Malcolm Nance on Asymmetric Warfare - Part I

Our Get Un-Gaslit Summer Reading Series continues with this two-part interview with the counter-terrorism and intelligence expert Malcolm Nance. Nance is an MSNBC commentator and author who is today best known for being the first person to write THE book about Russia’s attack on the 2016 election as it was happening. (That book – The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election – was published in October 2016). 

Sarah Kendzior: Hi, I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist, a scholar of authoritarian states, and the author of the book The View from Flyover Country.

Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa, a writer and the screenwriter/producer of the upcoming journalistic thriller, Mr. Jones.

Sarah Kendzior: And you're listening to Gaslit Nation, a podcast that examines corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of autocracy around the world.

Andrea Chalupa: We are speaking today with Malcolm Nance, a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert, and the author of The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyber-Spies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election, as the Kremlin's attack of our election was taking place, and The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West. Nance: is also the author of the upcoming book The Plot to Betray America: How Team Trump Embraced Our Enemies, Compromised our Security, and How We Can Fix It. With over 34 years of experience in intelligence activities, including providing both covert and clandestine counterterrorism support to national intelligence agencies and assets, Nance is here to explain where we are, how we got here, and where we're headed, and what we can do about our current state of events before it's too late. Welcome, Malcolm.

Malcolm Nance: Well, I'm finally glad to be on Gaslit Nation.

Sarah Kendzior: Thank you.

Andrea Chalupa: That's right. Welcome to the dormitory of doom in Ivanka Trump's ever-expanding gulag of fashionably chic concentration camps. Okay, so you wrote the book on what was the greatest crimes in human history as it was happening, which I think your book is absolutely phenomenal. I read it recently, and I was just like, "Oh my God." It's just so much that you connect together. It's just a perfect time capsule, and the fact that you wrote it as the crime was still ongoing. How did you see so clearly what was happening as it was happening, and being such a rare voice to do so at the time?

