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By John Helmer, Moscow

James Bamford is forty years late in discovering that Israel not only spies against the US, but does so constantly and comprehensively, effectively escaping prosecution at the highest levels of government in Washington, and almost always lower down.   

Now almost 77 years of age, Bamford is not old enough to understand the reason for this is that the Israelis have managed a state capture in Washington that is longer lasting and more successful than the Ukrainians have pulled off for the Canadian government in Ottawa; or the Gupta brothers who took over the South African government in Pretoria. The last of these state captures was stopped in 2016 after just seven years.  

Still, Bamford has convinced the French publisher Hachette to print a news update of the Israeli takeover of the US government.  

The two of them reveal how exceptional they think this is by concealing the story over 215 pages (pp79-294) in the middle of Bamford’s 482-page book. Together, they have hidden any mention of Israel and its Zionist allies in the US from the dustjacket, flaps, and blurb on the outside of the book, and from the table of contents, chapter titles, and running page headers inside.  As disguise goes in spycraft, this is not so deep. It’s more a case of loss of nerve compounded by ignorance of the eighty-year history of Zionist operations which began in the White House of President Franklin Roosevelt.  

In Bamford’s subtitle – “Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence” — he presents an alibi and an excuse. No one is to blame except a handful of high-ranking officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) whom Bamford recommends retiring or discharging dishonourably. The excuse, according to Bamford’s tale, is that outwitted although the US security services may have been by the Israelis, the Americans have had one success – that’s the one against the Russians.

If the Israeli plots are facts with which Bamford excites readers as stranger than fiction, the Russian ones are fictions dressed up by his FBI, CIA and NSA sources to be stranger than facts. Most of them unidentified sources, natch.

Left: James Bamford as he portrays himself in his curent Wikipedia profile. Centre: Bamford as he portrays himself on the backflap of his book; the new book published on January 17, 2023.

The unidentified source is not the only problem of Bamford’s book.  For Bamford and his sources are a  symptom of the bigger problem which now infects, disables, and discredits much of what passes for investigative journalism in the US, one of the last holdouts for the practice in the English language – it having been wiped out already in England, Canada, and Australia, surviving only by the skin of its teeth in South Africa.

With the collapse of the mainstream media into state-financed propaganda, the commercial competitiveness of the alternative media produces reporters who have ceased to understand journalism as a collective business or a comradely union,  or a collaborative college as scientists and academics once formed to work together. Instead, Bamford demonstrates he is as commercially competitive with what he doesn’t know and hasn’t investigated, as he is proprietorially jealous of what he does know as if he’s the first to know it — when he isn’t.

This can be a personal psychopathology. More commonly, it is a market dynamic, exemplified most recently by Seymour Hersh and a supportive chorus of younger investigative reporters on both sides of the Atlantic as they attempted to turn a million Substack hits into $5 million in subscriber cash; and when that didn’t materialize, blamed the New York Times.   Follow that story here.  

Competition between these groups can be as turf-protective as the bosses, under-bosses, consiglieri, and capos are in mafia gangs,   and in the territories where they dictate  the  economic rules. Gangster markets are those where the surplus of commodities for sale at low production prices can only be reduced and profit margins raised by limiting the supply and killing off the producers. The bigger the volume of drugs, sex, or  investigative journalism,  and the more numerous the dealers, hookers, and investigative reporters in a market, the narrower the margin of profit will turn out to be – so the more anti-competitive, cartelized, oligarchic, and if need be, violent the groups calculate they should become in order to survive with any profit at all. In print,  journalists express this differently: with Hersh, for example,   Bamford has publicly celebrated their common sourcing and their “three decades of friendship”. This is a gangland identifier, like the special handshake or a tattoo.  

Bamford’s account of Israeli state espionage in the US, and of the political influence operations of the Zionist groups, brings a long and well-known story up to date through the administrations of President Donald Trump and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Although Bamford  makes a flashback to the 1985  case of  US Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard – the only American convicted and imprisoned for Israeli espionage in history – he ignores the US reporting of that time and of the years  preceding.  Bamford camouflages this by presenting himself as the first on the scene of Pollard’s arrest, which he has filled out with factoids like the “pair of shiny silver handcuffs slapped on his wrists” and “hysterical crying” from Pollard’s wife.  Bamford wasn’t on the scene at all; he is cribbing from the Israeli newspapers.  

Left: Claudia Wright’s report on more espionage at a higher US government level than Bamford is aware of; it was published in 1986 by the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG), Belmont, Massachusetts; the AAUG wound up in 2007. Right: published in February 2022, the first history of US espionage in the Arab world based on Arab sources.    

Bamford also knows nothing of the Arab-Israeli conflicts in Washington and in the Middle East  – or of the way in which those conflicts were fought inside the CIA’s analytical organization, as well as on the operational side, and between the Agency and the FBI.   

