval­u­ate is one that Oba­ma allud­ed to in only the most oblique fash­ion when announc­ing the U.S. response.

“We will con­tin­ue to take a vari­ety of actions at a time and place of our choos­ing, some of which will not be pub­li­cized,” he said in a state­ment released by the White House.

He was refer­ring, in part, to a cyber oper­a­tion that was designed to be detect­ed by Moscow but not cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, offi­cials said. The oper­a­tion, which entailed implant­i­ng com­put­er code in sen­si­tive com­put­er sys­tems that Rus­sia was bound to find, served only as a reminder to Moscow of the Unit­ed States’ cyber reach.

But Oba­ma also signed the secret find­ing, offi­cials said, autho­riz­ing a new covert pro­gram involv­ing the NSA, CIA and U.S. Cyber Com­mand.

Oba­ma declined to com­ment for this arti­cle, but a spokesman issued a state­ment: ‘This sit­u­a­tion was tak­en extreme­ly seri­ous­ly, as is evi­dent by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma rais­ing this issue direct­ly with Pres­i­dent Putin; 17 intel­li­gence agen­cies issu­ing an extra­or­di­nary pub­lic state­ment; our home­land secu­ri­ty offi­cials work­ing relent­less­ly to bol­ster the cyber defens­es of vot­ing infra­struc­ture around the coun­try; the Pres­i­dent direct­ing a com­pre­hen­sive intel­li­gence review, and ulti­mate­ly issu­ing a robust response includ­ing shut­ting down two Russ­ian com­pounds, sanc­tion­ing nine Russ­ian enti­ties and indi­vid­u­als, and eject­ing 35 Russ­ian diplo­mats from the coun­try.’

The cyber oper­a­tion is still in its ear­ly stages and involves deploy­ing ‘implants’ in Russ­ian net­works deemed ‘impor­tant to the adver­sary and that would cause them pain and dis­com­fort if they were dis­rupt­ed,’ a for­mer U.S. offi­cial said.

The implants were devel­oped by the NSA and designed so that they could be trig­gered remote­ly as part of retal­ia­to­ry cyber-strike in the face of Russ­ian aggres­sion, whether an attack on a pow­er grid or inter­fer­ence in a future pres­i­den­tial race. [“ . . . devel­oped by the NSA”–Well, at least we can be sure that the NSA’s oper­a­tions are secure, invul­ner­a­ble to pen­e­tra­tion and/or manip­u­la­tion by out­side inter­ests (!)–D.E.]

Offi­cials famil­iar with the mea­sures said that there was con­cern among some in the admin­is­tra­tion that the dam­age caused by the implants could be dif­fi­cult to con­tain. . . .”

Keep in mind that such a response from the US would be entire­ly pre­dictable if the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment real­ly did order this hack attack. Rus­sia would be at a height­ened risk for years or decades to come if Putin real­ly did order this attack. There’s no rea­son to assume that the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment wouldn’t be well aware of this con­se­quence. So if Putin real­ly did order this hack he would have to have gone insane. That’s how stu­pid this attack was if Putin actu­al­ly ordered it. But accord­ing to a CIA spy in the Krem­lin, along with a ques­tion­able for­eign ally, that’s exact­ly what Putin did. Because he appar­ent­ly went insane and pre­emp­tive­ly launched a cyber­war know­ing full well how dev­as­tat­ing the long-term con­se­quences could be. Because he real­ly, real­ly, real­ly hates Hillary. That’s the nar­ra­tive we’re being giv­en.

And now, any future attacks on US elec­tions or the US elec­tri­cal grid that can some­how [18] be [19] pinned [20] on [21] the Rus­sians [22] is going to trig­ger some sort of painful wave or retal­ia­to­ry cyber­bombs. Which, of course, will like­ly trig­ger a way of counter-retal­ia­to­ry cyber­bombs in the US. And a full-scale cyber­war will be born and we’ll just have to hope it stays in the cyber domain. That’s were we are now based on a CIA spy in the Krem­lin and an unnamed for­eign intel­li­gence agency

“Obama’s secret strug­gle to pun­ish Rus­sia for Putin’s elec­tion assault” by Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 06/23/2017 [12]

Ear­ly last August, an enve­lope with extra­or­di­nary han­dling restric­tions arrived at the White House. Sent by couri­er from the CIA, it car­ried “eyes only” instruc­tions that its con­tents be shown to just four peo­ple: Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and three senior aides.

Inside was an intel­li­gence bomb­shell, a report drawn from sourc­ing deep inside the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment that detailed Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s direct involve­ment in a cyber cam­paign to dis­rupt and dis­cred­it the U.S. pres­i­den­tial race.

But it went fur­ther. 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.

At that point, the out­lines of the Russ­ian assault on the U.S. elec­tion were increas­ing­ly appar­ent. Hack­ers with ties to Russ­ian intel­li­gence ser­vices had been rum­mag­ing through Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty com­put­er net­works, as well as some Repub­li­can sys­tems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an inves­ti­ga­tion of con­tacts between Russ­ian offi­cials and Trump asso­ciates. And on July 22, near­ly 20,000 emails stolen from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee were dumped online by Wik­iLeaks.

But at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment, among those respon­si­ble for man­ag­ing the cri­sis, the first moment of true fore­bod­ing about Russia’s inten­tions arrived with that CIA intel­li­gence.

The mate­r­i­al was so sen­si­tive that CIA Direc­tor John Bren­nan kept it out of the President’s Dai­ly Brief, con­cerned that even that restrict­ed report’s dis­tri­b­u­tion was too broad. The CIA pack­age came with instruc­tions that it be returned imme­di­ate­ly after it was read. To guard against leaks, sub­se­quent meet­ings in the Sit­u­a­tion Room fol­lowed the same pro­to­cols as plan­ning ses­sions for the Osama bin Laden raid.

It took time for oth­er parts of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the pub­lic, in a declas­si­fied report, what offi­cials had learned from Bren­nan in August — that Putin was work­ing to elect Trump.

Over that five-month inter­val, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion secret­ly debat­ed dozens of options for deter­ring or pun­ish­ing Rus­sia, includ­ing cyber­at­tacks on Russ­ian infra­struc­ture, the release of CIA-gath­ered mate­r­i­al that might embar­rass Putin and sanc­tions that offi­cials said could “crater” the Russ­ian econ­o­my.

But in the end, in late Decem­ber, Oba­ma approved [23]a mod­est pack­age com­bin­ing mea­sures that had been drawn up to pun­ish Rus­sia for oth­er issues — expul­sions of 35 diplo­mats and the clo­sure of two Russ­ian com­pounds — with eco­nom­ic sanc­tions so nar­row­ly tar­get­ed that even those who helped design them describe their impact as large­ly sym­bol­ic.

Oba­ma also approved a pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed covert mea­sure that autho­rized plant­i­ng cyber weapons in Russia’s infra­struc­ture, the dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of bombs that could be det­o­nat­ed if the Unit­ed States found itself in an esca­lat­ing exchange with Moscow. The project, which Oba­ma approved in a covert-action find­ing, was still in its plan­ning stages when Oba­ma left office. It would be up to Pres­i­dent Trump to decide whether to use the capa­bil­i­ty.

In polit­i­cal terms, Russia’s inter­fer­ence was the crime of the cen­tu­ry, an unprece­dent­ed and large­ly suc­cess­ful desta­bi­liz­ing attack on Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Krem­lin through cyber-foren­sics and intel­li­gence on Putin’s involve­ment. And yet, because of the diver­gent ways Oba­ma and Trump have han­dled the mat­ter, Moscow appears unlike­ly to face pro­por­tion­ate con­se­quences.

Those clos­est to Oba­ma defend the administration’s response to Russia’s med­dling. They note that by August it was too late to pre­vent the trans­fer to Wik­iLeaks and oth­er groups of the troves of emails that would spill out in the ensu­ing months. They believe that a series of warn­ings — includ­ing one that Oba­ma deliv­ered to Putin in Sep­tem­ber — prompt­ed Moscow to aban­don any plans of fur­ther aggres­sion, such as sab­o­tage of U.S. vot­ing sys­tems.

Denis McDo­nough, who served as Obama’s chief of staff, said that the admin­is­tra­tion regard­ed Russia’s inter­fer­ence as an attack on the “heart of our sys­tem.”

“We set out from a first-order prin­ci­ple that required us to defend the integri­ty of the vote,” McDo­nough said in an inter­view. “Impor­tant­ly, we did that. It’s also impor­tant to estab­lish what hap­pened and what they attempt­ed to do so as to ensure that we take the steps nec­es­sary to stop it from hap­pen­ing again.”

But oth­er admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials look back on the Rus­sia peri­od with remorse.

“It is the hard­est thing about my entire time in gov­ern­ment to defend,” said a for­mer senior Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial involved in White House delib­er­a­tions on Rus­sia. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

This account of the Oba­ma administration’s response to Russia’s inter­fer­ence is based on inter­views with more than three dozen cur­rent and for­mer U.S. offi­cials in senior posi­tions in gov­ern­ment, includ­ing at the White House, the State, Defense and Home­land Secu­ri­ty depart­ments, and U.S. intel­li­gence ser­vices. Most agreed to speak only on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, cit­ing the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue.

The White House, the CIA, the FBI, the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency and the Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence declined to com­ment.

‘Deeply con­cerned’

The CIA break­through came at a stage of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign when Trump had secured the GOP nom­i­na­tion but was still regard­ed as a dis­tant long shot. Clin­ton held com­fort­able leads in major polls, and Oba­ma expect­ed that he would be trans­fer­ring pow­er to some­one who had served in his Cab­i­net.

The intel­li­gence on Putin was extra­or­di­nary on mul­ti­ple lev­els, includ­ing as a feat of espi­onage.