Malcolm Nance: Well, it's relatively simple, and this is where I diverge with a lot of my peers, or people that I guess now that I'm working around media, some of them I guess would call peers. I'm not a journalist. That's the first thing. I'm a former intelligence person, and so I see the world in a completely different way than journalists see it, than bloggers see it and regular civilians see it. I had over 30-plus years working counterterrorism intelligence missions against state actors, against individual terrorists. And so for me, I had to face what I was seeing not just on news reports from other people or information that was being developed through 2 sources like journalists do. I could look at open source information, or even completely undeveloped information, and I would see it through a completely different set of eyes. If you want an idea of how that's done, you just go to, you know, I'm on the board of advisors at the International Spy Museum I've got at least three exhibits in there where I'm in an exhibit at the Spy Museum. Those of us who work within the intelligence community are trained to see microscopic bits of data that may not connect, that may be over a very broad period of time, but if you looked at it with the proper amount of experience, the proper amount of common sense, and the proper amount of training, you can develop and can see patterns that should be there. Right? But to know what those patterns are, you have to know your target pretty well. For example, we have a lot of journalists who are out there, some great ones: Bill Neely of NBC News, right? These are the guys I follow. Richard Engel, Christopher Dickey at NBC News. These are guys who have so much depth of knowledge that, you know, I always joke around with Richard Engel [that] he's at the wrong agency, right? I mean, this guy could transition over to a national intelligence collection agency overnight. Right? Because the depth of his knowledge is broader than most journalists. And so in our community we do what's called watch-standing, which is where you literally sit for 8-12 hours, and you watch a certain segment of the world at a microscopic level go by. So if it's imagery that day, you might be watching a known terrorist go out in Morocco and buy his croissants from that little croissant stand that's down near the beach while he's conducting surveillance of the Saudi Minister of Defense's house, which in fact is in Agadir, Morocco. Then he goes back and then he walks up and down the beach. Then he goes to his car, and then some other form of intelligence gets his daily situation report, and then that information is transmitted back to higher headquarters, and then some spy tells you that something might happen in a North African country. All these little data points, as I like to call them, little dots in the sky, turn into a constellation. Whereas an untrained person will just see stars, right? But it's never going to be obvious. It's not going to be a giant Cassiopeia, right? It's not going to be a giant Big Dipper. It's always going to be something that you know what it develops into, but untrained people won't know what it's developed into. And so even though I'm a Middle Eastern expert, I started out as a Cold War baby, right, when I was a baby spy. I started out in the Cold War world, and everything, every country, every mission I was assigned to, in some way was touched by the Soviet Union, or Russia. And so if I had to do a mission in let's say Egypt, and I got off the ship at Port Saïd, the Egyptians at that time weren't really friendly to us, and their intelligence worked under the control of Russian intelligence, so the KGB was always somewhere nearby. I always tell this story: when I went to Naples, we were actually briefed that the KGB goes around to hotels looking for people in my area, the intelligence area, and the place that they try to trap you is in the men's room. Right? And they try to see that, you know, they'll try to get you in a compromising situation or offer you sex in an effort to compromise you. I actually went to a hotel in Naples, if you can believe it, and sure enough, some guy comes over to me and propositions me. It was like literally straight out of the briefing, to the point where I almost wanted to say, "Hey man, couldn't you mix it up a little bit?" [laughter] That being said, everywhere I went, the Soviets and the KGB were present, whether they were advising, whether they were supplying equipment, whether they were actually chasing us, so in my world, counterintelligence, when I started back in 1982—I'm getting old here—1981—we still had almost 10 years of the Soviet Union left to go—counterintelligence briefings about what the KGB were doing, how they carried out their operations, how they would integrate into my Middle East targets operations, were prevalent everywhere. A lot of my peers didn't pay any attention. I paid attention, and especially when you would start seeing the results of these activities. That being said, when your sister Alexandra Chalupa's story popped up on my radar about the hacking at the DNC and how her computer was being scanned by state actors, and then the DNC, when I got word you know relatively early on that the DNC had been hacked, the first thing that went through my head was, "Hey, wait a minute. Why would anyone hack the DNC?" If you're not a student of history, then you wouldn't know. A lot of journalists, many journalists, are not students of history. They're just really young. And so of course the first thing I think of is, the only reason anyone would steal information from the DNC