I find it difficult to believe that Trump is controlled by Moscow. But then, every day since Donald Trump was elected has been a rollercoaster of surprises.
LONDON: The problem with conspiracy theories is that sometimes they are right.
You have probably never heard of Yuri Modin. Modin was a KGB officer who was sent under diplomatic cover to the Soviet embassy in London in 1948 to be the controller of the “Cambridge Spies”, probably the most infamous group of spies of the 20th century. Working in the higher echelons of the Foreign Office and British intelligence services, these spies passed thousands of highly secret documents to Stalin’s Russia, doing untold damage to the West and the lives of innocent victims.
Modin moved back to Moscow after he had arranged the defections of the spies to Moscow, spending his remaining time at the KGB training school in Moscow. Here he passed on to aspiring young KGB officers his vast expertise in handling “illegals”, spies who work in a host country without the protection of an embassy. One of his students in 1985 was a 33-year-old KGB officer, a law graduate from Leningrad University. This young officer enthusiastically absorbed all he could from Modin and became an expert spy-handler himself. His name was Vladimir Putin.
I was thinking of President Putin’s KGB background as he and President Donald Trump gave their Helsinki press conference on 16 July. The nervous, fidgety Trump contrasted with the calm, controlled Putin. They had met alone, except for interpreters, for two hours without an agenda and without advisors as witnesses, giving plenty of food for the conspiracy theorists. Putin speaks good English, so were the two ever alone without interpreters? Why were advisors not allowed, after all, the subjects reported in the press conference were standard, such as North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and so on?
Fuelling the conspiracies, the former US Republican National Committee Chairman, Michael Steele tweeted “That’s how a press conference sounds when an Asset stands next to his Handler”! Jonathan Chait had the same thought in the New York Magazine, when speculating before Helsinki: “Will Trump be meeting his counterpart or his handler?”
The possibility that Trump could be in hawk to Moscow is absurd and preposterous to most Americans. How could this possibly happen in an open and free society? Trump is not a real-life Manchurian Candidate, they say. Others, however, point to events in Trump’s life which could have made him vulnerable to blackmail, involving the usual pressure points of money and sex.
Let’s consider money. It’s well known that Trump’s business acumen is not all that he would wish us to believe. During the election campaign Trump admitted to four bankruptcies, whereas in fact he has filed six times under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Many investigative journalists have concluded after detailed research that Trump was only rescued when Russian money poured into his enterprises.
Who better than the President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr to add beef to this fact? At a real estate conference in New York in 2008 Trump Jr is on record saying, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets”, adding, “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia”. According to the award-winning journalist, Seth Hettena, in his book Trump/Russia, a Definitive History, much of this was dirty money laundered through Trump real-estate by the Russian mafia. If this is true, it is a short step to blackmail. All could be resolved and explained by President Trump if he published his tax returns, something he promised, but seems reluctant to do. Even friendly Fox News reminded us last week that Trump is the first President in the post-Watergate era to refuse to release his tax returns, something that has always raised the suspicion that he had something to hide.
Turning to the interesting subject of sex, those of us who have worked in the Soviet Union are well aware of the dangers of sexual compromise—“kompromat”. History is littered with examples of men, many distinguished, falling to the allures of attractive Russian women, unaware that the act was being recorded and used for kompromat. Perhaps Donald Trump is more self-controlled than many, although a person who boasts of “grabbing women by their p…y” and is recorded by his lawyer discussing how to pay off a former Playboy model, inspires very little confidence.
Christopher Steele, a former colleague at the British embassy in Moscow in the early 1990s, is the author of the incendiary Steele Dossier, currently believed to be a document used in the Mueller enquiry. Take a look at one paragraph in the Summary of the confidential report: “Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.” The FSB is the successor to the KGB.
Although it is 26 years ago, the Steele I knew was a serious young diplomat not given to hyperbole. He was trained to develop contacts in Russia, which he has no doubt nurtured since he left MI6. His report has been labelled “fake” by the White House, as President Trump strongly denies such activity. “This is clearly a conspiracy theory”, claim Trump supporters.
The trouble with conspiracy theories is that they have a habit of coming back to bite you. The Cambridge Spies were believed to be loyal citizens, even when evidence surfaced to indicate they were unsafe. “Conspiracy theory”, shouted supporters; “I knew their father”, or, “they went to good British schools and therefore must be beyond reproach”. The recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers by name and in stunning detail accused of hacking the 2016 presidential election, debunked early claims of “conspiracy theory” from those reluctant to believe that such a hack actually happened. The list goes on.
I am one of many who are persuaded by the circumstantial evidence, but find it difficult to believe that Trump is controlled by Moscow. But then, every day since Donald Trump was elected has been a rollercoaster of surprises. Unless Putin releases the evidence of Trump’s alleged financial or sexual irregularities, and I cannot envisage any circumstance in which this could happen, then the label of “conspiracy theory” will hold sway and it remains just a plausible theory of mind-boggling dimension.
John Dobson worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998 and is presently Chairman of the Plymouth University of the Third Age.