For spy agen­cies, gain­ing insights into the inten­tions of for­eign lead­ers is among the high­est pri­or­i­ties. But Putin is a remark­ably elu­sive tar­get. A for­mer KGB offi­cer, he takes extreme pre­cau­tions to guard against sur­veil­lance, rarely com­mu­ni­cat­ing by phone or com­put­er, always run­ning sen­si­tive state busi­ness from deep with­in the con­fines of the Krem­lin.

The Wash­ing­ton Post is with­hold­ing some details of the intel­li­gence at the request of the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

In ear­ly August, Bren­nan alert­ed senior White House offi­cials to the Putin intel­li­gence, mak­ing a call to deputy nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Avril Haines and pulling nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Susan E. Rice aside after a meet­ing before brief­ing Oba­ma along with Rice, Haines and McDo­nough in the Oval Office.

Offi­cials described the president’s reac­tion as grave. Oba­ma “was deeply con­cerned and want­ed as much infor­ma­tion as fast as pos­si­ble,” a for­mer offi­cial said. “He want­ed the entire intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty all over this.”

Con­cerns about Russ­ian inter­fer­ence had gath­ered through­out the sum­mer.

Rus­sia experts had begun to see a trou­bling pat­tern of pro­pa­gan­da in which fic­ti­tious news sto­ries, assumed to be gen­er­at­ed by Moscow, pro­lif­er­at­ed across social-media plat­forms.

Offi­cials at the State Depart­ment and FBI became alarmed by an unusu­al spike in requests from Rus­sia for tem­po­rary visas for offi­cials with tech­ni­cal skills seek­ing per­mis­sion to enter the Unit­ed States for short-term assign­ments at Russ­ian facil­i­ties. At the FBI’s behest, the State Depart­ment delayed approv­ing the visas until after the elec­tion.

Mean­while, the FBI was track­ing a flur­ry of hack­ing activ­i­ty against U.S. polit­i­cal par­ties, think tanks and oth­er tar­gets. Rus­sia had gained entry to DNC sys­tems in the sum­mer of 2015 and spring of 2016, but the breach­es did not become pub­lic until they were dis­closed in a June 2016 report by The Post.

Even after the late-July Wik­iLeaks dump, which came on the eve of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion and led to the res­ig­na­tion of Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz (D‑Fla.) as the DNC’s chair­woman, U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials con­tin­ued to express uncer­tain­ty about who was behind the hacks or why they were car­ried out.

At a pub­lic secu­ri­ty con­fer­ence in Aspen [24], Colo., in late July, Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence James R. Clap­per Jr. not­ed that Rus­sia had a long his­to­ry of med­dling in Amer­i­can elec­tions but that U.S. spy agen­cies were not ready to “make the call on attri­bu­tion” for what was hap­pen­ing in 2016.

“We don’t know enough … to ascribe moti­va­tion,” Clap­per said. “Was this just to stir up trou­ble or was this ulti­mate­ly to try to influ­ence an elec­tion?”

Bren­nan con­vened a secret task force at CIA head­quar­ters com­posed of sev­er­al dozen ana­lysts and offi­cers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.

The unit func­tioned as a sealed com­part­ment, its work hid­den from the rest of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. Those brought in signed new non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments to be grant­ed access to intel­li­gence from all three par­tic­i­pat­ing agen­cies.

They worked exclu­sive­ly for two groups of “cus­tomers,” offi­cials said. The first was Oba­ma and few­er than 14 senior offi­cials in gov­ern­ment. The sec­ond was a team of oper­a­tions spe­cial­ists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direc­tion from the task force on where to aim their sub­se­quent efforts to col­lect more intel­li­gence on Rus­sia.

Don’t make things worse

The secre­cy extend­ed into the White House.

Rice, Haines and White House home­land-secu­ri­ty advis­er Lisa Mona­co con­vened meet­ings in the Sit­u­a­tion Room to weigh the mount­ing evi­dence of Russ­ian inter­fer­ence and gen­er­ate options for how to respond. At first, only four senior secu­ri­ty offi­cials were allowed to attend: Bren­nan, Clap­per, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Loret­ta E. Lynch and FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey. Aides ordi­nar­i­ly allowed entry as “plus-ones” were barred.

Grad­u­al­ly, the cir­cle widened to include Vice Pres­i­dent Biden and oth­ers. Agen­das sent to Cab­i­net sec­re­taries — includ­ing John F. Ker­ry at the State Depart­ment and Ash­ton B. Carter at the Pen­ta­gon — arrived in envelopes that sub­or­di­nates were not sup­posed to open. Some­times the agen­das were with­held until par­tic­i­pants had tak­en their seats in the Sit­u­a­tion Room.

Through­out his pres­i­den­cy, Obama’s approach to nation­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenges was delib­er­ate and cau­tious. He came into office seek­ing to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was loath to act with­out sup­port from allies over­seas and firm polit­i­cal foot­ing at home. He was drawn only reluc­tant­ly into for­eign crises, such as the civ­il war in Syr­ia, that pre­sent­ed no clear exit for the Unit­ed States.

Obama’s approach often seemed reducible to a sin­gle imper­a­tive: Don’t make things worse. As brazen as the Russ­ian attacks on the elec­tion seemed, Oba­ma and his top advis­ers feared that things could get far worse.

They were con­cerned that any pre-elec­tion response could pro­voke an esca­la­tion from Putin. Moscow’s med­dling to that point was seen as deeply con­cern­ing but unlike­ly to mate­ri­al­ly affect the out­come of the elec­tion. Far more wor­ri­some to the Oba­ma team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on vot­ing sys­tems before and on Elec­tion Day.

They also wor­ried that any action they took would be per­ceived as polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence in an already volatile cam­paign. By August, Trump was pre­dict­ing that the elec­tion would be rigged. Oba­ma offi­cials feared pro­vid­ing fuel to such claims, play­ing into Russia’s efforts to dis­cred­it the out­come and poten­tial­ly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing the expect­ed Clin­ton tri­umph.

Before depart­ing for an August vaca­tion to Martha’s Vine­yard, Oba­ma instruct­ed aides to pur­sue ways to deter Moscow and pro­ceed along three main paths: Get a high-con­fi­dence assess­ment from U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies on Russia’s role and intent; shore up any vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in state-run elec­tion sys­tems; and seek bipar­ti­san sup­port from con­gres­sion­al lead­ers for a state­ment con­demn­ing Moscow and urg­ing states to accept fed­er­al help.

The admin­is­tra­tion encoun­tered obsta­cles at every turn.

Despite the intel­li­gence the CIA had pro­duced, oth­er agen­cies were slow­er to endorse a con­clu­sion that Putin was per­son­al­ly direct­ing the oper­a­tion and want­ed to help Trump. “It was def­i­nite­ly com­pelling, but it was not defin­i­tive,” said one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial. “We need­ed more.”

Some of the most crit­i­cal tech­ni­cal intel­li­gence on Rus­sia came from anoth­er coun­try, offi­cials said. Because of the source of the mate­r­i­al, the NSA was reluc­tant to view it with high con­fi­dence.

Bren­nan moved swift­ly to sched­ule pri­vate brief­in­gs with con­gres­sion­al lead­ers. But get­ting appoint­ments with cer­tain Repub­li­cans proved dif­fi­cult, offi­cials said, and it was not until after Labor Day that Bren­nan had reached all mem­bers of the “Gang of Eight” — the major­i­ty and minor­i­ty lead­ers of both hous­es and the chair­men and rank­ing Democ­rats on the Sen­ate and House intel­li­gence com­mit­tees.

Jeh John­son, the home­land-secu­ri­ty sec­re­tary, was respon­si­ble for find­ing out whether the gov­ern­ment could quick­ly shore up the secu­ri­ty of the nation’s archa­ic patch­work of vot­ing sys­tems. He float­ed the idea of des­ig­nat­ing state mech­a­nisms “crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture,” a label that would have enti­tled states to receive pri­or­i­ty in fed­er­al cyber­se­cu­ri­ty assis­tance, putting them on a par with U.S. defense con­trac­tors and finan­cial net­works.

On Aug. 15, John­son arranged a con­fer­ence call with dozens of state offi­cials, hop­ing to enlist their sup­port. He ran into a wall of resis­tance.

The reac­tion “ranged from neu­tral to neg­a­tive,” John­son said in con­gres­sion­al tes­ti­mo­ny Wednes­day.

Bri­an Kemp, the Repub­li­can sec­re­tary of state of Geor­gia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s pro­pos­al as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a polit­i­cal­ly cal­cu­lat­ed move by the pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion,” Kemp said in a recent inter­view, adding that he remains uncon­vinced that Rus­sia waged a cam­paign to dis­rupt the 2016 race. “I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly believe that,” he said.

Stung by the reac­tion, the White House turned to Con­gress for help, hop­ing that a bipar­ti­san appeal to states would be more effec­tive.

In ear­ly Sep­tem­ber, John­son, Comey and Mona­co arrived on Capi­tol Hill in a car­a­van of black SUVs for a meet­ing with 12 key mem­bers of Con­gress, includ­ing the lead­er­ship of both par­ties.

The meet­ing devolved into a par­ti­san squab­ble.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the pub­lic,’?” recalled one par­tic­i­pant. But Repub­li­cans resist­ed, argu­ing that to warn the pub­lic that the elec­tion was under attack would fur­ther Russia’s aim of sap­ping con­fi­dence in the sys­tem.

Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell (R‑Ky.) went fur­ther, offi­cials said, voic­ing skep­ti­cism that the under­ly­ing intel­li­gence tru­ly sup­port­ed the White House’s claims. Through a spokes­woman, McConnell declined to com­ment, cit­ing the secre­cy of that meet­ing.

Key Democ­rats were stunned by the GOP response and exas­per­at­ed that the White House seemed will­ing to let Repub­li­can oppo­si­tion block any pre-elec­tion move.

On Sept. 22, two Cal­i­for­nia Democ­rats — Sen. Dianne Fein­stein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff — did what they couldn’t get the White House to do. They issued a state­ment mak­ing clear that they had learned from intel­li­gence brief­in­gs that Rus­sia was direct­ing a cam­paign to under­mine the elec­tion, but they stopped short of say­ing to what end.