is to conduct Watergate, because that's what Watergate was: breaking into the Democratic National Committee, planting bugs, stealing files, acting in a clandestine manner. And then when CrowdStrike reported that the entities that had actually broken into the DNC were known as ATP 28 and ATP 29, Advanced Persistent Threat 28 and 29, also known as Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, well, I had heard them before, because the year before I had just finished a book called Hacking ISIS, and two of the events that we found in Hacking ISIS was the hacking of TV France Fox, TV Funk in Paris, and the Warsaw Stock Exchange. And it turns out that Fancy Bear, which was the GRU's, Russian military intelligence's cyber warfare tool kit—it's not actually a group of people; it's a group of people using this specific tool kit—broke into these entities, but then they vandalized them to make them look like they were ISIS. Right? So the moment I heard the word ATP 28 and ATP 29, I instantly knew that it was Russian intelligence, whereas for a lot of people, these were just entities that they couldn't understand right off the bat. Same thing with Guccifer 2.0, who came up a few weeks later. But there was another interesting event that popped up. In between the news that the DNC had been hacked and Guccifer 2.0 showing up, and I write about this in both of my books, there was a news article that had made its way to Fox News to Judge Napolitano, and I was brought onto Hardball with Chris Matthews that night to talk about it, and it was a report that Vladimir Putin had hacked Hillary Clinton's emails and had all 20,000 emails and were debating in the Kremlin amongst themselves whether they were going to release this information. And Judge Napolitano had come on Fox News and said U.S. intelligence had this information, and Chris Matthews asked me, "What do you think of this report?" Now you've got to remember, this is just after the news of the DNC hacking, and just before the Russian entity started releasing this stuff to the press, so no one was really watching this. This was in April 2016, and I went on TV and I said, "There is no way this report is true," because that article is what we call crown jewels intelligence. There's no way you would know what five people in a locked room in the Kremlin are saying unless a.) one of them works for us, b.) we have resources in that room, which no one, I mean people will go to their deaths before they will reveal that, right? Or c.) that information was deliberately leaked by that foreign power in order to trick us some way. So I went on Hardball and I said exactly these things. That report is false. The Russians don't have 20,000 Hillary Clinton emails. That's bull. But Fox News was broadcasting this. Then Guccifer 2.0 came up. Then Donald Trump got the nomination, and then it led us to the Friday before the DNC, the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. As a matter of fact, in the introduction to this new book, The Plot to Betray America, I spell out how I was sitting around Independence Hall, because I was the terrorism analyst, and my job was to, horribly, wait for a terrorist attack, you know, maybe at the conventions. I kept telling everybody, I said, "Hey, Julian Assange is saying he has all these WikiLeaks emails from DNC and he's going to release them." And I said, "There is no way that this guy just accidentally got these." And I said, "There's only one reason he's going to release these emails." And I said, "Russia gave it to him, because Russia was Guccifer 2.0." And I said, "He intends to split the Democratic Party down the middle the first morning of the DNC." And the only purpose that anyone would do this is if Julian Assange wanted Donald Trump to win. So that weekend, me and Chris Sampson, my chief researcher—he was co-author of hacking ISIS—we scrubbed everything Julian Assange did, and we found out Julian Assange is really an alt-righter. He's like a crazy, right-wing libertarian. He's a racist of the highest order. And we realized, "Oh my God. He wants to destroy the Democratic Party platform. He intends to split the Democrats down and to help Trump get elected." And the rest is history. I mean, that next day the 26th of July, I went on television. I'd finally convinced NBC to let me warn the country, and I said, "This hacking is designed to elect Donald Trump president. It's a strategic information warfare operation against the United States." And so I was the first person in U.S. media to go on air and call this an attack by Russia, and that it was an intelligence operation using WikiLeaks as a laundromat. And the next day, Donald Trump goes on television and says, "Russia, if you're listening, I want you to release," he said, 30,000 Hillary Clinton emails. And then I suddenly drew the line. I go, "Oh my god, that fake Russian news report that came out in February, that made its way to Judge Napolitano by April, is now in Donald Trump's mouth here in July." And I said, "This is a strategic, old-school Russian information warfare operation." You would had to have seen it during the Cold War, and I've seen some stuff. You know, I've worked foreign nations that were supported by Russian intelligence. And I go, "The only thing that's missing here is the printing press." And they don't need the printing press, right? They would do this with newspapers back in the 80s, or broadcasts from [inaudible]. Now, all they had to do was stroke a keyboard and it would become reality, and it became reality, and they attacked the United States, and Donald Trump was elected president because of it.

