Russian intelligence targeted Hillary Clinton before she became secretary of state in 2009, FBI documents show.
New FBI information about corruption in a Clinton-approved uranium deal with Russia raises questions about Clinton’s actions after the FBI broke up a deep-cover Russian spy ring in 2010.
For a decade, the FBI ran an operation called Ghost Stories to monitor and rip apart a deep-cover Russian agent network. Ghost Stories tracked a ring Russian spies who lived between Boston and Washington, D.C., under false identities. It was one of the FBI’s most elaborate and successful counterintelligence operations in history.
After the FBI arrested 10 of the spies in June, 2010, Secretary of State Clinton worked feverishly to return the Russian agents to Moscow in a hastily arranged, lopsided deal with Putin.
It all happened as the uranium deal was in play: An arrangement to provide Moscow’s state Rosatom nuclear agency with 20 percent of American uranium capacity, with $145,000,000 to pour into the Clinton Family Foundation and its projects.
For the Clintons, the FBI’s biggest counterintelligence bust in history couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The day the FBI arrested the Russian agents, on June 28, 2010, the day before the secretary of state’s husband, Bill Clinton, was to give a speech in Moscow. A Kremlin-connected investment bank, Renaissance Capital, paid the former president $500,000 for the hour-long appearance.
An unnamed Hillary Clinton spokesman told ABC News that there was “no reason to think the Secretary was a target of this spy ring.”
That was a lie.
State Department spokesman Phil Gordon brushed off the spy ring as old news: “I don’t think anyone was hugely shocked to know that some vestiges of old attempts to use intelligence are still there.” Breaking the spy network, he said, was “a law enforcement action.” Gordon’s implication was that it had nothing to do with the department Clinton headed.
That didn’t explain why Clinton stayed silent and worked hard to return the 10 spies back to Moscow, before any could be put on trial or turned by the FBI. Or why Clinton settled for a very poor bargain in a one-sided spy swap. But other evidence does.
FBI says Russian spies targeted Hillary Clinton in 2008
Redacted evidence that the FBI submitted to a federal court shows that Russia’s External Intelligence Service (SVR), the former KGB First Chief Directorate, targeted Clinton in 2008 and tried to burrow into her inner circle the next year when she was secretary of state. (Press reports often confuse Russia’s main internal security entity, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, with the SVR.)
The SVR spy ring was no old “vestige” from Soviet times that was “still there.” It was a network of younger agents emplaced long after the Soviet collapse. The FBI considers it one of an unknown number of deep, expensive, thorough networks to penetrate and influence the United States government for generations.
Under the code name Operation Ghost Stories, the FBI had been working the ring for a decade. Its targets had burrowed in along the Acela Corridor between Boston, New York, and Washington DC. They lived normal daily lives as Americans to attend universities, run businesses, marry, and conceive and raise children to infiltrate society and subvert government institutions. One of the SVR agents had stolen the identity of a six week-old Canadian baby who had died in 1963. That prompted the Ghost Stories code name. The ring inspired the FX network’s television series, “The Americans.”
As with any secretary of state, Hillary Clinton would be a primary target under any circumstance. But she was much more. She was a known quantity: predictable, vain and ruthless, and with an insatiable desire for cash to enrich her family, friends, and political machine. Blindly ambitious to become president of the world’s only superpower and swearing to come back after losing in 2008 to Barack Obama, she was the 21st century KGB’s perfect mark.
As professional as it had been as the KGB’s espionage division, the SVR invests heavily in long-term human intelligence. The SVR’s crown jewel is its global network of deep-cover agents that it calls “illegals.” Illegals live under presumed identities, without official diplomatic status that would protect them from arrest.
From New York, SVR agent Lidiya Guryeva had Clinton in her sights. Guryeva had a real-life job, under the assumed name Cynthia Murphy, as vice president of a high-end tax services company in lower Manhattan. Guryeva’s prime targets, FBI evidence and later news reports show, were Clinton and no fewer than five members of her inner circle.