A week lat­er, McConnell and oth­er con­gres­sion­al lead­ers issued a cau­tious state­ment that encour­aged state elec­tion offi­cials to ensure their net­works were “secure from attack.” The release made no men­tion of Rus­sia and empha­sized that the law­mak­ers “would oppose any effort by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment” to encroach on the states’ author­i­ties.

When U.S. spy agen­cies reached unan­i­mous agree­ment in late Sep­tem­ber that the inter­fer­ence was a Russ­ian oper­a­tion direct­ed by Putin, Oba­ma direct­ed spy chiefs to pre­pare a pub­lic state­ment sum­ma­riz­ing the intel­li­gence in broad strokes.

With Oba­ma still deter­mined to avoid any appear­ance of pol­i­tics, the state­ment would not car­ry his sig­na­ture.

On Oct. 7, the admin­is­tra­tion offered its first pub­lic com­ment on Russia’s “active mea­sures,” in a three-para­graph state­ment issued by John­son and Clap­per. Comey had ini­tial­ly agreed to attach his name, as well, offi­cials said, but changed his mind at the last minute, say­ing that it was too close to the elec­tion for the bureau to be involved.

“The U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty is con­fi­dent that the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment direct­ed the recent com­pro­mis­es of e‑mails from U.S. per­sons and insti­tu­tions, includ­ing from U.S. polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions,” the state­ment said. “We believe, based on the scope and sen­si­tiv­i­ty of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most offi­cials could have autho­rized these activ­i­ties.”

Ear­ly drafts accused Putin by name, but the ref­er­ence was removed out of con­cern that it might endan­ger intel­li­gence sources and meth­ods.

The state­ment was issued around 3:30 p.m., timed for max­i­mum media cov­er­age. Instead, it was quick­ly drowned out. At 4 p.m., The Post pub­lished a sto­ry about crude com­ments [25]Trump had made about women that were cap­tured on an “Access Hol­ly­wood” tape. Half an hour lat­er, Wik­iLeaks pub­lished its first batch of emails stolen from Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podes­ta.

‘Ample time’ after elec­tion

The Sit­u­a­tion Room is actu­al­ly a com­plex of secure spaces in the base­ment lev­el of the West Wing. A video feed from the main room cours­es through some Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil offices, allow­ing senior aides sit­ting at their desks to see — but not hear — when meet­ings are under­way.

As the Rus­sia-relat­ed ses­sions with Cab­i­net mem­bers began in August, the video feed was shut off. The last time that had hap­pened on a sus­tained basis, offi­cials said, was in the spring of 2011 dur­ing the run-up to the U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions raid on bin Laden’s com­pound in Pak­istan.

The blacked-out screens were seen as an omi­nous sign among low­er-lev­el White House offi­cials who were large­ly kept in the dark about the Rus­sia delib­er­a­tions even as they were tasked with gen­er­at­ing options for retal­i­a­tion against Moscow.

Much of that work was led by the Cyber Response Group, an NSC unit with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the CIA, NSA, State Depart­ment and Pen­ta­gon.

The ear­ly options they dis­cussed were ambi­tious. They looked at sec­tor­wide eco­nom­ic sanc­tions and cyber­at­tacks that would take Russ­ian net­works tem­porar­i­ly offline. One offi­cial infor­mal­ly sug­gest­ed — though nev­er for­mal­ly pro­posed — mov­ing a U.S. naval car­ri­er group into the Baltic Sea as a sym­bol of resolve.

What those low­er-lev­el offi­cials did not know was that the prin­ci­pals and their deputies had by late Sep­tem­ber all but ruled out any pre-elec­tion retal­i­a­tion against Moscow. They feared that any action would be seen as polit­i­cal and that Putin, moti­vat­ed by a seething resent­ment of Clin­ton, was pre­pared to go beyond fake news and email dumps.

The FBI had detect­ed sus­pect­ed Russ­ian attempts to pen­e­trate elec­tion sys­tems in 21 states, and at least one senior White House offi­cial assumed that Moscow would try all 50, offi­cials said. Some offi­cials believed the attempts were meant to be detect­ed to unnerve the Amer­i­cans. The patch­work nature of the Unit­ed States’ 3,000 or so vot­ing juris­dic­tions would make it hard for Rus­sia to swing the out­come, but Moscow could still sow chaos.

“We turned to oth­er sce­nar­ios” the Rus­sians might attempt, said Michael Daniel, who was cyber­se­cu­ri­ty coor­di­na­tor at the White House, “such as dis­rupt­ing the vot­er rolls, delet­ing every 10th vot­er [from reg­istries] or flip­ping two dig­its in everybody’s address.”

The White House also wor­ried that they had not yet seen the worst of Russia’s cam­paign. Wik­iLeaks and DCLeaks, a web­site set up in June 2016 by hack­ers believed to be Russ­ian oper­a­tives, already had troves of emails. But U.S. offi­cials feared that Rus­sia had more explo­sive mate­r­i­al or was will­ing to fab­ri­cate it.

“Our pri­ma­ry inter­est in August, Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber was to pre­vent them from doing the max they could do,” said a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial. “We made the judg­ment that we had ample time after the elec­tion, regard­less of out­come, for puni­tive mea­sures.”

The assump­tion that Clin­ton would win con­tributed to the lack of urgency.

Instead, the admin­is­tra­tion issued a series of warn­ings.

Bren­nan deliv­ered the first on Aug. 4 in a blunt phone call with Alexan­der Bort­nikov, the direc­tor of the FSB, Russia’s pow­er­ful secu­ri­ty ser­vice.

A month lat­er, Oba­ma con­front­ed Putin direct­ly dur­ing a meet­ing of world lead­ers in Hangzhou, Chi­na. Accom­pa­nied only by inter­preters, Oba­ma told Putin that “we knew what he was doing and [he] bet­ter stop or else,” accord­ing to a senior aide who sub­se­quent­ly spoke with Oba­ma. Putin respond­ed by demand­ing proof and accus­ing the Unit­ed States of inter­fer­ing in Russia’s inter­nal affairs.

In a sub­se­quent news con­fer­ence, Oba­ma allud­ed to the exchange and issued a veiled threat. “We’re mov­ing into a new era here where a num­ber of coun­tries have sig­nif­i­cant capac­i­ties,” he said. “Frankly, we’ve got more capac­i­ty than any­body both offen­sive­ly and defen­sive­ly.”

There were at least two oth­er warn­ings.

On Oct. 7, the day that the Clap­per-John­son state­ment was released, Rice sum­moned Russ­ian Ambas­sador Sergey Kislyak Sergey Kislyak to the White House and hand­ed him a mes­sage to relay to Putin.

Then, on Oct. 31, the admin­is­tra­tion deliv­ered a final pre-elec­tion mes­sage via a secure chan­nel to Moscow orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed to avert a nuclear exchange. The mes­sage not­ed that the Unit­ed States had detect­ed mali­cious activ­i­ty, orig­i­nat­ing from servers in Rus­sia, tar­get­ing U.S. elec­tion sys­tems and warned that med­dling would be regard­ed as unac­cept­able inter­fer­ence. Rus­sia con­firmed the next day that it had received the mes­sage but replied only after the elec­tion through the same chan­nel, deny­ing the accu­sa­tion.

As Elec­tion Day approached, pro­po­nents of tak­ing action against Rus­sia made final, futile appeals to Obama’s top aides: McDo­nough, Rice and Haines. Because their offices were part of a suite of spaces in the West Wing, secur­ing their sup­port on any nation­al secu­ri­ty issue came to be known as “mov­ing the suite.”

One of the last to try before the elec­tion was Ker­ry. Often per­ceived as reluc­tant to con­front Rus­sia, in part to pre­serve his attempts to nego­ti­ate a Syr­ia peace deal, Ker­ry was at crit­i­cal moments one of the lead­ing hawks.

In Octo­ber, Kerry’s top aides had pro­duced an “action memo” that includ­ed a pack­age of retal­ia­to­ry mea­sures includ­ing eco­nom­ic sanc­tions. Know­ing the White House was not will­ing to act before the elec­tion, the plan called for the mea­sures to be announced almost imme­di­ate­ly after votes had been secure­ly cast and count­ed.

Ker­ry signed the memo and urged the White House to con­vene a prin­ci­pals meet­ing to dis­cuss the plan, offi­cials said. “The response was basi­cal­ly, ‘Not now,’” one offi­cial said.

Elec­tion Day arrived with­out penal­ty for Moscow.

A U.S. cyber-weapon

The most dif­fi­cult mea­sure to eval­u­ate is one that Oba­ma allud­ed to in only the most oblique fash­ion when announc­ing the U.S. response.

“We will con­tin­ue to take a vari­ety of actions at a time and place of our choos­ing, some of which will not be pub­li­cized,” he said in a state­ment released by the White House.

He was refer­ring, in part, to a cyber oper­a­tion that was designed to be detect­ed by Moscow but not cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, offi­cials said. The oper­a­tion, which entailed implant­i­ng com­put­er code in sen­si­tive com­put­er sys­tems that Rus­sia was bound to find, served only as a reminder to Moscow of the Unit­ed States’ cyber reach.

But Oba­ma also signed the secret find­ing, offi­cials said, autho­riz­ing a new covert pro­gram involv­ing the NSA, CIA and U.S. Cyber Com­mand.

Oba­ma declined to com­ment for this arti­cle, but a spokesman issued a state­ment: “This sit­u­a­tion was tak­en extreme­ly seri­ous­ly, as is evi­dent by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma rais­ing this issue direct­ly with Pres­i­dent Putin; 17 intel­li­gence agen­cies issu­ing an extra­or­di­nary pub­lic state­ment; our home­land secu­ri­ty offi­cials work­ing relent­less­ly to bol­ster the cyber defens­es of vot­ing infra­struc­ture around the coun­try; the Pres­i­dent direct­ing a com­pre­hen­sive intel­li­gence review, and ulti­mate­ly issu­ing a robust response includ­ing shut­ting down two Russ­ian com­pounds, sanc­tion­ing nine Russ­ian enti­ties and indi­vid­u­als, and eject­ing 35 Russ­ian diplo­mats from the coun­try.”

