The CIA extracted a longtime Kremlin asset from Russia in 2017 because of concerns that media reports would put him at risk, according to a New York Times report.
The story undercuts a key aspect of a report that CNN published earlier Monday about the CIA operation.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported that the CIA extracted the asset due in part to concerns about President Donald Trump’s handling of classified information. Sciutto, who served in the Obama administration, reported that the Russian source was removed soon after Trump met with Russian government officials in the Oval Office in May 2017. U.S. officials became concerned after that meeting that Trump and some in his administration might somehow reveal details about intelligence operations.
But according to The Times, the CIA offered to extract the asset in 2016, well before Trump took office.
The mole rejected the initial offer for exfiltration, but ultimately agreed to leave Russia in 2017, after the CIA raised concerns about increased media scrutiny of the sources the U.S. intelligence community used to determine that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
“But former intelligence officials said there was no public evidence that Mr. Trump directly endangered the source, and other current American officials insisted that media scrutiny of the agency’s sources alone was the impetus for the extraction,” the Times story reads.
“The news reporting in the spring and summer of 2017 convinced United States government officials that they had to update and revive their extraction plan, according to people familiar the matter.”
Several news reports in 2016 and 2017 referred to a covert source who provided information about Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. NBC News reported on Dec. 14, 2016 that Russian assets provided intelligence that Vladimir Putin directed the efforts to hack Democrats.
The day after the report, then-FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok wrote in a text message that he believed other U.S. agencies had leaked information for political reasons.
“Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive,” Strzok wrote.
The Washington Post published a story on June 23, 2017 that referred to the source.
According to The Times, the CIA recruited the source decades ago, and has cultivated him during his rise up through the Russian government. The source ended up as a mid-level government official, who had access to high levels of the Kremlin. The source was not in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, but saw the Russian president regularly.
NBC News reported that the source is living in the Washington, D.C., area under his true name.
Sciutto appeared on CNN shortly after The Times report broke. He acknowledge the new reporting that media requests were the catalyst for the exfiltration effort, but he maintained that the Times story confirmed his own reporting.
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