Bamford didn’t forget to check with Arab or Arab-American sources; it just didn’t occur to him that what they knew was relevant. US corporate, military, and political interests in the Arab (and Iranian) worlds were also of no relevance to Bamford. When he encountered Israeli agents with superiority complexes – one of them told him “I’m probably the highest-paid person in this field I want to say globally, outside  the US”  – it didn’t occur to the intrepid reporter to double or cross-check.

Bamford thinks that what the Israelis and Zionists have been doing in the US is unlawful spying at worst,  unlawful failure to register as a foreign agent at best. In between,  he documents wire fraud, forgery, extortion, bribery, larceny, racketeering, conspiracy, and  other indictable crimes. On the other hand, the Israelis and the Zionists think what they are doing serves US state and their common interests of the geopolitical and strategic kind, as well as the election and re-election calculations of congressmen, senators, and presidents.

Both of them are correct in their way. But Bamford’s way is impotence —  he proves it by the strangest concealment ever published of half his book. If Bamford seriously contemplates a method for combating Israeli and Zionist influence in the US, he is admitting by his concealment that this cannot be a method Americans can develop and employ for themselves in Washington or anywhere else in the country.   

Accordingly, the combat must be up to the Arabs and the Iranians on the Middle Eastern battlefield. But that’s a step and a fight too far, too much for Bamford. The US-Israeli partnership in the liquidation of every secular political leader of the Arabs since 1943 isn’t something Bamford finds fault with. It’s also clear he has no objection to the US-Israeli partnership in the destruction of Bashar al-Assad’s  Syria. That was succeeding too until 2015 – when the Russian army intervened to save Assad.

Russia is America’s enemy, Bamford is quite sure of that. He claims the war in the Ukraine “had been touched off by Russia’s seizure of Crimea”. What happened next, he says, was that “pro-Russian protests broke out in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine and Russian forces moved in, launching a war of occupation.” Bamford is also certain that what followed was that in January 2016 Putin ordered “a covert war” including cyberattacks on Ukrainian nuclear power stations, Ukrainian financial infrastructure,  Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, “a coup attempt to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO”, and to top it all off, “a takeover of Ukraine”. In Bamford’s judgement, the Russians have proved to be only as good at this as “the NSA’s prize cyberweapons” which they had stolen because of faulty NSA security and lazy leadership.

Bamford describes several of the offices in Moscow of signals intelligence units of the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU. “The elite hackers”, he reports for instance, “were based at…a rambling, multiblock-long structure not far from the former home of Leo Tolstoy, an elegant wooden house with green roof and shutters behind an orange fence.” This is how factoids (“not far” from the truth) substitute for facts (the real “green and orange” thing). Bamford doesn’t say how, or from what source, he knows the addresses of the GRU’s spy units. The colours of Tolstoy’s roof and fence are a convincing irrelevance.

But his confidence in much more than Tolstoy’s decoration reveals “the CIA’s most secret and highest-ranking spy in the Kremlin”. This is Bamford’s story of Oleg Smolenkov whom he credits as the CIA’s source, and also Bamford’s, for details of a Montenegro putsch plot as well as “Moscow’s interference in the US election as well as critical intelligence on Ukraine.” Smolenkov, concludes Bamford, was the US government’s “key and irreplaceable Kremlin spy”. There are no FBI, CIA, NSA,  or other US government sources for these claims. Instead, Bamford cites the Guardian, Times of London, Washington Post,  Time, NBC Television, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and two US and NATO propaganda platforms,  Radio Free Europe and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. (For the meaning of “investigative” in this network and in his Montenegro story-telling, Bamford failed to follow this money trail.)  

Smolenkov had been a junior diplomat in the Russian Embassy in Washington from 2006 when Yury Ushakov was the ambassador (1998-2008). After Ushakov returned to Moscow and became the foreign policy advisor to the President (2012),  Smolenkov joined as a junior member of Ushakov’s staff. In detailing what intelligence sources revealed about Smolenkov’s rank and access to Kremlin intelligence, the Bellingcat organization of NATO has failed to identify when Smolenkov had been recruited;  what intelligence access he had in Moscow;  and when he was removed from his post – as the Kremlin later claimed.  

Bamford tries harder: “Among the most critical information [Smolenkov] passed on was the fact that Putin had directly ordered the hacking and release of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and [Hillary] Clinton emails.” Bamford cites no source for this claim. For his additional claim that Smolenkov had been recruited as a double agent in Washington (after he had been charged with a reckless driving offence in 2006) but before Ushakov returned to Moscow, Bamford also cites no source.

However, Bamford missed his own evidence that for as long the decade  between 2006 and 2016, Smolenkov had been reporting to the CIA what he saw, heard, or read, and what his Agency handlers wanted to know. However, from all of that Bamford has managed to discover from its “most secret and highest-ranking spy” was that in 2016 Putin had approved doing what the Russian secret  servces could do to damage Clinton. Some secret.

