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Jul 13 2018

The Russian Connection: A Russian Spy Story and Peter Strzok

After years of investigations in June of 2010 10 Russian spies were arrested on American soil by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dubbed Operation Ghost Stories was a reminder that Russian espionage did not end with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Using forged documents, some of the spies assumed stolen identities of Americans, enrolled at American universities and joined professional organizations as a means of further infiltrating spies into government circles. Two of the individuals used the names of Richard and Cynthia Murphy and resided in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the mid-1990s, before purchasing a nearby home in suburban Montclair. Another couple named in court documents were journalist Vicky Peláez and a man using the name of Juan Lazaro in Yonkers, New York. The court filings allege that couples were arranged in Russia to “co-habit in the country to which they are assigned,” going as far as having children together to help maintain their deep covert status.

The criminal complaints later filed in various federal district courts allege that the Russian agents in the U.S. passed information back to the SVR by messages hidden inside digital photographs, written in disappearing ink, ad hoc wireless networks, and shortwave radio transmissions, as well as by agents swapping identical bags while passing each other in the stairwell of a train station. Messages and materials were passed in such places as Grand Central Terminal and Central Park.

The Russian agents were tasked by “Moscow centre” to report about U.S. policy in Central America, U.S. interpretation of Russian foreign policy, problems with US military policy, and “United States policy with regard to the use of the Internet by terrorists.” [..]

U.S. authorities arrested ten of the agents involved on June 27, 2010, in a series of raids in Boston, Montclair, Yonkers, and Northern Virginia. They charged the individuals with money laundering (which can carry a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment) and failing to register as agents of a foreign government. No charges were offered that the individuals involved gained access to classified material, though contacts were made with a former intelligence official and with a scientist involved in developing bunker buster bombs.

One of the suspects using the name of Christopher R. Metsos was detained on June 29, 2010, while attempting to depart from Cyprus for Budapest, but was released on bail and then disappeared.

One of the lead FBI agents in that investigation was Peter Strzok, the former Chief of the Counterespionage Section and former Deputy Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division, the second-highest position in that division.

In her opening segment Wednesday MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells the story of the FBI spying on Russian spies in the U.S., “Donald Heathfield” and “Tracey Foley,” and notes the extensive biography of Agent Strzok, who led many of those operations.

Agent Strzok is the man that the the Republicans of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees failed to discredit in a 10 hour televised hearing on Thursday.

In his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing, Agent Strzok did not disappoint with a hard to rebut defense of the FBI’s objectivity in the investigation of the Russian interference with the 2016 election.

In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.

That’s what FBI agents do every single day, and it’s why I am so proud of the Bureau. And I am particularly proud of the work that I, and many others, did on the Clinton email investigation. Our charge was to investigate it competently, honestly, and independently, and that is exactly what happened.

I’m also proud of our work on the Russian interference investigation. This is an investigation into a direct attack by a foreign adversary – and it is no less so simply because it was launched against our democratic process rather than against a military base. This is something that all Americans, of all political persuasions, should be alarmed by. In the summer of 2016, we had an urgent need to protect the integrity of an American Presidential election from a hostile foreign power determined to weaken and divide the United States of America. This investigation is not politically motivated, it is not a witch hunt, it is not a hoax.

That was not easy to rebut as chair of the House Oversight Committee Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) found out rather quickly at the very start of the hearing when he tried to push the conspiracy theory using Agent Strzok’s text messages that the FBI was trying to throw the election in favor of Hilary Clinton. Agent Strok blew it out of the water:

As the CBS’ “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert so succinctly put it Trey Gowdy got his ‘Ass Handed to Him’ by Agent Strzok.

 

“It was a parliamentary smackdown,” the host said of the intense back and forth between FBI agent Peter Strzok and House Republicans. “The Capitol dome became the Thunderdome.” Colbert reviewed some of the anti-Trump texts that Strzok sent during the 2016 campaign to his mistress, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, including one that read, in all caps, “WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO OUR COUNTRY…??!?!”

“I don’t know, but hopefully Robert Mueller will tell us soon,” Colbert answered, prompting a huge cheer from his live audience.

“Republicans see these texts as proof of a vast conspiracy within the FBI to stop Donald Trump from being elected president,” he continued. “And here’s how devious and how deep they went: In order to keep it a secret, they let him get elected president!” [..]

The host also parodied the moment when the hearing completely devolved into a shouting match between members of Congress, culminating with, “Point of order, fuck you, point of order, no fuck you!” He added, “This is the first time I’ve seen Congress as frustrated with Congress as we are.”

After showing Gowdy attempt to intimidate Strzok, Colbert said, “Wow, that was intense! It was like A Few Good Men but with even fewer good men.” But that was nothing compared to Strzok’s defiant comeback. “I was wondering why Gowdy was slumped so far down in his chair. Turns out it’s because he had his ass handed to him.”

The GOP cannot get past the fact that if the FBI, specifically Peter Strzok, wanted to stop Donald Trump from being elected they could have. They didn’t and that helped him win. This hearing was a side show pretending that the opposite, as digby said, proves how far down the rabbit hole we’ve gone.