President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion Bennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump MORE is facing well-deserved bipartisan criticism for his dismal performance in Helsinki. Many have already commented that Trump threw the U.S. intelligence community under a bus but things may actually be worse than that. Trump stated that Putin had made an incredible offer to have U.S. intelligence cooperate with Russian intelligence on the issue of the Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election. That he thought this was an incredible offer is possibly an even sadder commentary of his understanding of Russia’s modus operandi.
In fact, under Putin, if not earlier, Moscow has repeatedly demanded that we reveal our methods and sources of intelligence to it whenever we have charged Russia with criminal or otherwise reproachable action. Apart from Moscow’s standard operating procedure to deny everything despite overwhelming evidence, such demands represent an effort to find out what we know and how we know it thereby compromising our intelligence.
In that light, the indictments handed down by the Justice Department on July 13 reveal just how capable our intelligence community is when allowed to function as intended and just how much it can find out and has learned about Russian hacking and other information and criminal operations. It is or should be no surprise, then that Moscow very much wants to know how we garnered that information and from what sources we obtained it.
But the fact that Putin could make this offer again to Trump suggests something even deeper, namely that he has contempt for Trump’s own intelligence and understanding of how Russia operates. For only a wholly ignorant man would say this was an incredible offer.
Nothing about Putin’s offer was unusual at all, despite Trump’s reaction and at least one media report. In fact it is and was quite predictable given the fact that Putin was the author of this intervention and a former intelligence agent himself. Thus we see that not only in the White House but also in far too many newsrooms there are people who do not understand the nature of the war Putin is waging against us.
Clearly, however, the intelligence community does understand how Putin operates as indicated by the statements of the Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race Cyber preparedness could save America's 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' MORE and his repeated warnings about the threat to our upcoming midterm elections.
The criticism directed at President Trump is on target. Trump has given a lamentable demonstration of his own ignorance, willfulness, and failure to understand with whom he is dealing. It is, sad to say, quite understandable that critics in both parties would label such behavior treasonous, imbecilic, and shameful. If the president is not an agent of influence, or a useful idiot to use the Russian terms that would be appropriate here, his performance in Helsinki represented an excellent facsimile of one of these two categories. And therefore it is all too likely that Putin’s probes against the U.S. and its allies will intensify rather than subside and that relations with Russia will grow even more acrimonious.
The threat to the upcoming elections is clear, for Putin has made it clear not only that he supported Trump in 2016 but that he has the capacity and desire to repeat this operation again. Statements from the intelligence community and Congress indicate that the elections are already coming under Russian attack.
Trump’s performance will only intensify the already bitter divisions within the American body politic. Trump cannot admit that others may have helped him narrowly defeat Hilary Clinton but the mounting evidence of large-scale, systematic, and multi-pronged Russian intervention in our most fundamental institutions is overwhelming and still growing. It is clear that more people will be indicted as Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE recently added three prosecutors to his team. This shows he anticipates more court trials than he may have originally expected.
The old World War II cartoon of Pogo stating “we have met the enemy and he is us” will therefore now take on a considerably more sinister meaning. But it is not unusual for that to happen when the country is ruled not by a self-proclaimed ‘stable genius” but by an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to take care of himself or his kingdom.
Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.