The cyber oper­a­tion is still in its ear­ly stages and involves deploy­ing “implants” in Russ­ian net­works deemed “impor­tant to the adver­sary and that would cause them pain and dis­com­fort if they were dis­rupt­ed,” a for­mer U.S. offi­cial said.

The implants were devel­oped by the NSA and designed so that they could be trig­gered remote­ly as part of retal­ia­to­ry cyber-strike in the face of Russ­ian aggres­sion, whether an attack on a pow­er grid or inter­fer­ence in a future pres­i­den­tial race.

Offi­cials famil­iar with the mea­sures said that there was con­cern among some in the admin­is­tra­tion that the dam­age caused by the implants could be dif­fi­cult to con­tain.

As a result, the admin­is­tra­tion request­ed a legal review, which con­clud­ed that the devices could be con­trolled well enough that their deploy­ment would be con­sid­ered “pro­por­tion­al” in vary­ing sce­nar­ios of Russ­ian provo­ca­tion, a require­ment under inter­na­tion­al law.

The oper­a­tion was described as long-term, tak­ing months to posi­tion the implants and requir­ing main­te­nance there­after. Under the rules of covert action, Obama’s sig­na­ture was all that was nec­es­sary to set the oper­a­tion in motion.

U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies do not need fur­ther approval from Trump, and offi­cials said that he would have to issue a coun­ter­mand­ing order to stop it. The offi­cials said that they have seen no indi­ca­tion that Trump has done so.

3b. The per­son on the Dai­ly Stormer call­ing for white suprema­cists to threat­en to kill the fam­i­ly mem­bers of CNN employ­ees as part of grow­ing right-wing hys­te­ria over CNN and “fake news” is Andrew “the weev” Auer­heimer aka “weev”–a guest at Glenn Green­wald and Lau­ra Poitras’ par­ty cel­e­brat­ing their receipt of the Polk Award.

Cur­rent­ly resid­ing in Ukraine, Aueren­heimer exem­pli­fies the bril­liant, alto­geth­er capa­ble cyber-fas­cists who might be in a posi­tion to exploit the NSA tech­nol­o­gy placed on Russ­ian com­put­er net­works.

Nev­er lose sight of the fact that the New Cold War, much of it “cyber” in nature, was begun with “Eddie the Friend­ly Spook” Snowden–the Peach Fuzz Fascist–journeying to Rus­sia, cour­tesy of Wik­iLeaks. This, AFTER he jour­neyed to Hong Kong with appo­site assis­tance from Jacob Apple­baum of the CIA.

“Dai­ly Stormer Troll Army Threat­ens CNN Staffers Over Red­dit User Behind Trump/CNN GIF” by Kee­gan Han­kes; South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter; 07/05/2017 [15]

Andrew Auern­heimer, the noto­ri­ous hack­er and Inter­net troll known as ‘Weev,’ ral­lied the neo-Nazi Dai­ly Stormer’s troll army for its lat­est cam­paign this morn­ing, claim­ing that CNN was black­mail­ing a “teen shit­poster.”

The events lead­ing to this online call to arms began Sun­day morn­ing, Pres­i­dent Trump tweet­ed a gif cre­at­ed by Red­dit user HanAss­holeSo­lo [26]depict­ing a scene from Wrestle­ma­nia XXIII in which Trump body slams and pum­mels WWE pro­mot­er Vince McMa­hon. In the gif, the CNN logo is super­im­posed over McMahon’s face.

Auern­heimer her­ald­ed the tweet as “eas­i­ly the great­est tweet in the his­to­ry of Twit­ter.”

After scour­ing HanAssholeSolo’s Red­dit account, which con­tained scores of racist and xeno­pho­bic post­ings, CNN’s KFile was able to track down the user’s Face­book page and con­tact him [27].

Fear­ing pub­lic embar­rass­ment and his safe­ty, HanAss­holeSo­lo pub­lished a lengthy apol­o­gy on the Red­dit group r/theDonald, ask­ing that CNN not pub­lish his iden­ti­ty. (The apol­o­gy has since been removed.)

CNN oblig­ed, on the con­di­tion that HanAss­holeSo­lo remove his offend­ing posts and cease his trolling, but that didn’t stop the self-pro­claimed “real media” at the Dai­ly Stormer from issu­ing an ulti­ma­tum to every staffer at CNN.

“Just like CNN tracked down this child and used media expo­sure as a blud­geon against him for post­ing (truth­ful and fun­ny) things that they don’t like, we are going to begin track­ing down their fam­i­lies as a blud­geon against them for pub­lish­ing (sedi­tious­ly fraud­u­lent) things that we don’t like,” wrote Auern­heimer. “CNN, this is your one sin­gu­lar chance to walk back this behav­ior of pub­lic black­mail. You have one week to fix this.”

Auernheimer’s list of demands includes the pub­lic fir­ing of the KFile team, a denounce­ment of their alleged threats, a $50,000 col­lege schol­ar­ship for HanAss­holeSo­lo, and a pub­lic assur­ance that “he and his fam­i­ly will nev­er be harmed by your orga­ni­za­tion.”

The only prob­lem: HanAss­holeSo­lo is an adult, accord­ing to CNN.

“We are going to track down your par­ents. We are going to track down your sib­lings. We are going to track down your spous­es. We are going to track down your chil­dren. Because hey, that’s what you guys get to do, right? We’re going to see how you like it when our reporters are hunt­ing down your chil­dren,” con­tin­ued Auern­heimer.

Auern­heimer instruct­ed CNN employ­ees that do not want to be doxed to quit with­in the week and denounce the organization’s alleged black­mail.

“We didn’t make these rules – you did – and now we’re going to force you to play by them. Hope you enjoy what is com­ing, you filthy rat kike bas­tards. Kill your­selves, kike news fak­ers. You deserve every sin­gle bit of what you are about to get,” con­clud­ed Auern­heimer.

The call to “kill the lying mass of shi t that is CNN” post­ed to 4chan’s polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect forum, /pol/.

With­in hours, per­son­al infor­ma­tion for mul­ti­ple CNN staffers and their fam­i­ly mem­bers — along­side images and gifs of indi­vid­u­als with CNN super­im­posed over their faces being shot in the head — appeared in the com­ments of the post­ing.

The inci­dent is a rare moment of uni­ty for the far-right with mem­bers of r/theDonald, 4chan, the Dai­ly Stormer, and the alt-lite band­ing togeth­er to attack CNN.

The 4chan mes­sage board /pol/, which is ded­i­cat­ed to polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect dis­cus­sion, dubbed the cam­paign “Operation:Autism Storm” and post­ed a four part plan of attack that includes band­ing togeth­er with oth­er far right sites, going after CNN’s adver­tis­ers, dis­cred­it­ing every­one at CNN, and form­ing a legal strat­e­gy for HanAss­holeSo­lo should he lat­er be doxed.

At least nine sep­a­rate hash­tags trend­ed across far-right accounts Tues­day evening – includ­ing #cnnblack­mail, #cnn­dox­ing, and #fraud­newsc­nn – as the con­tro­ver­sy erupt­ed.

….

4. Sey­mour Hersh has a piece in Die Welt about the intel­li­gence that went into the Trump administration’s deci­sion to launch a cruise mis­sile strike against a Syr­i­an air­base fol­low­ing the alleged sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib.

What did the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty know about the attack? The Russ­ian and Syr­i­an air force had informed the US in advance of that airstrike that they had intel­li­gence that top lev­el lead­ers of Ahrar al-Sham and Jab­hat al-Nus­ra were meet­ing in that build­ing and they informed of the US of the attack plan in advance of the attack and that it was on a “high-val­ue” tar­get. And the attack involved the unusu­al use of a guid­ed bomb and Syria’s top pilots. Fol­low­ing the attack, US intel­li­gence con­clud­ed that there was no sarin gas attack, Assad wouldn’t have been that polit­i­cal­ly sui­ci­dal, and the symp­toms of chem­i­cal poi­son­ing fol­low­ing the bomb­ing was like­ly due to a mix­ture of chlo­rine, fer­til­iz­ers, and oth­er chem­i­cals stored in the build­ing that was tar­get­ed by the Syr­i­an air­force cre­at­ed by sec­ondary explo­sions from the ini­tial bomb­ing.

Key por­tions of Her­sh’s sto­ry:

“. . . . The Syr­i­an tar­get at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Amer­i­cans at Doha, was depict­ed as a two-sto­ry cin­der-block build­ing in the north­ern part of town. Russ­ian intel­li­gence, which is shared when nec­es­sary with Syr­ia and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had estab­lished that a high-lev­el meet­ing of jihadist lead­ers was to take place in the build­ing, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qai­da-affil­i­at­ed group for­mer­ly known as Jab­hat al-Nus­ra. The two groups had recent­ly joined forces, and con­trolled the town and sur­round­ing area. Russ­ian intel­li­gence depict­ed the cin­der-block build­ing as a com­mand and con­trol cen­ter that housed a gro­cery and oth­er com­mer­cial premis­es on its ground floor with oth­er essen­tial shops near­by, includ­ing a fab­ric shop and an elec­tron­ics store.