Sarah Kendzior: You have this unique background in intelligence. You have decades of experience. You were able to put these pieces together, and you were willing to put them together and to inform the nation, but there were people who were working in intelligence at the time—where were they? Why weren't other officials stepping up. Like, if you were able to figure this out, where were the people whose official job it is to protect this country and its national security? Where were they, and why didn't they speak up?

Malcolm Nance: That's a good question, and I'm going to tell you fact. They were working the mission, and I can give you evidence of the fact that they were working the mission. I started The Plot to Hack America that afternoon that I was on live broadcast out of NBC. That Saturday the 30th, I would repeat what I had said on that Tuesday, which was the first I was like, "Hey. This is a Russian intelligence operation, and they're hacking the mindset of the American public." As a matter of fact, you and I would go on the following week for the first time together, talking about how dictators do this stuff. Turns out, when I started writing on 26 July, and I finished writing on 3 September, my book went to press. It actually went online sales on 23 September. 23 September, that same day, the CIA turned in their identical report to President Obama, so the U.S. intelligence community had seen it, too. We know now John Brennan was running around in late July and early August with his balding hair on fire, right? And that he had been actually instructed to contact the director of Russian intelligence, the FSB, and tell him, "We know what you're doing. We've seen your operation. We want you to stop it." And then he was instructed to go around and brief the Gang of Eight, wherever they were, over the month of August. So the intelligence community was doing their job. You have to understand something: this is not Bourne Identity, right? We don't go around subverting the government. Here's what the intelligence community does: we collect; we analyze; we disseminate. Right? What that means is we get the information, we put it into a consumable package, and then that, let's say it's converted into a power bar. Right? And then that apple-flavored Power Bar, if it's Russian, or a cherry-flavored power bar, if it's China, is a complete package of intelligence information. We hand that to the consumer. And here's where you're going to be woefully disappointed: if the consumer refuses to consume it, or they consume it, they open the wrapper, and they throw it in the trash, or if they consume it and then they poop it out and they don't care, there is nothing U.S. intelligence can do about that. That is the job of the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the National Security Council, and generally, the Director of the CIA, to convince the consumer that they should pay attention to what they had. But now we know Donald Trump was complicit in all these activities. He knew all of this was going on. We know that. It's in the Mueller Report. Right? He not only knew it, he knew that he would benefit from it, so he didn't care about it. He didn't want to hear this when the FBI came and briefed him that this activity was going on. He must've thought he was caught when that happened. And that starts his war against intelligence and law enforcement, where in the back of his crazy mind, he thinks he's being spied on. Look, spying is a word we don't use. Right? Spying is when we get another person to betray their country. That's spying. What we do is intelligence collection, or legal lawful surveillance. Let me tell, you get surveillance against you authorized by the FISA court, there's only two reasons you can have a FISA warrant drawn up against you. Only who. One, you are suspected of being a member of ISIS or Al Qaeda. Two, you are suspected of being a foreign intelligence asset of another nation, and we need to collect information on you to determine if there is a national security threat to the people of the United States. That's it. That's it, and it's tough to get a FISA. I've done collection that ended up in a FISA, and let me tell you when they go back and go, "We want you to transcribe the previous 72 hours of junk leading up to that three seconds," you're like, "Well, screw these guys." No. It's got to go to the FISA court. They want to understand everything that you found in all aspects, and then they will make a determination as to whether you are the foreign spy, or the person being recruited as a foreign spy in order to endanger the national security of the United States. And it isn't like one schmo, you know, Judge Smails from Caddyshack. It's a three-judge panel. You've got to convince them that the United States is in danger. And this is why I find, you know, our buddy Carter Page so laughable. These people dying on a hill saying, " FISA abuse, but for Carter Page."  Carter Page, in 2013, the Russians were trying to recruit him, and they just thought, "This guy's a moron." They may have tried to recruit him again in 2016, and the FBI and the CIA or whichever intelligence asset or organization found out, just reported it up the chain of command dutifully. Let me tell you something. This is how we keep you guys safe. Okay? We keep bad people from infiltrating our government. But what if those bad people are the government? Just like in those 1970s made for TV movies, right? Then you have trouble.

Andrea Chalupa: So in terms of the power bar metaphor you used earlier, where the intelligence community gathers the intelligence, packages it up, and then it's up to the consumer to consume it or not, at the same time, though, with the intelligence community having their area of expertise and seeing the science clearly and knowing exactly who and what we're up against, couldn't they then have, let's say, Obama during his time take certain measures to have counteracted the Kremlin's campaign? And that could've been anything from shutting down the bot farms which were certainly making a difference as we saw, and we found out how sweeping that social media campaign was, as well as, you know, if James Comey's going to go out and have a press conference in July about Hillary's emails, why wasn't there some sort of press conference? Maybe not by Comey, because he as we all know was asked to just speak out publicly and refused, but by some other figure of authority during that time to say this is a systematic attack, this is what we're seeing, and we want the American public to be aware of this. Why couldn't there have been a more forceful action? And plus, Putin, as we all know, he's afraid of the Russian people, so why couldn't there have been some warning shot where a big report or some big exposes were released exposing his massive corruption and wealth to put all this fuel on the fire of the Russian grassroots, which are risking their lives to fight corruption. Any of the combination of things, even something as simple as RT videos, as they have now finally, being forced to do FARA back then. Why are all these things finally happening, when I can tell you, being Ukrainian-American, we wanted these things to happen back in early 2014. We were tired of getting harassed by the early generation of Kremlin bots on there, which were vicious, as they are now.

