Another 17 Moments of Spring

“17 Moments of Spring” is very Russian. Very, very Russian. It was the most popular television serial since its release in 1973, and its broadcasts are typically associated with increased demands on power stations and severe drops in criminal activity. Everyone is glued to their televisions, fascinated by the KGB-produced spy thriller.

The main character, Maxim Isaev a.k.a. Max Otto von Stierlitz, is no James Bond. James Bond is far too jovial and carefree for the idealized KGB agent that Stierlitz exemplifies. The series focuses on minutiae, careful analysis of documents, meticulous interrogations, and has scenes where the main characters simply show facial reactions to replayed tapes of bugged meetings or where they exchange silent glances – one of those scenes goes on for six entire minutes. Americans would lose their mind with those kinds of demands on their attention spans. Russians can’t get enough of it.

This brings me to the events swirling around the Trump administration regarding members of his campaign making inappropriate contacts with Russians. One revelation has Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, working with Russian Ambassador to the USA, Sergey Kislyak, to create a back channel of communications to Moscow involving specialized Russian gear, designed to evade detection by US intelligence. Yet, the revelation came from Kislyak using a channel that US intelligence monitored. US Senator Lindsey Graham said that that doesn’t add up. Why would they go to all that effort to set up a back channel only to essentially announce it to US intelligence?

Watch “17 Moments of Spring”, Mr. Graham. In spite of numerous inaccuracies, it does nail down one key element – the mind of a Russian spy. It was, after all, produced by the KGB as a sort of “Top Gun”, entertainment designed to improve their image. Why would Kislyak do those things? To set a trap, of course.

Kislyak may even be reprimanded by his superiors, just to make things look even better, but it’s clear that they drew Kushner out, played him like the amateur he is, and then arranged for evidence of his being unfit to hold a security clearance to fall into the hands of US intelligence, thereby discrediting an advocate of neo-conservatism in Trump’s inner circle. The Russians are quite happy to have isolationist Steve Bannon whispering in Trump’s ear. That’s the guy that at least does not increase pressure on Russia, if not relieve it. Kushner, who the US media once seemed to look at as a moderating influence on Trump, was also more in alignment with neocons like Graham in keeping the USA involved on the global stage.

And now we see why Graham is scratching his head in public. He wants Kushner to stay close to Trump, so that he can keep Bannon at bay. But, leaked facts are facts… if Kushner has scored an own-goal with his zeal in setting up a back channel of communications with Russia during the transition period… he can’t have that security clearance… he can remain an advisor, sure, but he will have to read a lot of newspapers, because he won’t be getting any more security briefings.

When the USA meddled in Ukraine’s politics, it was obvious that the USA was toppling a pro-Russian leader and getting a pro-USA guy in there. It was so obvious, we even knew that Joe Biden’s son was on the board of directors of the fracking company that was about to set up operations in the Donbass region. Russia’s reaction was threefold: retake the Crimea and make it part of Russia; start a pro-Russian rump state in the Donbass, and; return the favor of election meddling to the USA.

Part of intelligence is the art of finding conaspirational individuals who will further some of your ends, even if they oppose your ultimate goal. In “17 Moments”, Stierlitz is able to play Martin Bormann against the influence of Heinrich Himmler. In real life, I’m sure Russian agents were able to influence men in the FBI and CIA to go down certain paths of action that served well their ends. That’s just what Russian agents do.

But this case with Trump is almost comical in its dimensions. It’s certainly a laughing-stock. And, sadly, jokes once used to mock the seriousness of the series and Stierlitz’ razor-thin escapes now fit perfectly on the Trump administration. I will close with one:

Donald Trump is meeting with his National Security Council. Sergey Kislyak enters the room with a cookie platter. Kislyak places the platter on the table, opens a safe, removes all the documents, waves bye-bye, then leaves.
Secretary of Defense shouts, “What the hell was that?”
Donald Trump says, “That was Sergey Kislyak, spying for the Russians again.”
Secretary of Defense: “Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
Trump: “I’ve tried in the past, but he always manages to wriggle out. Not worth the effort going after him… Must say, though, he did bring us all cookies…”

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