‘The rebels con­trol the pop­u­la­tion by con­trol­ling the dis­tri­b­u­tion of goods that peo­ple need to live – food, water, cook­ing oil, propane gas, fer­til­iz­ers for grow­ing their crops, and insec­ti­cides to pro­tect the crops,’ a senior advis­er to the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, who has served in senior posi­tions in the Defense Depart­ment and Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, told me. The base­ment was used as stor­age for rock­ets, weapons and ammu­ni­tion, as well as prod­ucts that could be dis­trib­uted for free to the com­mu­ni­ty, among them med­i­cines and chlo­rine-based decon­t­a­m­i­nants for cleans­ing the bod­ies of the dead before bur­ial. The meet­ing place – a region­al head­quar­ters – was on the floor above. ‘It was an estab­lished meet­ing place,’ the senior advis­er said. ‘A long-time facil­i­ty that would have had secu­ri­ty, weapons, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, files and a map cen­ter.’ The Rus­sians were intent on con­firm­ing their intel­li­gence and deployed a drone for days above the site to mon­i­tor com­mu­ni­ca­tions and devel­op what is known in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty as a POL – a pat­tern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the build­ing, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, includ­ing rock­ets and ammu­ni­tion.

Russ­ian and Syr­i­an intel­li­gence offi­cials, who coor­di­nate oper­a­tions close­ly with the Amer­i­can com­mand posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was spe­cial because of the high-val­ue tar­get. ‘It was a red-hot change. The mis­sion was out of the ordi­nary – scrub the sked,’ the senior advis­er told me. ‘Every oper­a­tions offi­cer in the region’ – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – ‘had to know there was some­thing going on. The Rus­sians gave the Syr­i­an Air Force a guid­ed bomb and that was a rar­i­ty. They’re skimpy with their guid­ed bombs and rarely share them with the Syr­i­an Air Force. And the Syr­i­ans assigned their best pilot to the mis­sion, with the best wing­man.’ The advance intel­li­gence on the tar­get, as sup­plied by the Rus­sians, was giv­en the high­est pos­si­ble score inside the Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

The Exe­cute Order gov­ern­ing U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the­ater, which was issued by the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pro­vide instruc­tions that demar­cate the rela­tion­ship between the Amer­i­can and Russ­ian forces oper­at­ing in Syr­ia. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are autho­rized to do,’” the advis­er said. “We do not share oper­a­tional con­trol with the Rus­sians. We don’t do com­bined oper­a­tions with them, or activ­i­ties direct­ly in sup­port of one of their oper­a­tions. But coor­di­na­tion is per­mit­ted. We keep each oth­er apprised of what’s hap­pen­ing and with­in this pack­age is the mutu­al exchange of intel­li­gence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Rus­sians do their mis­sion, that’s coor­di­na­tion; and the Rus­sians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a com­mand and con­trol facil­i­ty,” the advis­er added, refer­ring to the tar­get in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it.” “This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,” the advis­er said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, every­one involved in trans­fer­ring, load­ing and arm­ing the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a reg­u­lar 500-pound con­ven­tion­al bomb – would be wear­ing Haz­mat pro­tec­tive cloth­ing in case of a leak. There would be very lit­tle chance of sur­vival with­out such gear. Mil­i­tary grade sarin includes addi­tives designed to increase tox­i­c­i­ty and lethal­i­ty. Every batch that comes out is max­i­mized for death. That is why it is made. It is odor­less and invis­i­ble and death can come with­in a minute. No cloud. Why pro­duce a weapon that peo­ple can run away from?”

The tar­get was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before mid­night in Wash­ing­ton. A Bomb Dam­age Assess­ment (BDA) by the U.S. mil­i­tary lat­er deter­mined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syr­i­an bomb trig­gered a series of sec­ondary explo­sions that could have gen­er­at­ed a huge tox­ic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fer­til­iz­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and oth­er goods stored in the base­ment, its effect mag­ni­fied by the dense morn­ing air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. Accord­ing to intel­li­gence esti­mates, the senior advis­er said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist lead­ers, and an unknown num­ber of dri­vers and secu­ri­ty aides. There is no con­firmed count of the num­ber of civil­ians killed by the poi­so­nous gas­es that were released by the sec­ondary explo­sions, although oppo­si­tion activists report­ed that there were more than 80 dead, and out­lets such as CNN have put the fig­ure as high as 92. A team from Médecins Sans Fron­tières, treat­ing vic­tims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clin­ic 60 miles to the north, report­ed that “eight patients showed symp­toms – includ­ing con­strict­ed pupils, mus­cle spasms and invol­un­tary defe­ca­tion – which are con­sis­tent with expo­sure to a neu­ro­tox­ic agent such as sarin gas or sim­i­lar com­pounds.” MSF also vis­it­ed oth­er hos­pi­tals that had received vic­tims and found that patients there “smelled of bleach, sug­gest­ing that they had been exposed to chlo­rine.” In oth­er words, evi­dence sug­gest­ed that there was more than one chem­i­cal respon­si­ble for the symp­toms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syr­i­an Air Force – as oppo­si­tion activists insist­ed – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no per­cus­sive or igni­tion pow­er to trig­ger sec­ondary explo­sions. The range of symp­toms is, how­ev­er, con­sis­tent with the release of a mix­ture of chem­i­cals, includ­ing chlo­rine and the organophos­phates used in many fer­til­iz­ers, which can cause neu­ro­tox­ic effects sim­i­lar to those of sarin. . . .

. . . . The cri­sis slid into the back­ground by the end of April, as Rus­sia, Syr­ia and the Unit­ed States remained focused on anni­hi­lat­ing ISIS and the mili­tias of al-Qai­da. Some of those who had worked through the cri­sis, how­ev­er, were left with lin­ger­ing con­cerns. ‘The Salafists and jihadists got every­thing they want­ed out of their hyped-up Syr­i­an nerve gas ploy,’ the senior advis­er to the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty told me, refer­ring to the flare up of ten­sions between Syr­ia, Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca. ‘The issue is, what if there’s anoth­er false flag sarin attack cred­it­ed to hat­ed Syr­ia? Trump has upped the ante and paint­ed him­self into a cor­ner with his deci­sion to bomb. And do not think these guys are not plan­ning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and hard­er. He’s inca­pable of say­ing he made a mis­take.’ . . .”

“Trump‘s Red Line” by Sey­mour M. Hersh; Welt.de; 06/25/2017 [13]

On April 6, Unit­ed States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump autho­rized an ear­ly morn­ing Tom­a­hawk mis­sile strike on Shayrat Air Base in cen­tral Syr­ia in retal­i­a­tion for what he said was a dead­ly nerve agent attack car­ried out by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment two days ear­li­er in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite hav­ing been warned by the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty that it had found no evi­dence that the Syr­i­ans had used a chem­i­cal weapon.

The avail­able intel­li­gence made clear that the Syr­i­ans had tar­get­ed a jihadist meet­ing site on April 4 using a Russ­ian-sup­plied guid­ed bomb equipped with con­ven­tion­al explo­sives. Details of the attack, includ­ing infor­ma­tion on its so-called high-val­ue tar­gets, had been pro­vid­ed by the Rus­sians days in advance to Amer­i­can and allied mil­i­tary offi­cials in Doha, whose mis­sion is to coor­di­nate all U.S., allied, Syr­i­an and Russ­ian Air Force oper­a­tions in the region.

Some Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials were espe­cial­ly dis­tressed by the president’s deter­mi­na­tion to ignore the evi­dence. “None of this makes any sense,” one offi­cer told col­leagues upon learn­ing of the deci­sion to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chem­i­cal attack … the Rus­sians are furi­ous. Claim­ing we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t mat­ter whether we elect­ed Clin­ton or Trump.“

With­in hours of the April 4 bomb­ing, the world’s media was sat­u­rat­ed with pho­tographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pic­tures of dead and dying vic­tims, alleged­ly suf­fer­ing from the symp­toms of nerve gas poi­son­ing, were uploaded to social media by local activists, includ­ing the White Hel­mets, a first respon­der group known for its close asso­ci­a­tion with the Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion.

The prove­nance of the pho­tos was not clear and no inter­na­tion­al observers have yet inspect­ed the site, but the imme­di­ate pop­u­lar assump­tion world­wide was that this was a delib­er­ate use of the nerve agent sarin, autho­rized by Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad of Syr­ia. Trump endorsed that assump­tion by issu­ing a state­ment with­in hours of the attack, describ­ing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a con­se­quence of the Oba­ma administration’s “weak­ness and irres­o­lu­tion” in address­ing what he said was Syria’s past use of chem­i­cal weapons.

To the dis­may of many senior mem­bers of his nation­al secu­ri­ty team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense brief­in­gs and deci­sion-mak­ing. In a series of inter­views, I learned of the total dis­con­nect between the pres­i­dent and many of his mil­i­tary advis­ers and intel­li­gence offi­cials, as well as offi­cers on the ground in the region who had an entire­ly dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was pro­vid­ed with evi­dence of that dis­con­nect, in the form of tran­scripts of real-time com­mu­ni­ca­tions, imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the Syr­i­an attack on April 4. In an impor­tant pre-strike process known as decon­flic­tion, U.S. and Russ­ian offi­cers rou­tine­ly sup­ply one anoth­er with advance details of planned flight paths and tar­get coor­di­nates, to ensure that there is no risk of col­li­sion or acci­den­tal encounter (the Rus­sians speak on behalf of the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary). This infor­ma­tion is sup­plied dai­ly to the Amer­i­can AWACS sur­veil­lance planes that mon­i­tor the flights once air­borne. Deconfliction’s suc­cess and impor­tance can be mea­sured by the fact that there has yet to be one col­li­sion, or even a near miss, among the high-pow­ered super­son­ic Amer­i­can, Allied, Russ­ian and Syr­i­an fight­er bombers.

Russ­ian and Syr­i­an Air Force offi­cers gave details of the care­ful­ly planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 direct­ly, in Eng­lish, to the decon­flic­tion mon­i­tors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turk­ish bor­der, 60 miles or more to the north.