Malcolm Nance: Remember the movie Zero Dark Thirty? The movie version that we got of Zero Dark Thirty was so horrible, okay, because it was this amalgam of like 20 stories over 15 years. Right? And then you have a half hour long Bin Laden killing that actually took about six minutes. So in telling the story, it always sounds like things are slower than you believe, but from what little I know, and I won't say that I have an advantage over anybody else. I only know what's in public source. I've been around some of the major players, including some of the ex-directors, and all I know is this: Barack Obama is Abraham Lincoln in this story. He is Abraham Lincoln right after the election of 1860, okay? He's got 13 states don't want to be part of the United States, but he still has to talk to them. He still has to reach out to them. He has to do everything shy of freaking getting a shooting war started. What he did were the things that I would expect, you would expect, a normal President of the United States to do. The problem was not Barack Obama. The problem was that one third of our country had been exposed to foreign hostile propaganda, and they got their mindset to the point where they would not believe any facts that were ever to present itself if it did not come out of Donald Trump's mouth, and the Russians understood this. The Russians didn't put all the words in Donald Trump's mouth, they just understood that this guy, the evangelicals, who they had been courting for seven years at that point—they started in 2010—the NRA, who they had been courting for five years—not courting; priming is a better word. The alt-right, every damn one of whom, as I wrote in The Plot to Destroy Democracy, which if you read that is really four chapters of Russian intelligence operations and how they put every type of activity that the old KGB used, how it was all in place for the 2016 election. It wasn't just information warfare, although that was a major component of it. It was old school propaganda warfare, just moving at the speed of the electrons. And they realize from their decades and decades and decades of study of the American citizens, because as I like to explain to people, you know the KGB didn't go away despite what Glenn Greenwald says, right? Who is now one of my nemeses, this guy. He said, "You're saying that an organization that's been out of existence for twenty-five years is carrying out these activities." Well, this actually happened: when the KGB was "dissolved," quote-unquote, everybody came to work the next day, and a guy from maintenance came up and he brought a screwdriver, and he took down the letters K and G and put up the letters F and S, and that was it, except that they got a much bigger budget after that. So all of these activities that we're seeing, the records of Russian intelligence going back into the mindset of the white American electorate as far back as 1917, that stuff still exists, and all of the people who handled the United States in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, those guys were still around. And you have to remember, Vladimir Putin was the first director of the FSB, okay? So all of these people who have these activities occurring, who have this depth of knowledge of what America is, they're all fluent American English speakers. These are old school spies. They know us. We don't know Russia anywhere near as deeply as they know us. And they understood Trump was their kind of guy. He was a kind of strong man authoritarian, and they looked at his entire history from as far back as 1977, when he started dating Ivana Trump. And throughout the 1980s, he made the Russians very aware that he was a player. He's kind of guy that would deal with them as the bastion of, you know, last bastion of hot white women in Eastern Europe. In two out of three of his wives, he married them. Now that may sound simplistic to you and me, but you have to remember, both of those women came from behind the Iron Curtain. Right? In an era in which neither camp could really come to the West until glasnost took over and the Soviet Union started to collapse, and then Slovenia was part of Tito's Yugoslavia. As a matter of fact, I was on the second ship that ever visited Yugoslavia, a U.S. warship, when it was whole. It was a communist nation. Not completely in the Warsaw Pact sphere, but it was a communist nation. Ivana was his first wife. She was from the Czech Republic. Her father was the reporting entity to the StB, to Czech intelligence, which fed all of its reports to the KGB about Donald Trump. They have a decade of intelligence collection about this guy before he started begging them to go to Moscow and let them build Trump Tower Moscow in 1988. This guy is their kind of asset. He first starts out as a useful idiot. Then he doesn't even, he's so in love with money that he doesn't even know that he's being handled and manipulated. And then pops up 20 years later, Russia still has all those files, they still have those people manipulating people, and then you have a former KGB officer is now the leader of Russia. He looks at Donald Trump and he just thinks "exploitable assets." And that's what we have. So U.S. intelligence can only see what's before its eyes. Right? But counterintelligence by the FBI, this is their forte, and the one thing that is missing from the Mueller Report was not under their purview. They did not do, if they did, a counterintelligence scrub of Donald Trump, because it wasn't Mueller task to determine if Donald Trump was compromised.

