Image via George Papadopoulos’s LinkedIn account

Earlier today, three New York Times reporters, including the FBI’s go-to guy at the Times, Michael Schmidt (his reporting is referenced 13 times in Volume 2 of the Mueller report, he has been the lead author on 11 stories that seem to have come directly from James Comey, see An Amazing Trail Of James Comey Leaks To Be Cited In Complaint To Department Of Justice Inspector General) teamed up to write a pretty amazing report. It turns out that at least one member of the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, was targeted for spying, if not for a outright honey trap, by an FBI agent.

The conversation at a London bar in September 2016 took a strange turn when the woman sitting across from George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser, asked a direct question: Was the Trump campaign working with Russia?

The woman had set up the meeting to discuss foreign policy issues. But she was actually a government investigator posing as a research assistant, according to people familiar with the operation. The F.B.I. sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

The American government’s affiliation with the woman, who said her name was Azra Turk, is one previously unreported detail of an operation that has become a political flash point in the face of accusations by President Trump and his allies that American law enforcement and intelligence officials spied on his campaign to undermine his electoral chances. Last year, he called it Spygate.

The decision to use Ms. Turk in the operation aimed at a presidential campaign official shows the level of alarm inside the F.B.I. during a frantic period when the bureau was trying to determine the scope of Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 election, but could also give ammunition to Mr. Trump and his allies for their spying claims.

The hilarious part of the story is that the FBI seems to think that President Trump owes the FBI a debt of gratitude for sending an agent provocateur to try to finagle Papadopoulos into some significant admission of being a Russian agent.

Secrecy was paramount for the F.B.I. officials because of the sensitivities of investigating campaign advisers during a presidential race. Had the investigation into Trump advisers’ contacts with Russia become public, it could have devastated the Trump campaign. And top bureau officials were enduring fresh attacks over their handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Keep in mind that this is the same FBI that refused to give Trump a “defensive briefing” on suspicious and possibly foreign-influenced action by members of the campaigh and the same FBI that had an “insurance policy” against Trump being elected.

One of the agents involved in the Russia inquiry, a seasoned counterintelligence investigator out of New York, turned to Mr. Halper, whom he viewed as a reliable and trusted informant. They had a longstanding relationship; the agent had even spoken at an intelligence seminar that Mr. Halper taught at the University of Cambridge, discussing his work investigating a Russian espionage ring known as the illegals.

Thanks to the work of The Federalist, we know that the operation was headed by someone with a history of working with former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara:

The three agents publicly identified as speaking at that conference on the topic are George J. Ennis, Jr., Alan E. Kohler, Jr., and Stephen M. Somma. Ennis currently serves as the special agent in charge in the FBI’s New York office, according to his LinkedIn profile, and worked closely with Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, a virulent anti-Trump activist whom the president fired in 2017.

We know in 2009 that Ennis was working in a counterintelligence capacity based on this indictment, so odds are pretty good that a Bharara crony was calling the shots.

Another item is this. We know the intelligence community went crazy when Devin Nunes was trying to declassify some documents because of objections by one or more of our “Five Eyes” partners. The Alexander Downer contact with Papadopoulos seems to have Australian fingerprints on it but the operation took place in Britain. Halper was a British intelligences asset. Mifsud seems to have been on. Halper and Steele were acquaintances and Steele, of course, is a retired senior member of Britain’s MI6. This is how the article treats these coincidences:

The F.B.I. also decided to send Ms. Turk to take part in the operation, people familiar with it said, and to pose as Mr. Halper’s assistant. For the F.B.I., placing such a sensitive undertaking in the hands of a trusted government investigator was essential.

British intelligence officials were also notified about the operation, the people familiar with the operation said, but it was unclear whether they provided assistance. A spokeswoman for the British government declined to comment.

Can you honestly imagine an operation like this being staged in Britain and the Brits not providing logistics assistance and liaison? When one of their assets was involved?

And what did the operation produce? Nothing.

Some other interesting items:

Why now?

The DOJ IG is on the verge of releasing his report. This incident obviously figures in the report and, we can assume, the IG is not a huge fan of running spies into political campaigns. By going to Schmidt and the New York Times, the FBI is trying to put their spin on the story which is that the Trump campaign should thank them for the help and let that narrative settle in before the real story breaks.

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