The Syr­i­an tar­get at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Amer­i­cans at Doha, was depict­ed as a two-sto­ry cin­der-block build­ing in the north­ern part of town. Russ­ian intel­li­gence, which is shared when nec­es­sary with Syr­ia and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had estab­lished that a high-lev­el meet­ing of jihadist lead­ers was to take place in the build­ing, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qai­da-affil­i­at­ed group for­mer­ly known as Jab­hat al-Nus­ra. The two groups had recent­ly joined forces, and con­trolled the town and sur­round­ing area. Russ­ian intel­li­gence depict­ed the cin­der-block build­ing as a com­mand and con­trol cen­ter that housed a gro­cery and oth­er com­mer­cial premis­es on its ground floor with oth­er essen­tial shops near­by, includ­ing a fab­ric shop and an elec­tron­ics store.

“The rebels con­trol the pop­u­la­tion by con­trol­ling the dis­tri­b­u­tion of goods that peo­ple need to live – food, water, cook­ing oil, propane gas, fer­til­iz­ers for grow­ing their crops, and insec­ti­cides to pro­tect the crops,” a senior advis­er to the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, who has served in senior posi­tions in the Defense Depart­ment and Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, told me. The base­ment was used as stor­age for rock­ets, weapons and ammu­ni­tion, as well as prod­ucts that could be dis­trib­uted for free to the com­mu­ni­ty, among them med­i­cines and chlo­rine-based decon­t­a­m­i­nants for cleans­ing the bod­ies of the dead before bur­ial. The meet­ing place – a region­al head­quar­ters – was on the floor above. “It was an estab­lished meet­ing place,” the senior advis­er said. “A long-time facil­i­ty that would have had secu­ri­ty, weapons, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, files and a map cen­ter.” The Rus­sians were intent on con­firm­ing their intel­li­gence and deployed a drone for days above the site to mon­i­tor com­mu­ni­ca­tions and devel­op what is known in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty as a POL – a pat­tern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the build­ing, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, includ­ing rock­ets and ammu­ni­tion.

One rea­son for the Russ­ian mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton about the intend­ed tar­get was to ensure that any CIA asset or infor­mant who had man­aged to work his way into the jihadist lead­er­ship was fore­warned not to attend the meet­ing.I was told that the Rus­sians passed the warn­ing direct­ly to the CIA. “They were play­ing the game right,” the senior advis­er said. The Russ­ian guid­ance not­ed that the jihadist meet­ing was com­ing at a time of acute pres­sure for the insur­gents: Pre­sum­ably Jab­hat al-Nus­ra and Ahrar al-Sham were des­per­ate­ly seek­ing a path for­ward in the new polit­i­cal cli­mate. In the last few days of March, Trump and two of his key nation­al secu­ri­ty aides – Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and UN Ambas­sador Nik­ki Haley – had made state­ments acknowl­edg­ing that, as the New York Times put it, the White House “has aban­doned the goal” of pres­sur­ing Assad “to leave pow­er, mark­ing a sharp depar­ture from the Mid­dle East pol­i­cy that guid­ed the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion for more than five years.” White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer told a press brief­ing on March 31 that “there is a polit­i­cal real­i­ty that we have to accept,” imply­ing that Assad was there to stay.

Russ­ian and Syr­i­an intel­li­gence offi­cials, who coor­di­nate oper­a­tions close­ly with the Amer­i­can com­mand posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was spe­cial because of the high-val­ue tar­get. “It was a red-hot change. The mis­sion was out of the ordi­nary – scrub the sked,” the senior advis­er told me. “Every oper­a­tions offi­cer in the region” – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – “had to know there was some­thing going on. The Rus­sians gave the Syr­i­an Air Force a guid­ed bomb and that was a rar­i­ty. They’re skimpy with their guid­ed bombs and rarely share them with the Syr­i­an Air Force. And the Syr­i­ans assigned their best pilot to the mis­sion, with the best wing­man.” The advance intel­li­gence on the tar­get, as sup­plied by the Rus­sians, was giv­en the high­est pos­si­ble score inside the Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

The Exe­cute Order gov­ern­ing U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the­ater, which was issued by the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pro­vide instruc­tions that demar­cate the rela­tion­ship between the Amer­i­can and Russ­ian forces oper­at­ing in Syr­ia. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are autho­rized to do,’” the advis­er said. “We do not share oper­a­tional con­trol with the Rus­sians. We don’t do com­bined oper­a­tions with them, or activ­i­ties direct­ly in sup­port of one of their oper­a­tions. But coor­di­na­tion is per­mit­ted. We keep each oth­er apprised of what’s hap­pen­ing and with­in this pack­age is the mutu­al exchange of intel­li­gence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Rus­sians do their mis­sion, that’s coor­di­na­tion; and the Rus­sians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a com­mand and con­trol facil­i­ty,” the advis­er added, refer­ring to the tar­get in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it.” “This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,” the advis­er said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, every­one involved in trans­fer­ring, load­ing and arm­ing the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a reg­u­lar 500-pound con­ven­tion­al bomb – would be wear­ing Haz­mat pro­tec­tive cloth­ing in case of a leak. There would be very lit­tle chance of sur­vival with­out such gear. Mil­i­tary grade sarin includes addi­tives designed to increase tox­i­c­i­ty and lethal­i­ty. Every batch that comes out is max­i­mized for death. That is why it is made. It is odor­less and invis­i­ble and death can come with­in a minute. No cloud. Why pro­duce a weapon that peo­ple can run away from?”

The tar­get was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before mid­night in Wash­ing­ton. A Bomb Dam­age Assess­ment (BDA) by the U.S. mil­i­tary lat­er deter­mined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syr­i­an bomb trig­gered a series of sec­ondary explo­sions that could have gen­er­at­ed a huge tox­ic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fer­til­iz­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and oth­er goods stored in the base­ment, its effect mag­ni­fied by the dense morn­ing air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. Accord­ing to intel­li­gence esti­mates, the senior advis­er said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist lead­ers, and an unknown num­ber of dri­vers and secu­ri­ty aides. There is no con­firmed count of the num­ber of civil­ians killed by the poi­so­nous gas­es that were released by the sec­ondary explo­sions, although oppo­si­tion activists report­ed that there were more than 80 dead, and out­lets such as CNN have put the fig­ure as high as 92. A team from Médecins Sans Fron­tières, treat­ing vic­tims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clin­ic 60 miles to the north, report­ed that “eight patients showed symp­toms – includ­ing con­strict­ed pupils, mus­cle spasms and invol­un­tary defe­ca­tion – which are con­sis­tent with expo­sure to a neu­ro­tox­ic agent such as sarin gas or sim­i­lar com­pounds.” MSF also vis­it­ed oth­er hos­pi­tals that had received vic­tims and found that patients there “smelled of bleach, sug­gest­ing that they had been exposed to chlo­rine.” In oth­er words, evi­dence sug­gest­ed that there was more than one chem­i­cal respon­si­ble for the symp­toms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syr­i­an Air Force – as oppo­si­tion activists insist­ed – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no per­cus­sive or igni­tion pow­er to trig­ger sec­ondary explo­sions. The range of symp­toms is, how­ev­er, con­sis­tent with the release of a mix­ture of chem­i­cals, includ­ing chlo­rine and the organophos­phates used in many fer­til­iz­ers, which can cause neu­ro­tox­ic effects sim­i­lar to those of sarin.

The inter­net swung into action with­in hours, and grue­some pho­tographs of the vic­tims flood­ed tele­vi­sion net­works and YouTube. U.S. intel­li­gence was tasked with estab­lish­ing what had hap­pened. Among the pieces of infor­ma­tion received was an inter­cept of Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ca­tions col­lect­ed before the attack by an allied nation. The inter­cept, which had a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong effect on some of Trump’s aides, did not men­tion nerve gas or sarin, but it did quote a Syr­i­an gen­er­al dis­cussing a “spe­cial” weapon and the need for a high­ly skilled pilot to man the attack plane. The ref­er­ence, as those in the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty under­stood, and many of the inex­pe­ri­enced aides and fam­i­ly mem­bers close to Trump may not have, was to a Russ­ian-sup­plied bomb with its built-in guid­ance sys­tem. “If you’ve already decid­ed it was a gas attack, you will then inevitably read the talk about a spe­cial weapon as involv­ing a sarin bomb,” the advis­er said. “Did the Syr­i­ans plan the attack on Khan Sheikhoun? Absolute­ly. Do we have inter­cepts to prove it? Absolute­ly. Did they plan to use sarin? No. But the pres­i­dent did not say: ‘We have a prob­lem and let’s look into it.’ He want­ed to bomb the shit out of Syr­ia.”

At the UN the next day, Ambas­sador Haley cre­at­ed a media sen­sa­tion when she dis­played pho­tographs of the dead and accused Rus­sia of being com­plic­it. “How many more chil­dren have to die before Rus­sia cares?” she asked. NBC News, in a typ­i­cal report that day, quot­ed Amer­i­can offi­cials as con­firm­ing that nerve gas had been used and Haley tied the attack direct­ly to Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Assad. “We know that yesterday’s attack was a new low even for the bar­bar­ic Assad regime,” she said. There was irony in America’s rush to blame Syr­ia and crit­i­cize Rus­sia for its sup­port of Syria’s denial of any use of gas in Khan Sheikhoun, as Ambas­sador Haley and oth­ers in Wash­ing­ton did. “What doesn’t occur to most Amer­i­cans” the advis­er said, “is if there had been a Syr­i­an nerve gas attack autho­rized by Bashar, the Rus­sians would be 10 times as upset as any­one in the West. Russia’s strat­e­gy against ISIS, which involves get­ting Amer­i­can coop­er­a­tion, would have been destroyed and Bashar would be respon­si­ble for piss­ing off Rus­sia, with unknown con­se­quences for him. Bashar would do that? When he’s on the verge of win­ning the war? Are you kid­ding me?”

