How does an enemy agent turn a decorated General, a patriot, an authentic American hero, into a traitor? What goes through the mind of a trusted, high ranking military officer as he sells out his country to a hostile foreign power?
The saga of General Michael Flynn reminded me of a movie from more than 50 years ago.
The Great Escape, the film, was based on an actual event in World War II, as captured allied soldiers tunneled out of a German prison camp in a massive break. Most were re-captured. Many of those captured were executed on orders from Hitler in what became an infamous war crime. But they succeeded in tying up resources of the Nazi war machine.
The escape could probably not have happened without the cooperation of a few German guards. These were not bold military men putting themselves into harm’s way out of deeply held principle. Most were enticed, little by little. The film illustrated what accounts in the real spy world tell us are classic methods of inducement. Bribery, flattery, playing on resentments. Most important, the steps must be incremental. Start small and aim high.
A prisoner played by James Garner befriends a young, earnest guard with chocolates and conversation. The break comes when he picks the young man’s pocket and acquires the prison guard’s wallet. The aim is not as much contents of the wallet as it is the desperation of the young man.
Robert Hendley: What’s the matter, Werner?
Private Werner: My wallet, my papers, my identity card. Gone. I lost them. Everything.
Hendley: (explaining to another prisoner) He lost his wallet. Do you realize what would happen if Strachwitz found this out? The Russian front.
Werner: I’ve looked every place, every place. I must have lost them while I was in here.
Hendley: Look, I told you we were friends. We’ll find them. I’ll find them. I promise you I’ll find them if I have to tear this room apart.
Werner: Oh, Thank you ! !
[About to leave]
Hendley: Oh Werner! There is…
Little things, a candy bar and conversation, lead to a lost wallet, which leads to a camera, which leads to travel papers for use in the coming escape. The papers lead to more. If his superiors find out, Werner is in for some very tough times. At each step, young Werner is safe … as long as he cooperates in something a little bigger, then a little bigger than that.
I wonder if something similar, some small item, was amplified over time, as Major André went to work on his American victim.
An American general can’t be turned easily, not one who has distinguished himself in combat, rallying troops against what seemed like hopeless odds to win two important battles. In one case he was partially drenched in his own blood. He nearly lost a leg. Yet he and his men prevailed.
Resentment had to play a part. He felt betrayed by the leader of our country. He had been passed over by a half dozen officers who had nowhere near his record of bravery or victory. Major André played on those resentments.
Then there was the faltering lifestyle, sustained by debt. Offering cash payments is a delicate business. André’s success will be required reading for anyone with an interest in how patriots can be subverted.
Major André is long gone, but Russian Ambassador and top spy Sergey Kislyak has many of the same skills. He met numerous times with Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner. But his greatest success seems to have been the turning of American general Michael Flynn.
The parallels are striking.
Military heroism and skill are there.
General Flynn saw combat in Grenada, then helped turn military intelligence into a modern force. President Obama eventually put him in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
And, of course, there was the same seething resentment toward the leader of our country.
It was as Director of Intelligence that his career took a nosedive. He gained a reputation for hasty conclusions supported by hazy or entirely made-up facts. His subordinates called his insistent interpretations “Flynn Facts.” His reports became the stuff of fantasy. In the end he was forced out.
In his mind, President Obama had put him into a high position of authority, only to turn on him. It wasn’t fair.
At the Republican National Convention, his bitterness toward all things connected with Obama was on full display. His rage at Hillary Clinton was palpable. We watch on video: General Flynn gives his speech as if it is ALL IN CAPS. You can almost feel the angry spittle hit the inside of your screen.
What was not known by most was that resentment, money, and Russian spymaster Sergey Kislyak had formed a decisive chemistry. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled to him through corporate channels, speakers’ bureaus, and a Danish shell company. He became a secret paid agent, first of Russia, then of Turkey. His views took a radical turn toward both.
At one point, he huddled with Turkish agents to talk about the best way to kidnap an Islamic cleric who was critical of the Turkish government and was living in exile in the United States.
In all, while he was advising Donald Trump on National Security, attending meetings involving classified issues, he was secretly on and off and on the payroll of foreign governments. The fact that he was a foreign agent was still a secret when he was formally named as National Security Adviser. By then, the small payments had led to larger payments, and had built up to more than half a million dollars.
Personally, I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican Chair of the Investigating Committee, April 25, 2017
What was worse than the payments was that he had kept them secret. The Russians knew about them. President Trump, presumably did not. At least at first. Secrets can lead to threats of exposure.
Hendley: Look, I told you we were friends. We’ll find them. I promise you I’ll find them if I have to tear this room apart.
Werner: Oh, Thank you ! !
Hendley: There is…
And so, as Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned, then later testified, General Flynn became vulnerable to greater and greater blackmail.
Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromised situation, a situation where the National Security Adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.
– Sally Yates, in sworn testimony, May 8, 2017
General Flynn was, for a second time, forced out of government service, weeks after Sally Yates carried her warning to the White House.
The skillful Russian master spy, Sergey Kislyak, has diplomatic immunity. The master spy from long ago, Major John André, did not. Without that immunity, at considerable personal risk, Major André manipulated the seething resentments harbored by his victim, and was able to use his crushing financial situation.
Even exploiting those weakness, considerable skill had to have been applied by the British Agent. In the end, General Arnold turned over plans detailing the American military post at West Point, along with suggestions of how enemy forces could defeat the American defenders.
British Major John André was caught by the Americans, tried, and eventually hanged. Benedict Arnold escaped and lived out his years in London.
There is some speculation, but only speculation, that President Trump is himself vulnerable to old information Vladimir Putin now possesses: records of massive money laundering and videotapes from stays at Moscow hotels run by the modern version of the old KGB.
Respect for the office of President requires skepticism at the most extravagant claims until actual facts are produced. In a free society, official investigations have, in the past, combined with a free press to eventually get behind the curtain of cover-up, to reveal truth. We can have some faith, perhaps more hope than faith, that the pattern will hold.
What we know now is that, on May 10, 2017, President Trump met in the Oval Office with modern spymaster, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Ambassador Kislyak brought with him the Russian hardline Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, high-tech cameras and equipment, and a photographer from the Russian News Agency TASS. That’s the same TASS that, for decades, was the official Soviet news agency. American news cameras were barred from the meeting.
At that meeting, in a moment of impulsive bravado, the leader of the free world offered this boast: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” Then he offered a free sample of secret high level information.
The information came from a foreign country, most reports say Israel. The country of origin asked only that the classified information be withheld from other countries, especially Russia, Russia being a close ally of Israel’s enemies. Israeli agents who have infiltrated terrorist groups are already in harm’s way. Apparently, Israel does not want to have them exposed by enemies of Israel.
The Presidential boast and the top level information was a startling breach of trust. The President of the United States had casually revealed sensitive information to back up a brag that could have been issued by any longtime occupant of a corner stool at a neighborhood bar. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” The continuous presidential craving for approval must be met at any cost.
Word is that Israeli officials regard the boasting as a betrayal of their agents, information that may lead to their identities, then to death.
I was especially struck by the telephone contact that provoked the meeting in the White House. A few days earlier, Russian ruler Vladimir Putin had made a personal request, just one … small … favor, that President Trump invite to the Oval Office Russian spymaster Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a TASS photographer, and all the camera and associated equipment that could be carried in.
Hendley: Oh Werner! There is
And our President did not hesitate.
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