Apparently, Smolenkov didn’t know or failed to report that in 2009 Putin had overseen a plan to persuade, then bribe Clinton to ensure her approval of the sale of General Motors’ Opel car works in Germany to Oleg Deripaska’s Russian Machines (GAZ) holding and Sberbank – and that after taking the money Clinton had reneged on the deal.  That Putin distrusted and detested Clinton for at least seven years before the presidential campaign year the president made public at the time. This is missing, however,  from the Smolenkov dossier and from the Bamford book.

When Putin followed the US putsch against the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich with the Crimean operation;  the start of the battle for the Donbass; the plan for a NATO military operation there after the Ukrainians shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17;  and the German-French deception operation in the Minsk accord negotiations in 2015 –  before, during and after each of these key events,  Smolenkov was in the dark himself; the CIA likewise then; Bamford still.  Believe them, and you have just bought your ticket for Ripley’s Believe or Not.  

Bamford also fails to address the Russian reports, including remarks by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, hinting that Smolenkov’s duplicity had been detected by Russian counter-intelligence before the CIA decided in December of 2016 to organize his exfiltration and escape to the expensive mansion which had been prepared for him in Virginia.

Left: Oleg Smolenkov; Russian journalists  investigating what he did on the Ushakov staff in Moscow report he was responsible for Ushakov’s travel logistics and meeting preparations.  Centre, a copy of Smolenkov’s Virginia court record of a reckless driving charge in June 2006 just before he started working for the CIA.   Right, Frank Figliuzzi who retired from the FBI in mid-2012 as the head of the counterintelligence division when the CIA may have been keeping Smokenkov’s recruitment secret from him. That was years before the FBI arrested Maria Butina as a Russian spy in what Bamford reports, and Figliuzzi confirms, was a fabrication.

American master spy or Russian baggage handler?

Bamford draws the conclusion that press leaks from CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper had exposed Smolenkov in Moscow, and caused his exit. “Now the United States had no one in the Kremlin to warn if President Putin should ever decide to turn those threats into reality. That criticial loss [of Smolenkov] made Putin the ultimate winner in Russiagate. Yet despite the enormous security breach, there was apparently no investigation…In the intelligence community, it seems, it is only the low-level whistleblowers, like Chelsea Manning, who get investigated and prosecuted.” About Smolenkov this is Bamford assuming what the investigative journalist should have proved, but didn’t.  

Instead, responded Kremlin spokesman Peskov in 2019, “all these discussions of the American media about who [CIA] urgently took out whom [Smolenkov], from whom he saved, and so on – this, you know, is a genre, or rather pulp it’s pulp fiction. So let’s leave it to their imagination.”  

Bamford presents his own interviews on the Christopher Steele dossier against Trump and the arrest and imprisonment of Maria Butina (July 2018-October 2019) to conclude in the new book that the papers from Steele and his sources  “lacked even the slightest verification”; and that the Butina case had been fabricated by the FBI’s counterintelligence division because it was “awash in scandals, failures, and lack of results, and desperate to get positive headlines to show their relevance during Russiagate [so] the counterspies quickly grabbed for the low-hanging fruit: Maria Butina.”

The evidence against her had been faked, a CIA source told Bamford anonymously. “They [FBI] want to generate headlines. They don’t care if the information is credible or not… Bank robbers, kidnappers, fraud, embezzlement, they’re very good at it. But when it gets into the espionage realm, they’re rank amateurs. I feel sorry for Butina; she got caught up in this whole vortex.” This is no scoop; it isn’t newsworthy.

Bamford concludes the book with an apology for the prosecution of Butina from his FBI source, Frank Figliuzzi, former head of the Bureau’s counterintelligence division. “I am troubled and hope there is a full inquiry,” Figliuzzi said. “The question is whether this is conveniwent ineptitude or something far deeper…there is the possibility [that] the assertions were so irresponsible that they [FBI agents, Justice Department prosecutors] that they were acting ‘outside the scope’”.

There has been no “full inquiry”, and Figliuzzi has come to a different conclusion since Bamford’s book was published. Calling the fresh indictment  of a former FBI agent for illegally working for sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Figliuzzi said on January 26:    “The accusations are a gut punch to those of us who worked with McGonigal [Charles McGonigal, whom Figliuzzi supervised in the FBI counter-intelligence division in 2010-2012] and to everyone in the U.S. intelligence community. Yet, it’s essential to set emotions aside and examine how best to think about this case, just as the agents and prosecutors assigned to this investigation must be doing now… his case is a stark reminder that the U.S. has adversaries – particularly Russia and China — whose intelligence services start each day intent on penetrating our intelligence services and damaging our national security. In this case, Russia may have done just that. For those who claim that Russia is our friend, or that Vladimir Putin is to be emulated, or that we should stop supporting the free people of Ukraine in their war with Russia– this case is a wake-up call that we are in a battle — sometimes covertly — with a hostile adversary.”

This isn’t a new wake-up call. It’s an old soporific. It’s spy phooey.

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