Trump, a con­stant watch­er of tele­vi­sion news, said, while King Abdul­lah of Jor­dan was sit­ting next to him in the Oval Office, that what had hap­pened was “hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble” and a “ter­ri­ble affront to human­i­ty.” Asked if his admin­is­tra­tion would change its pol­i­cy toward the Assad gov­ern­ment, he said: “You will see.” He gave a hint of the response to come at the sub­se­quent news con­fer­ence with King Abdul­lah: “When you kill inno­cent chil­dren, inno­cent babies – babies, lit­tle babies – with a chem­i­cal gas that is so lethal … that cross­es many, many lines, beyond a red line . … That attack on chil­dren yes­ter­day had a big impact on me. Big impact … It’s very, very pos­si­ble … that my atti­tude toward Syr­ia and Assad has changed very much.”

With­in hours of view­ing the pho­tos, the advis­er said, Trump instruct­ed the nation­al defense appa­ra­tus to plan for retal­i­a­tion against Syr­ia. “He did this before he talked to any­body about it. The plan­ners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evi­dence that Syr­ia had sarin stored at a near­by air­port or some­where in the area. Their mil­i­tary had to have it some­where in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evi­dence that Syr­ia had sarin or used it,’” the advis­er said. “The CIA also told them that there was no resid­ual deliv­ery for sarin at Sheyrat [the air­field from which the Syr­i­an SU-24 bombers had tak­en off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to com­mit polit­i­cal sui­cide.”Every­one involved, except per­haps the pres­i­dent, also under­stood that a high­ly skilled Unit­ed Nations team had spent more than a year in the after­math of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syr­ia, remov­ing what was said to be all chem­i­cal weapons from a dozen Syr­i­an chem­i­cal weapons depots.

At this point, the advis­er said, the president’s nation­al secu­ri­ty plan­ners were more than a lit­tle rat­tled: “No one knew the prove­nance of the pho­tographs. We didn’t know who the chil­dren were or how they got hurt. Sarin actu­al­ly is very easy to detect because it pen­e­trates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sam­ple. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt peo­ple. But you can­not jump from there to cer­tain­ty that Assad had hid­den sarin from the UN because he want­ed to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intel­li­gence made clear that a Syr­i­an Air Force SU-24 fight­er bomber had used a con­ven­tion­al weapon to hit its tar­get: There had been no chem­i­cal war­head. And yet it was impos­si­ble for the experts to per­suade the pres­i­dent of this once he had made up his mind. “The pres­i­dent saw the pho­tographs of poi­soned lit­tle girls and said it was an Assad atroc­i­ty,” the senior advis­er said. “It’s typ­i­cal of human nature. You jump to the con­clu­sion you want. Intel­li­gence ana­lysts do not argue with a pres­i­dent. They’re not going to tell the pres­i­dent, ‘if you inter­pret the data this way, I quit.’”

The nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­ers under­stood their dilem­ma: Trump want­ed to respond to the affront to human­i­ty com­mit­ted by Syr­ia and he did not want to be dis­suad­ed. They were deal­ing with a man they con­sid­ered to be not unkind and not stu­pid, but his lim­i­ta­tions when it came to nation­al secu­ri­ty deci­sions were severe. “Every­one close to him knows his pro­cliv­i­ty for act­ing pre­cip­i­tous­ly when he does not know the facts,” the advis­er said. “He doesn’t read any­thing and has no real his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge. He wants ver­bal brief­in­gs and pho­tographs. He’s a risk-tak­er. He can accept the con­se­quences of a bad deci­sion in the busi­ness world; he will just lose mon­ey. But in our world, lives will be lost and there will be long-term dam­age to our nation­al secu­ri­ty if he guess­es wrong. He was told we did not have evi­dence of Syr­i­an involve­ment and yet Trump says: ‘Do it.”’

On April 6, Trump con­vened a meet­ing of nation­al secu­ri­ty offi­cials at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Flori­da. The meet­ing was not to decide what to do, but how best to do it – or, as some want­ed, how to do the least and keep Trump hap­py. “The boss knew before the meet­ing that they didn’t have the intel­li­gence, but that was not the issue,” the advis­er said. “The meet­ing was about, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do,’ and then he gets the options.”

The avail­able intel­li­gence was not rel­e­vant. The most expe­ri­enced man at the table was Sec­re­tary of Defense James Mat­tis, a retired Marine Corps gen­er­al who had the president’s respect and under­stood, per­haps, how quick­ly that could evap­o­rate. Mike Pom­peo, the CIA direc­tor whose agency had con­sis­tent­ly report­ed that it had no evi­dence of a Syr­i­an chem­i­cal bomb, was not present. Sec­re­tary of State Tiller­son was admired on the inside for his will­ing­ness to work long hours and his avid read­ing of diplo­mat­ic cables and reports, but he knew lit­tle about wag­ing war and the man­age­ment of a bomb­ing raid. Those present were in a bind, the advis­er said. “The pres­i­dent was emo­tion­al­ly ener­gized by the dis­as­ter and he want­ed options.” He got four of them, in order of extrem­i­ty. Option one was to do noth­ing. All involved, the advis­er said, under­stood that was a non-starter. Option two was a slap on the wrist: to bomb an air­field in Syr­ia, but only after alert­ing the Rus­sians and, through them, the Syr­i­ans, to avoid too many casu­al­ties. A few of the plan­ners called this the “goril­la option”: Amer­i­ca would glow­er and beat its chest to pro­voke fear and demon­strate resolve, but cause lit­tle sig­nif­i­cant dam­age. The third option was to adopt the strike pack­age that had been pre­sent­ed to Oba­ma in 2013, and which he ulti­mate­ly chose not to pur­sue. The plan called for the mas­sive bomb­ing of the main Syr­i­an air­fields and com­mand and con­trol cen­ters using B1 and B52 air­craft launched from their bases in the U.S. Option four was “decap­i­ta­tion”: to remove Assad by bomb­ing his palace in Dam­as­cus, as well as his com­mand and con­trol net­work and all of the under­ground bunkers he could pos­si­bly retreat to in a cri­sis.

“Trump ruled out option one off the bat,” the senior advis­er said, and the assas­si­na­tion of Assad was nev­er con­sid­ered. “But he said, in essence: ‘You’re the mil­i­tary and I want mil­i­tary action.’” The pres­i­dent was also ini­tial­ly opposed to the idea of giv­ing the Rus­sians advance warn­ing before the strike, but reluc­tant­ly accept­ed it. “We gave him the Goldilocks option – not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” The dis­cus­sion had its bizarre moments. Tiller­son won­dered at the Mar-a-Lago meet­ing why the pres­i­dent could not sim­ply call in the B52 bombers and pul­ver­ize the air base. He was told that B52s were very vul­ner­a­ble to sur­face-to-air mis­siles (SAMs) in the area and using such planes would require sup­pres­sion fire that could kill some Russ­ian defend­ers. “What is that?” Tiller­son asked. Well, sir, he was told, that means we would have to destroy the upgrad­ed SAM sites along the B52 flight path, and those are manned by Rus­sians, and we pos­si­bly would be con­front­ed with a much more dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. “The les­son here was: Thank God for the mil­i­tary men at the meet­ing,” the advis­er said. “They did the best they could when con­front­ed with a deci­sion that had already been made.”

Fifty-nine Tom­a­hawk mis­siles were fired from two U.S. Navy destroy­ers on duty in the Mediter­ranean, the Ross and the Porter, at Shayrat Air Base near the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled city of Homs. The strike was as suc­cess­ful as hoped, in terms of doing min­i­mal dam­age. The mis­siles have a light pay­load – rough­ly 220 pounds of HBX, the military’s mod­ern ver­sion of TNT. The airfield’s gaso­line stor­age tanks, a pri­ma­ry tar­get, were pul­ver­ized, the senior advis­er said, trig­ger­ing a huge fire and clouds of smoke that inter­fered with the guid­ance sys­tem of fol­low­ing mis­siles. As many as 24 mis­siles missed their tar­gets and only a few of the Tom­a­hawks actu­al­ly pen­e­trat­ed into hangars, destroy­ing nine Syr­i­an air­craft, many few­er than claimed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. I was told that none of the nine was oper­a­tional: such dam­aged air­craft are what the Air Force calls hangar queens. “They were sac­ri­fi­cial lambs,” the senior advis­er said. Most of the impor­tant per­son­nel and oper­a­tional fight­er planes had been flown to near­by bases hours before the raid began. The two run­ways and park­ing places for air­craft, which had also been tar­get­ed, were repaired and back in oper­a­tion with­in eight hours or so. All in all, it was lit­tle more than an expen­sive fire­works dis­play.

“It was a total­ly Trump show from begin­ning to end,” the senior advis­er said. “A few of the president’s senior nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­ers viewed the mis­sion as a min­i­mized bad pres­i­den­tial deci­sion, and one that they had an oblig­a­tion to car­ry out. But I don’t think our nation­al secu­ri­ty peo­ple are going to allow them­selves to be hus­tled into a bad deci­sion again. If Trump had gone for option three, there might have been some imme­di­ate res­ig­na­tions.”

After the meet­ing, with the Tom­a­hawks on their way, Trump spoke to the nation from Mar-a-Lago, and accused Assad of using nerve gas to choke out “the lives of help­less men, women and chil­dren. It was a slow and bru­tal death for so many … No child of God should ever suf­fer such hor­ror.” The next few days were his most suc­cess­ful as pres­i­dent. Amer­i­ca ral­lied around its com­man­der in chief, as it always does in times of war. Trump, who had cam­paigned as some­one who advo­cat­ed mak­ing peace with Assad, was bomb­ing Syr­ia 11 weeks after tak­ing office, and was hailed for doing so by Repub­li­cans, Democ­rats and the media alike. One promi­nent TV anchor­man, Bri­an Williams of MSNBC, used the word “beau­ti­ful” to describe the images of the Tom­a­hawks being launched at sea. Speak­ing on CNN, Fareed Zakaria said: “I think Don­ald Trump became pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.” A review of the top 100 Amer­i­can news­pa­pers showed that 39 of them pub­lished edi­to­ri­als sup­port­ing the bomb­ing in its after­math, includ­ing the New York TimesWash­ing­ton Post and Wall Street Jour­nal.

