CNN and the New York Times have touted the story of the Russian CIA asset who allegedly gave us the inside dope on Vladimir Putin’s interference in our 2016 presidential election. I wrote about their coverage of the story this week in “Extract this” and “Sciutto from shinola.” Today the New York Times has a follow-up story by Andrew Higgins under the headline “What Spy? Kremlin Mocks Aide Recruited by C.I.A. as a Boozy Nobody.”
Russian sources have identified the CIA asset as Oleg Smolenkov. They portray him as a man with a drinking problem and no contact with Putin. The Times is unable to confirm that Smolenkov is the spy about whom they have been writing.
Not knowing what to make of the Times story, I turned to Eric Felten of RealClearInvestigations. I asked Eric for his take. Eric graciously responded:
So Oleg and his family are on the run and their lives endangered. That was the scenario we were supposed to condemn Trump for causing. The intelligence community exfiltrated Smolenkov because things were too hot in Moscow what with President Trump’s disregard for the rigors of classification [according to CNN].
Oleg might have spent his days on his lovely Virginia estate if the U.S. government hadn’t gone around talking with reporters about him. But these government officials spilling the Smolenkov beans (and maybe Smolenkov blood) weren’t Trump, they were the IC types — the very people accusing Trump of having the sort of loose lips that sink ships. What toads. I don’t know what to make of Smolenkov, but I do know what to make of the intelligence professionals who have been leaking left and right. They are hypocrites and dangerous ones at that.
That said, you could always just try calling old Oleg and asking him. His cell # is [omitted]. Or at least so says my public record search program. I’m inclined to split the difference: Smolenkov may or may not be a boozy nobody (and in any case, often the most damaging spies are alcoholics), but he isn’t a guy sharing confidences with Putin. If he were and he gets whisked out of country only to be put up under his own name in a DC outer-burb, that’s a level of incompetence that is staggering even for the CIA.
As always in stories like this one, the Times’s coverage is illuminating in ways not necessarily intended by the Times.