US spies trying to recover their classified hacking tools have been conned by a man they believed was linked to Russian intelligence, who fed them $100,000-worth of ‘gossip’ about Trump, according to the NYT and the Intercept.
The CIA and NSA were engaged in secret negotiations with a “Russian intermediary” last year in a desperate effort to retrieve documents and hacking tools stolen by the mysterious Shadow Brokers collective, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen wrote in an article for the Intercept, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The man, who they thought was somehow connected to Russian intelligence services, promised to provide them with the full NSA cache, stolen back in 2016 – and on top of that reportedly offered some explosive revelations that he claimed could shed light on Trump’s alleged collusion with Moscow.
The ‘Russian’ was acting as an middle-man and initially demanded $10 million for the trove, but later slashed the price down to $1 million, the New York Times said in a separate report on the “secret operation,” citing unnamed American and European intelligence officials.
The US spies allegedly did not want to touch any Trump-related material and focused their efforts on trying to return the hacking tools, either for “fear of blowback from Trump” or due to dubious credibility of those files, both reports explicitly emphasized.
The spy saga, unravelling somewhere in Germany, dragged for months, during which the NSA even allegedly used its official Twitter account to send coded messages to arrange numerous secret meetings. The ‘Russian’ however handed over only those NSA documents that were already publicly leaked, and either hesitated to share or did not have any additional material. Instead he persistently tried to provide various documents which he said were somehow related to Trump officials and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Last September the man received a $100,000 tranche, according to the NYT. The Intercept clarified that someone in the US intelligence community apparently vetted the scraps of info they obtained and determined that “while a significant part of it was accurate and verifiable, other parts of the data were impossible to verify and could be controversial,” according to a document seen by the publication. It is unknown which material was deemed accurate or who exactly vetted it. According to the NYT, the Trump-related material turned out to be “stuff of tabloid gossip pages, not intelligence collection.”
The negotiations abruptly ended early this year, after US spies seemingly figured out they wouldn’t be getting anything useful from the man and threatened him to go back to Russia and never return.
The CIA and NSA have not yet comment on the reports of their “secret operation.” According to Risen the Americans are still “uncertain whether the Russians involved are part of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Moscow, either to discredit Trump or to discredit efforts by American officials investigating Trump’s possible ties to Russia.”
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