When I was a young FBI special agent assigned to the New York field office working on a foreign counterintelligence squad, another agent asked me if I wanted to meet Dr. Death. Of course I did, and I soon found myself shaking hands with Robert Hanssen, the notorious American spy.
Hanssen was called Dr. Death by fellow agents because of his affinity for black suits and his Frankensteinesque appearance. Little did we know. My duties included sitting on wiretaps, surveilling Soviets in New York on diplomatic assignments who were KGB or GRU agents, following the money, and, on one occasion, a little undercover work. In the world of espionage I was on the defensive team. Our job was to shut them down. It was often not glamorous. Whoever heard of the GRU (Soviet military intelligence)? You can imagine my surprise when, after all these years, the GRU made the headlines and there was talk in the news of Russian compounds outside of American cities. Nothing new to me. And when BuzzFeed made the now-infamous dossier on President Trump public, boy, did I jump on that. So what does this old Cold Warrior think? Well, plenty.
What struck me the most about the dossier was the description of methods used by the Russians in regard to potential recruitment of the target as an asset and to move money. My initial thought was that after all these years, nothing has changed. It was very familiar. I know nothing more than you do as to whether or not the allegations are true (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants an investigation into whether Trump can be blackmailed over what's alleged in the dossier). It's my opinion that some details aren't and there is a good chance some are. I base that on the reputation of the source of the dossier, the former MI6 agent now in hiding and the fact that our intelligence agencies made the call to add a two-page synopsis of the allegations to their classified report sent to President Obama and then President-elect Trump. Believe me, this was not a decision made lightly.
When making an assessment about the allegations, keep in mind that with regard to intelligence work the standards of proof and verification are not the same as in a court of law or in journalism. It is impossible to meet those standards due to the necessary protection of sources. It is literally life or death in many cases, and there is no witness protection program. You need your sources to be able to continue to function as conduits of information. The goal isn't arrest and conviction in a court of law. It is to impartially weigh the information, assess the risks, and shut down activity harmful to the interests of the United States.
The recent disclosure of the arrests in Russia of FSB agent Sergei Mikhailov, working in the Center for Information Security (cyberintelligence branch), and Ruslan Stoyanov, a private sector security expert are cause for concern. The FSB is the successor to the KGB. Do these arrests point to the veracity of some of the information leaked in the dossier? I don't get shivers often, but I did when I heard about these arrests.
It is imperative to confirm or refute President Trump's ties to Putin. We have to make every effort to know if the Trump campaign was involved with Russia to tip the election away from Hillary Clinton and toward Trump. We know it made Putin a happy man when Trump won the Electoral College and therefore the presidency. We know Trump seems a bit too cozy for comfort with his Russian pal, as does his secretary of State. If, after a full investigation, what we fear is proved wrong, we will at least know Putin is not unduly influencing the man in the Oval Office. If confirmed, we have an obligation to ourselves, all Western democracies and future generations to act immediately upon confirmation.
With the constant daily stream of chaos emerging from the Trump White House, with outrageous executive orders attempting to change the very concept of what America means, we cannot lose sight of the investigations underway in the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. With all the balls Trump throws in the air to distract, keep your eye on these investigations. Support the bipartisan efforts to get to the bottom of this most crucial question. Contact your senators and representatives to let them know you want answers based on real facts. We cannot afford to settle for less.
SUSAN SURFTONE is a musician and just released the EP The Magician.