Perspectives on an “outing”

Glenn Greenwald, a leftist, offers his perspective on the man the FBI selected to spy on the Trump campaign and on the brouhaha surrounding his “outing.” First, Greenwald says that this man, now a professor, was responsible for spying on the Carter administration on behalf of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980. He did this, by running a scheme whereby CIA operatives passed classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions Carter was considering.

If true, this means, that (in Greenwald’s words) “the informant used by the FBI in 2016 to gather information on the Trump campaign was not some previously unknown, top-secret asset whose exposure as an operative could jeopardize lives.” Rather, “his decades of work for the CIA – including his role in an obviously unethical if not criminal spying operation during the 1980 presidential campaign – is quite publicly known.” Indeed, it can be discover from public records showing him to be a CIA “vendor.”

This doesn’t mean the professor should have been “outed.” But Greenwald has something to say about the “outing,” too:

[B]oth the Washington Post and New York Times – whose reporters, like pretty much everyone in Washington, knew exactly who the FBI informant is – published articles that, while deferring to the FBI’s demands by not naming him, provided so many details about him that it made it extremely easy to know exactly who it is. The NYT described the FBI informant as “an American academic who teaches in Britain” and who “made contact late that summer with” George Papadopoulos and “also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page.” The Post similarly called him “a retired American professor” who met with Page “at a symposium about the White House race held at a British university.”

In contrast to the picture purposely painted by the DOJ and its allies that this informant was some sort of super-secret, high-level, covert intelligence asset, the NYT described him as what he actually is: “the informant is well known in Washington circles, having served in previous Republican administrations and as a source of information for the C.I.A. in past years.”

The behavior of the Post and the Times makes no sense:

Either these newspapers believe the FBI’s grave warnings that national security and lives would be endangered if it were known who they used as their informant (in which case those papers should not publish any details that would make his exposure likely), or they believe that the FBI (as usual) was just invoking false national security justifications to hide information it unjustly wants to keep from the public (in which case the newspapers should name him).

Greenwald also notes, as others have, that the facts relating to the informant undercut the FBI/New York Times claim that concern about Russian infiltration of the Trump campaign was triggered by information relating to George Papadopoulos supplied by Australia about his drunken boast regarding Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. But now, says Greenwald, it seems clear that the professor’s attempts to gather information for the FBI began before that. According to the Times, “the professor’s interactions with Trump advisers began a few weeks before the opening of the investigation, when Page met the professor at the British symposium.” In other words, before Papadopoulos’ drunken rantings supposedly triggered concern.

Finally, Greenwald takes issue with the assertion by Ben Wittes and others that it was President Trump and Rep. Devin Nunes who are responsible for “outing” the professor. “[Wittes] almost certainly has no idea of who the sources are for the NYT or the Washington Post,” says Greenwald. Rather than blaming the organs that made it easy to identify the professor — the New York Times and Washington Post — Wittes chose, apparently without basis, to blame the enemies of his friend Jim Comey.

It’s understandable that the FBI and the mainstream media want to distract attention from the scandal of the FBI spying on a presidential campaign by talking about “outing” — first of a top secret agent and, when that narrative fell through, of a well-known longtime collaborator. This effort was never likely to succeed because the scandal of spying dwarfs the counter-narrative of “outing.” And now we know that the counter-narrative is a largely a smokescreen.

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