Guryeva was far more important than a fellow agent would become the most famous member of the spy ring. The publicity would go to Anna Vasilyevna Kushchenko, who after her arrest would be become a glamourous spy princess under her married name, Anna Chapman.
While the FBI’s unclassified information is vague, it is clear that Guryeva’s target was an early Obama administration member from New York who handled foreign policy after having run for high-level public office. Clinton is the only person fitting that description.
Clinton became secretary of state on January 21, 2009. Two weeks later, on February 3, Guryeva sent an encrypted message to the SVR’s Moscow Center. The agent reported “several work-related meetings” with a New York-based “financier” who was “prominent in politics,” an “active fundraiser” for a major political party whose name the FBI redacted, and “a personal friend” of an Obama cabinet official whom the FBI did not publicly identify. Guryeva told her bosses that she would seek to use that personal friend to “provide” inside information on American foreign policy and the White House, and invite her to major political events.
Politico first identified the financier as Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist who had been finance chairman of Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign from New York, and co-chair of her 2008 presidential campaign. Guryeva’s tax services company had Patricof’s firm as a client. After the arrest, when faced with news reports that he was one of the spy targets, Patricof did what any innocent person would do: He immediately told the press his side of the story and said he had no idea that the person he knew as Cynthia Murphy was actually a Russian spy.
Living under deep cover, illegals take targets of opportunity. FBI evidence to the federal court showed that Guryeva discussed with her husband, also an SVR spy, about whether she should infiltrate the State Department. Guryeva expressed concerns that she would fail a background investigation. So she considered approaching others to gain internal access indirectly.
The Guryev couple’s espionage job, the FBI said, would be “to begin targeting other people, who can be recruited as sources on behalf of Moscow Center.”
Guryeva and her husband would sell their New Jersey house and follow Clinton to the nation’s capital. There, she could get a job with a Washington, DC-based company or policy shop. A tasking message dated October 18, 2009, from Moscow Center sought agents to seek out information “unknown publicly but revealed in private by sources close to State Department, Government, major think tanks.”
As the FBI told the court, “the SVR requested information on the U.S. position with respect to a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, Afghanistan, and Iran’s nuclear program.” Moscow Center specifically asked Guryeva for intelligence concerning “approaches and ideas” of what the FBI called “four names of sub-cabinet United States foreign policy officials, omitted,” meaning that all four were deputies to Secretary Clinton whose identities had been redacted.
So we see the SVR target list developing: Clinton, four of her deputies, her former top fundraiser and presidential campaign co-chairman, and influential foreign policy people in Washington.
Hillary Clinton’s interests in Russia when Russians targeted her
All normal activity for the SVR or any other intelligence agency. Now, let’s see what Clinton was doing at the time.
Clinton pledged at Foggy Bottom to “reset” relations with the Putin-controlled regime. She blamed the former George W. Bush administration for the bad feelings. To the Kremlin’s relief, she opposed what would become the Magnitsky Act to sanction Russian criminal oligarchs and regime figures. Weeks into her tenure as secretary, she told Russian television, “our goal is to help strengthen Russia.”
She immediately used her position as America’s top diplomat to pour Russia-related money into her family foundation. One of her earliest acts as secretary of state was personally to authorize the State Department to arrange for 28 American tech CEOs and venture capitalists – 17 of them Clinton Foundation donors – to visit a Russian high-tech hub called Skolkovo. With Skolkovo, the SVR doesn’t need to steal when it can arrange legal purchases. The US military calls Skolkovo “an overt alternative to clandestine industrial espionage.” The Skolkovo visit, which reportedly began as a Clinton Foundation initiative, occurred in May, 2010, a month before the arrests.
Four days before the FBI would break up the ring, on June 24, Obama personally met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, to coordinate billions of dollars in deals with Kremlin-affiliated businesses. Putin held power behind the scenes as prime minister, between his terms as president.