Andrea Chalupa: So who would it fall under all these years to have protected us from the rise of Donald Trump and Paul Manafort coming in, because Manafort was under investigation since early 2014, because Yanukovych was under investigation. Ukraine invited the FBI in to help them find the tens of billions that Yanukovych stole from Ukraine. So I think the question is, if all of this is in the public domain going back decades, decades, if the FBI busted a Russian mafia gambling ring in Trump Tower one floor beneath Donald Trump, and given just like the richness of all of his associations with the Russian mafia and even Soviet officials over the years, who are the bodies in charge of stopping him?

Malcolm Nance: You have to understand, the phrase "stopping him" is not the mandate of the FBI. The National Security Division of the FBI, the counterintelligence guys, the spy hunters, their mandate is to find foreign intelligence assets. It was the mandate of the Southern District of New York to break up the Russian mafia. And if you read Andy McCabe's book The Threat, he was one of the first guys who was jumping both feet, knees-deep, into breaking up the Russian and Ukrainian mob in Long Island, down in Coney Island and the Rockaways. And he was neck deep into these guys. They broke up ring after ring of Russian mafia. They all, I'm sure they all saw the connections to New York businessman. So the only time he would really become a threat was when he was on the verge of becoming the nominee to the Republican Party, and only when they saw those ties from the Trump campaign back and forth did they suddenly realize that this could have a history. Peter Struck, and the reason that they went after Peter Struck is because, you know, Peter Struck was the top spy hunter in America, right? He was the head of the counterintelligence unit, whose job it was to hunt down just these links. And unfortunately—and this is where Rudy Giuliani came in to destroy U.S. national security—he understood the value of knocking off the head of U.S. counterintelligence, and he did. And he did it in such a manner that he completely compromised Donald Trump and all of these people.

Andrea Chalupa: Well, yeah. We've got a vaccine crisis in America, and a measles outbreak, so obviously, which the Russian propaganda of course helped perpetuate. Giuliani's role in this: so are you saying that Giuliani deliberately weakened the U.S.'s ability to stop this?

Malcolm Nance: Yes. He knows what's out there. He knows what's coming. I've argued this in The Plot to Destroy Democracy and this new book, The Plot to Betray America. Do you know what the global oligarchy is, what I call the Globigarchy? [laughter] The only way I can ask this question is simple. Have you been to Monaco?

Andrea Chalupa: No.

Malcolm Nance: Have you ever heard of a small sea port called Puerto Banús.

Andrea Chalupa: No.

Sarah Kendzior: No.

Malcolm Nance: Or Cala d’Or. There's a reason that I'm mentioning these places, because there are places in this world where nationality and money eclipse loyalty to any flag. Puerto Banús is this small village in Costa del Sol that the street signs are in Arabic and Spanish because the Saudis own the place. They gave the cops BMWs and Mercedes E classes to patrol the streets in, because their little police cars weren't good enough for them. There are spots around this world where, you know, those hundred million-dollar mega yachts that carry 10 million-dollar yachts on an elevator, where they exist, and this is where the global ultra-elite play, and they're just places that if you don't know them, you don't know them. And the only people that know these are supermodels and people trying to get access to that global elite. These people don't care about flags. They only care about a certain level of money. And that level of money starts with a B, right? So you don't have a B to walk through the door, you're not a player. Donald Trump has never been able to get into the Globigarchy. Even as President of the United States, he doesn't rate getting into that world, and this is the kind of promise of money that would make, I don't know, Jeff Sessions lie about his contacts with Russia. People who believed that they were going to have a future beyond this White House with money at a level that you couldn't possibly dream about. Donald Trump has been dying to get to. He wants to be seen as U.S. royalty, so that post-presidency he will have access to that world. It's generally controlled through the Russian oligarchs.

Andrea Chalupa: Our discussion continues and you can get access to that by signing up on our Patreon at the truth teller level or higher.

Andrea Chalupa