Unbelievably reckless reporting from CNN has put in danger the lives of a Russian defector and his wife.
Either that, or it has put in danger the last shred of credibility that CNN had as a news organization.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday reported that the CIA had in 2017 extracted a high level covert source in the Russian government out of fear that President Trump might have revealed his identity to the Russians.
Now it looks like the CIA should have been more worried about CNN!
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shoots down Fake News CNN
This story is morally and journalistically wrong (as in unethical) in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin.
It appears that CNN thought it could embarrass Trump by reporting the story, and that putting the lives of the Russian and his family was considered a reasonable price to pay in order to “get Trump.”
Here’s the initial report from CNN:
A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.
The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.
The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.
You can see the main thrust of the story is that the CIA was protecting the spy from Donald Trump’s dangerous interactions with the Russians, but here’s what the CIA spokesperson Brittany Bramell said after Sciutto’s report was filed:
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
For good measure, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”
Within hours of CNN’s report, multiple sources had added more gasoline to the fire, by giving more details about the alleged spy and his role in the Kremlin. If he really was in danger from the Russian government, as CNN reported, then CNN has potential blood on its hands.
Russian newspapers reported the name of the defector as Oleg Smolenkov although they too disputed the accuracy of much of what CNN reported. The Moscow Times reported the following:
Smolenkov was reported to have disappeared with his family while on vacation in Montenegro in June 2017. Russian investigators had initially probed Smolenkov’s disappearance as a murder case, but Kommersant reported the Federal Security Service (FSB) later found he was alive and living abroad.
Later on Tuesday, Russia’s office for presidential affairs said it had not employed Smolenkov.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that Smolenkov didn’t have a senior role in Putin’s administration and had been fired by a secret decree several years ago. The reports of Smolenkov being a U.S. spy are “pulp fiction,” he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said separately on Tuesday he had never heard of Smolenkov.
“I have never seen this man, have never met him and have never monitored his career or movements,” Lavrov said. …
Lavrov [also] said that nobody had divulged any secrets to him at the meeting with Trump.
Of course, you can’t trust the Russians anymore than you can trust CNN, but that’s the point CNN seems to have missed.
Moreover, the New York Times debunked the main justification CNN used to run the story — namely that President Trump had forced the CIA’s hand because he could not be trusted with classified information.
[F]ormer intelligence officials said there was no public evidence that Mr. Trump directly endangered the source, and other current American officials insisted that media scrutiny of the agency’s sources alone was the impetus for the extraction.
Again, notice that it is THE MEDIA that is the danger to national security, not Donald Trump. According to the Times, the attempt to remove Smolenkov from Russia began in 2016, before Trump was even president.
As American officials began to realize that Russia was trying to sabotage the 2016 presidential election, the informant became one of the C.I.A.’s most important — and highly protected — assets. But when intelligence officials revealed the severity of Russia’s election interference with unusual detail later that year, the news media picked up on details about the C.I.A.’s Kremlin sources.
C.I.A. officials worried about safety made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russia. The situation grew more tense when the informant at first refused, citing family concerns — prompting consternation at C.I.A. headquarters and sowing doubts among some American counterintelligence officials about the informant’s trustworthiness. But the C.I.A. pressed again months later after more media inquiries. This time, the informant agreed.
The move brought to an end the career of one of the C.I.A.’s most important sources. It also effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year’s presidential contest.
There will be much more to this story, but if the past is any indication, two things that will never happen are an apology from CNN or any consequences for Sciutto, a former Obama administration official!
Frank Miele writes from Kalispell, Montana. To read more of my columns about the Dishonest Media, the Deep Swamp, the failed presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Trump’s war to restore American greatness, read my “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. Part 1 is subtitled “Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” Part 2 is “Obama’s Fundamental Transformation: Far Left.” Part 3 is “Trump’s American Vision: Just Right.” My new book is “The Media Matrix: What If Everything You Know Is Fake.” They are all available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle editions. Also visit Heartland Diary on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1FmrOF2TF-njRznqoU4yjA