At the time, Obama was pushing a bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which it argued would help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And, subject to Clinton’s approval, the Russians were in the process of taking control of Uranium One – and taking one-fifth of America’s annual uranium output.
The Government Accountability Institute’s Peter Schweizer discovered the Clinton connection to the Kremlin-connected investment bank and to the approval of US uranium to the agency that controls Russia’s nuclear warhead production. Stakeholders in Uranium One, Schweizer found, would pump $145 million into the Clinton foundation and its sponsored projects.
So Hillary Clinton was mining Kremlin cash for her personal benefit while secretary of state, at the exact time Putin’s SVR spies were targeting her and penetrating her inner circle. She had every personal motivation to make the spy problem disappear and deny that she had been a target.
Once the FBI broke the ring on June 28, 2010, attorney general Eric Holder said that the sudden arrests were to prevent one of the spies from fleeing the United States. FBI counterintelligence chief Frank Figliuzzi later shared a different reason: “We were becoming very concerned they were getting close enough to a sitting US cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue.”
There is logic to the FBI’s reasoning. Normally the FBI would want to keep its prizes to knock them out of the spy business for good, or to turn some of them, or to use them as bargaining chips. There is no counterintelligence reason to hand them over in a bad deal. The previous big spy swap with Moscow had been under President Reagan, carefully orchestrated for years, back in 1985. The US exchanged four Soviet bloc spies for five Polish prisoners and 20 alleged American spies in the Soviet bloc. There can also be diplomatic reasons to hang on to captured spies as leverage in negotiations.
Hillary wanted the spy ring issue to disappear fast
Clinton didn’t want leverage. She wanted the issue to go away. She toiled feverishly to get the 10 Ghost Stories spies back to Moscow as quickly as possible. She accepted whatever Putin would give her to pass off as a face-saving swap.
She folded America’s strong hand of cards. The US had ten relatively young, highly trained Russian spies in custody with immense, fresh knowledge of SVR statecraft. A normal secretary of state would bide her time and get the best deal.
The State Department coordinated quickly with the Kremlin to return the spies in a lopsided swap over a busy Fourth of July weekend, when few in Washington were paying attention.
In return, the US accepted an SVR officer who had been an American double agent, an open-source researcher whom Amnesty International considered a political prisoner, a Russian military intelligence colonel who spied for the British, and an elderly ex-KGB man from Soviet times whom not even a Communist court convicted of treason.
All the while, in a separate investigation that John Solomon and Sara Carter separately revealed this week, the FBI was probing Russians involved with the pending Uranium One deal on a range of corruption issues.
The bottom line
So here are the key facts: The FBI found that Russian intelligence had targeted Hillary Clinton before and during her time as secretary of state. Clinton’s spokespersons denied that this was so. Clinton opposed the Magnitsky sanctions on officials tied to Putin. After her husband received a half-million dollars in Moscow from a Kremlin-connected investment bank, Clinton moved with unusual speed to whisk the ring of 10 Russian spies out of the country and back to Moscow. She had the lopsided swap take place over a long summer weekend, before the FBI was finished with the spies, and before the spies could stand trial. While the FBI was separately investigating Russians involved with buying Uranium One, she approved the sale of American uranium to Russia’s nuclear weapons agency. Principals in the sale then plowed $145 million into her family foundation and projects.
Several questions come to mind. Precisely what did the FBI know about Russia’s spy service targeting Hillary Clinton and her inner circle? Why did Clinton deny through spokespersons that she had been a Russian target? Why did she work so feverishly to get the spies out of the United States and back to Russia? Why has the FBI leadership not been more vocal in touting one of its greatest counterintelligence successes ever? And why did nobody in the FBI leadership raise this issue during the 2016 Russian election meddling controversy?
Michael Waller is a vice president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC. His 1994 book, Secret Empire: The KGB In Russia Today, predicted the former KGB’s takeover of Russia’s political and economic system.