Five days lat­er, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion gath­ered the nation­al media for a back­ground brief­ing on the Syr­i­an oper­a­tion that was con­duct­ed by a senior White House offi­cial who was not to be iden­ti­fied. The gist of the brief­ing was that Russia’s heat­ed and per­sis­tent denial of any sarin use in the Khan Sheikhoun bomb­ing was a lie because Pres­i­dent Trump had said sarin had been used. That asser­tion, which was not chal­lenged or dis­put­ed by any of the reporters present, became the basis for a series of fur­ther crit­i­cisms:

– The con­tin­ued lying by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion about Syria’s use of sarin led to wide­spread belief in the Amer­i­can media and pub­lic that Rus­sia had cho­sen to be involved in a cor­rupt dis­in­for­ma­tion and cov­er-up cam­paign on the part of Syr­ia.

– Russia’s mil­i­tary forces had been co-locat­ed with Syria’s at the Shayrat air­field (as they are through­out Syr­ia), rais­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Rus­sia had advance notice of Syria’s deter­mi­na­tion to use sarin at Khan Sheikhoun and did noth­ing to stop it.

– Syria’s use of sarin and Russia’s defense of that use strong­ly sug­gest­ed that Syr­ia with­held stocks of the nerve agent from the UN dis­ar­ma­ment team that spent much of 2014 inspect­ing and remov­ing all declared chem­i­cal war­fare agents from 12 Syr­i­an chem­i­cal weapons depots, pur­suant to the agree­ment worked out by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion and Rus­sia after Syria’s alleged, but still unproven, use of sarin the year before against a rebel redoubt in a sub­urb of Dam­as­cus.

The briefer, to his cred­it, was care­ful to use the words “think,” “sug­gest” and “believe” at least 10 times dur­ing the 30-minute event. But he also said that his brief­ing was based on data that had been declas­si­fied by “our col­leagues in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty.” What the briefer did not say, and may not have known, was that much of the clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion in the com­mu­ni­ty made the point that Syr­ia had not used sarin in the April 4 bomb­ing attack.

The cri­sis slid into the back­ground by the end of April, as Rus­sia, Syr­ia and the Unit­ed States remained focused on anni­hi­lat­ing ISIS and the mili­tias of al-Qai­da. Some of those who had worked through the cri­sis, how­ev­er, were left with lin­ger­ing con­cerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got every­thing they want­ed out of their hyped-up Syr­i­an nerve gas ploy,” the senior advis­er to the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty told me, refer­ring to the flare up of ten­sions between Syr­ia, Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca. “The issue is, what if there’s anoth­er false flag sarin attack cred­it­ed to hat­ed Syr­ia? Trump has upped the ante and paint­ed him­self into a cor­ner with his deci­sion to bomb. And do not think these guys are not plan­ning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and hard­er. He’s inca­pable of say­ing he made a mis­take.”

5.  The White House issued an omi­nous mes­sage indi­cat­ing it has evi­dence that Assad’s forces were plan­ning a chem­i­cal attack and if that hap­pens the con­se­quences will be severe and Russ­ian and Iran will be held respon­si­ble [14]:

“White House says Syria’s Assad prepar­ing anoth­er chem­i­cal attack, warns of ‘heavy’ penal­ty” by Abby Phillip and Dan Lamothe; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 06/26/2017 [14]

The White House issued an omi­nous warn­ing to Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad on Mon­day night, pledg­ing that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it car­ried out anoth­er chem­i­cal attack this year.

In a state­ment, White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said that the Unit­ed States had detect­ed evi­dence of prepa­ra­tions for a chem­i­cal attack, sim­i­lar to the prepa­ra­tions that occurred before an attack in April.

“The Unit­ed States has iden­ti­fied poten­tial prepa­ra­tions for anoth­er chem­i­cal weapons attack by the Assad regime that would like­ly result in the mass mur­der of civil­ians, includ­ing inno­cent chil­dren,” Spicer said in the state­ment. “The activ­i­ties are sim­i­lar to prepa­ra­tions the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chem­i­cal weapons attack.

“As we have pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed, the Unit­ed States is in Syr­ia to elim­i­nate the Islam­ic State of Iraq and Syr­ia,” he con­tin­ued. “If, how­ev­er, Mr. Assad con­ducts anoth­er mass mur­der attack using chem­i­cal weapons, he and his mil­i­tary will pay a heavy price.”

Fol­low­ing the April attack [28], Pres­i­dent Trump ordered an air strike against the Assad-con­trolled air field where the attack was believed to have been car­ried out.

At the time, Trump said that Assad’s use of chem­i­cal weapons against inno­cent women and chil­dren made action inevitable.

“When you kill inno­cent chil­dren, inno­cent babies, babies, lit­tle babies, with a chem­i­cal gas that is so lethal — peo­ple were shocked to hear what gas it was,” Trump said after the attack. “That cross­es many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”

Fol­low­ing Spicer’s state­ment on Mon­day night, Nik­ki Haley, the U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations said Assad and its allies would be square­ly blamed if such an attack occurred.

“Any fur­ther attacks done to the peo­ple of Syr­ia will be blamed on Assad, but also on Rus­sia & Iran who sup­port him killing his own peo­ple,”Haley wrote.

Any fur­ther attacks done to the peo­ple of Syr­ia will be blamed on Assad, but also on Rus­sia & Iran who sup­port him killing his own peo­ple.— Nik­ki Haley (@nikkihaley) June 27, 2017 [29]

The U.S. mil­i­tary main­tains a vari­ety of weapons in the region that could be used in the event of anoth­er strike, includ­ing manned and unmanned air­craft in sev­er­al Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries. But the most like­ly sce­nario is prob­a­bly a strike using naval assets, which can be launched with few­er diplo­mat­ic issues than using bases in allied coun­tries such as Turkey or the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates.

The Navy launched Tom­a­hawk mis­siles at a Syr­i­an mil­i­tary air­field April 6 in response to a pre­vi­ous alleged chem­i­cal weapons attack, using two guid­ed-mis­sile destroy­ers in the east­ern Mediter­ranean Sea, the USS Ross and USS Porter, to do so.

A point of con­tention for the Pen­ta­gon after the last strike was the Syr­i­an regime’s alleged use of a nerve agent, like sarin. It is far dead­lier than some oth­er chem­i­cals that U.S. mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials say that the regime has used, such as chlo­rine.

6. Crit­i­cal to the under­stand­ing of the spin­ning of “Rus­sia-gate” are the actions of Felix Sater.

Inside Trump’s Rus­sia Con­nec­tions: The Felon and The Pop Star” by Chase Peter­son-With­orn; Forbes; 3/28/2017. [10]

“ . . . . Nev­er­the­less, in late Jan­u­ary, Sater and a Ukrain­ian law­mak­er report­ed­ly met with Trump’s per­son­al lawyer, Michael Cohen, at a New York hotel. Accord­ing to the Times, they dis­cussed a plan that involved the U.S. lift­ing sanc­tions against Rus­sia, and Cohen said he hand-deliv­ered the plan in a sealed enve­lope to then-nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sor Michael Fly­nn. Cohen lat­er denied deliv­er­ing the enve­lope to any­one in the White House, accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post. . . .”

7.  Sater was “walk­ing point” for the Trump busi­ness inter­ests in their attempts at build­ing in Moscow in the fall of 2015.

“How the Miss Uni­verse Pageant Led to Trump’s Son Meet­ing with a Russ­ian Lawyer” by Steve Eder and Megan Twohey [The New York Times]; The Seat­tle Times; 7/10/2017. [9]

“ . . . . Sater worked on a plan for a Trump Tow­er in Moscow as recent­ly as the fall of 2015, but he said that had come to a halt because of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. . . .”

8. Anoth­er inter­est­ing, close asso­ciate of Don­ald Trump was Felix Sater, who changed the spelling of his name, adding an extra “T” to avoid being rec­og­nized on inter­net search­es. Review­ing infor­ma­tion from FTR #936 [30]:

The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump by David Cay John­ston; Melville House [HC]; copy­right 2016 by David Cay John­ston; ISBN 978–1‑61219–632‑9. p. 162. [7]

 . . . ‘Sat­ter’s’ name appears with just one ‘T’ in a host of places. There’s the deed to his home for exam­ple. It is also spelled with only one ‘T’ on New York State court papers from his 1991 felony con­vic­tion for stab­bing a man in the face with the stem of a mar­gari­ta glass. The name Sater with one ‘T’ also appears on fed­er­al court papers in a $40 mil­lion orga­nized crime stock swin­dle he con­fessed to in 1998, a scheme that ben­e­fit­ed him as well as the Gen­ovese and Gam­bi­no crime fam­i­lies. The stock swin­dle involved fake stock bro­ker­age firms using high-pres­sure tac­tics to get naive peo­ple to buy worth­less shares from Sater and his mob friends. . . . 

9.Trump’s close asso­ciate Felix was able to escape seri­ous legal ret­ri­bu­tion by going to work for the CIA.

The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump by David Cay John­ston; Melville House [HC]; copy­right 2016 by David Cay John­ston; ISBN 978–1‑61219–632‑9. p. 165. [7]

. . . . There is every indi­ca­tion that the extra­or­di­nar­i­ly lenient treat­ment result­ed from Sater play­ing a get-out-of-jail free card. Short­ly before his secret guilty plea, Sater became a free­lance oper­a­tive of the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency. One of his fel­low stock swindlers, Sal­va­tore Lau­ria, wrote a book about it. The Scor­pi­on and the Frog is described on its cov­er as ‘the true sto­ry of one man’s fraud­u­lent rise and fall in the Wall Street of the nineties.’ Accord­ing to Lauria–and the court files that have been unsealed–Sater helped the CIA buy small mis­siles before they got to ter­ror­ists. He also pro­vid­ed oth­er pur­port­ed nation­al secu­ri­ty ser­vices for a report­ed fee of $300,000. Sto­ries abound as to what else Sater may or may not have done in the are­na of nation­al secu­ri­ty. . . .