The New York Times reported in a bombshell report on Friday the Central Intelligence Agency agreed to pay a shady Russian operative with ties to Russian intelligence agencies $1 million for promising to return stolen National Security Agency cyber-weapons and deliver dirt on President Donald Trump.
What are the details?
During a meeting with the Russian in a Berlin hotel room last September, American spies handed over $100,000 as the first installment of the $1 million payout after he agreed to return cyber-weapons the NSA had used to break into Russian and Chinese intelligence networks.
A few weeks later, the Russian began handing over data, the Times reported. However, instead of secret NSA tools, the Russian seemed only interested in delivering compromising information on Trump, his associates and supporters.
The Russian provided the CIA with multiple deliveries between October and December "almost all of what he delivered was related to the 2016 election and alleged ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia, not the NSA or CIA hacking tools," according to the Times.
That compromising information included an audio-less 15 second video that purportedly showed Trump with two prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013, evidence that would seem to corroborate parts of the Christopher Steele dossier. However, as the Times noted, the video is "unverified and possibly fabricated" while the information about Trump associates was either unverified, fabricated or already in the public domain.
In December, the Russian told an American businessman in Berlin — serving as an intermediary between the CIA and the Russian — he was holding out on the NSA tools at the request of senior Russian intelligence officials.
Earlier this year, American spies gave the Russian an ultimatum: start working for the American government by following through with the agreed deal or go back to Russia and never return to Europe.
"The Russian did not give it much thought. He took a sip of the cranberry juice he was nursing, picked up his bag and said, 'Thank you.' Then he walked out the door," the Times explained of the final encounter.
What did U.S. intelligence agencies say?
The CIA and NSA refused to comment on the record, but U.S. intelligence officials who knew about the deal told the Times agents ended negotiations because they were "fearful of political fallout in Washington if they were seen to be buying scurrilous information on the president." They were also wary about participating in what seemed like a Russian operation to creation increased political discord in the U.S.
From the Times:
American intelligence agencies believe that Russia’s spy services see the deep political divisions in the United States as a fresh opportunity to inflame partisan tensions.
Part of that effort, the officials said, appears to be trying to spread information that hews closely to unsubstantiated reports about Mr. Trump’s dealings in Russia, including the purported video, whose existence Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed.
Still, despite numerous red flags, such as the Russian's criminal background and appearance to be working as a Russian intelligence agent, the government was willing to look past it all to retrieve the stolen NSA tools, officials anonymously told the Times.
How did Trump respond?
He took to his Twitter account on Saturday to respond to the story: