Right now, on the eve of our election, Democrats are engaging in public efforts to expose Kremlin espionage in America with a passion that official Washington hasn’t shown on this issue since the early years of the Cold War. Press reports are aflutter with rumors of Russian moles while members of Congress are hurling accusations of collusion with Moscow with reckless abandon. All that’s missing is Senator Joe McCarthy—and some Democrats are doing their best to channel him too.
As someone who’s long urged Americans to get serious about counterintelligence, particularly regarding the oversized spy threat we face from Russia, this is welcome news. Kremlin efforts to meddle in our election have concentrated minds which previously had paid zero attention to such dark arts. When you go after their presidential nominee, Democrats suddenly get very interested.
However, that excitement needs to be properly channeled into serious inquiries, not rumor-mongering and spy-mania. Let it be said that there certainly are counterintelligence concerns about Donald Trump which require resolution. His slavish public devotion to the Kremlin line on numerous issues is a concern I’ve raised more than once, as is his unwillingness to criticize Vladimir Putin.
Then there are the disturbing Russian linkages of key members of Team Trump, past and present, from Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn to Roger Stone and Carter Page. Longstanding rumors of Russian money bankrolling the Trump Organization—not necessarily from legitimate sources—should be resolved, but can’t be since Trump refuses to release his tax returns and insists on keeping his murky finances from public scrutiny.
That said, nobody acquainted with Russian intelligence and its spycraft is suggesting that Trump is anything like a mole. Someone as erratic as Trump, prone to public outbursts, would never be deemed suitable for long-term clandestine work by the Russians—or any competent intelligence service. However, there is reason to believe that Moscow considers him an agent of influence, to use Kremlin-speak. That special category of operative was defined by the KGB as:
An agent operating under intelligence instructions who uses his official or public position, and other means, to exert influence on policy, public opinion, the course of particular events, and the activities of political organizations and state agencies in target countries.
In other words, agents of influence are secret friends who help to embellish Russia’s image abroad while boosting the Kremlin politically. Some agents of influence are paid while others help Moscow gratis, out of conviction. During the Cold War their ranks included Western politicians, businessmen, journalists, even celebrities—and there’s no reason to think that practice ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and took the KGB with it.
For many decades, no country has been a bigger target for Moscow for recruiting its agents of influence than the United States, which during the Cold War the KGB called the Main Adversary—a loaded term which has been resurrected in recent years by Putin, that former KGB man.
One might think that KGB funding of Bill Clinton and two Al Gores would whet the appetite of young reporters in Washington seeking to make a name for themselves—but that was not the case.
Exactly what Trump’s relationship is with Russia constitutes an important question that should have been answered months ago. However, we must not stop with the Republican nominee. There are likewise important questions about Clinton, Inc. and its linkages to Moscow. Indeed, if Hillary Clinton were running against anybody but Donald Trump, with his overt Russophilia, she would look dangerously caught up in Russian influence and money.
The involvement of the Clinton Foundation in a shady lucrative deal to sell the Kremlin 20 percent of America’s uranium—the most militarily useful of all chemical elements, given its nuclear applications—was so outrageous even the mainstream media took notice. I’ve previously exposed how the Podesta Group, a Democratic lobbying firm which is closely tied to Team Clinton, has worked for the biggest bank in Russia, which is owned by the Kremlin—and linked to Russian intelligence. I’ve also brought to light how Hillary, as secretary of state, helped the Clinton Foundation and her close friends make millions of dollars off sweetheart deals with Russia’s “Silicon Valley”—which, yet again, is mostly owned by the Kremlin and has documented links to its spy agencies.
Yet the real “smoking gun” which may conclusively link Clinton, Inc. to Moscow and its intelligence services goes back to the Cold War and constitutes a remarkable case of mainstream media unwillingness to pursue juicy stories when they reflect badly on Democrats.
It involves Armand Hammer, who died back in 1990, but in his decades in the limelight was a famous industrialist who lived lavishly. There were similarities to Trump. Both men craved media publicity and had a propensity for flashy self-promotion—and making remarks about the Kremlin so sympathetic that many Americans found them distressing.
Hammer’s official biography was straightforward. Born in New York City in 1898 to immigrant parents, Jews from Russia, he trained as a physician but never worked as one. He left for Russia in 1921, not long after the Bolsheviks seized power, to escape from a scandal involving his father, an abortionist with left-wing political views who killed a woman during a botched abortion.
His son had little interest in politics but did enjoy cultivating powerful politicians. Hammer ingratiated himself with the Soviet leadership starting with Lenin—a habit he maintained for the rest of his life—and used these connections to get rich. He won trade concessions from the Kremlin in numerous areas—furs, pencils, pharmaceuticals, liquor—until winding up in the oil business by purchasing Occidental Petroleum, a major multinational conglomerate, in 1957.
Hammer hardly concealed his links to the Soviet elite and American counterintelligence had questions about them going back to the 1920s. The FBI considered Hammer a Kremlin agent, but hard evidence was lacking until after his death. In 1996, the journalist Edward Jay Epstein published a muckraking book which laid bare the whole ugly story.
Hammer was a KGB agent of influence for most of his life, using his Kremlin connections to get rich. In 1921, he accepted $75,000 to distribute to Communist secret agents abroad. Thereafter, Hammer acted as a financial conduit and influence channel for the KGB. At the start, Hammer served as a fence for jewels and artwork stolen by the Bolsheviks from their victims, including the murdered Romanovs, which the Kremlin couldn’t sell in the West without a lot of questions. Hammer could, and did, netting millions of dollars in the process. Moscow made him very wealthy.
One of the ways Hammer helped the Soviets was by cultivating American politicians, enticing them with money. The classic case was Al Gore, Sr., a longtime member of the House of Representatives and Senate from Tennessee. Hammer’s cash—meaning the KGB’s cash—funded the Gore political machine and gave the family an opulent lifestyle. In exchange, Al Gore, Sr. helped his friend and business partner on many occasions.
In the early 1960s, when the FBI was breathing down Hammer’s neck over his Kremlin links, Gore defended him on the Senate floor. When one of Hammer’s sons had trouble obtaining a security clearance over his father’s shady Soviet connections, Senator Gore called in favors with the FBI on his behalf. When Al Gore, Sr. lost his 1970 Senate reelection bid, his wealthy friend put him on the board of Occidental Petroleum for the princely sum of $500,000 per year.
It’s no surprise this cozy relationship transferred to Al Gore, Jr. when he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the House of Representatives in 1977 and then the Senate in 1985. Not everyone in Washington was pleased. In January 1981, Hammer was a guest of Gore, Jr. at the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president. Lingered in an area reserved for Congressmen, he tried to shake Reagan’s hand—which the new president pointedly spurned. He had been briefed on Hammer’s unsavory Soviet links and had no desire to been seen endorsing them.
Despite its political liability, the younger Gore was friendly with his family’s benefactor down to his death in 1990, and questions about the strange affair, with its whiff of espionage, briefly appeared when Al Gore, Jr. was nominated as Bill Clinton’s vice president in 1992. They popped up again eight years later, when Gore ran for the White House himself. The mainstream media fleetingly asked questions about the Democratic nominee’s strange ties with a man who, by 2000, was known to have been a Soviet agent of influence for almost seven decades. That story failed to gain traction, however, since it cast unfavorable light on the Democrats’ presidential nominee.
Then, on October 5, 2000, a month before our presidential election, the Russian press agency Ekho Moskvy, ran a sensational piece. Aleksei Mitrofanov, a member of the State Duma, Russia’s parliament, publicly asked the Federal Archive Service to provide him with any documentation they possessed regarding the secret relationship between Armand Hammer and Albert Gore, Sr., the father of that year’s Democratic presidential candidate. “I already have this information. My purpose is to get it officially,” Mitrofanov told Ekho Moskvy.
The Duma deputy wanted to illuminate “the mechanism of supporting Armand Hammer and Albert Gore, Sr. by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union…they were financing Gore’s coming out against the Vietnam war,” Mitrofanov said, “as well as his assistance in closing an FBI investigation against Hammer”. He continued: “All this is very interesting, especially in connection with the ongoing presidential campaign in the United States…the incumbent President [Clinton] also started his political career on money given by Hammer or, in fact, on Soviet money. Everybody knows that Hammer got his most profitable contracts in the Soviet Union from Politburo decisions.” Mitrofanov concluded by stating that Albert Gore, Jr. started his career on Hammer’s dirty money too.
While Aleksei Mitrofanov is a controversial character, prone to Trump-like outbursts, he has some sort of murky KGB past himself, while the notion that the Gores, Sr. and Jr., were a bit too cozy with the Kremlin, via Armand Hammer, was a reasonable question when Mitrofanov asked it. The case became more even interesting on October 25, when Mitrofanov made a quixotic statement to the Moscow news agency Interfax about his request to the archives in the matter of Hammer and his American politico friends, saying that he had received relevant information but he would not be disclosing what he had learned: “This document is classified and the deputies who would like to read it may do so in exchange for a written statement promising not to disclose its content.”
Although that story emerged on the eve of our election, and Mitrofanov’s follow-up comment didn’t even reach the level of what they call a “non-denial denial” in Washington, our mainstream media’s interest in the case was exactly zero. The BBC translated the initial October 5 story and the later Interfax report appeared in English too, yet no journalist in the United States deemed this bombshell sufficiently interesting to write about.
One might think that KGB funding of Bill Clinton and two Al Gores would whet the appetite of young reporters in Washington seeking to make a name for themselves—but that was not the case. The mainstream media decided to bury a story that the public plainly had a need to hear about. I was working for NSA counterintelligence at the time and awaited the inevitable media feeding frenzy. Alas, it never came.
Has Clinton, Inc., secretly been on Moscow’s payroll for decades? Sixteen years after Mitrofanov publicly asked that question, we still don’t know. In contrast, the media can’t get enough of allegations that Donald Trump is an agent of the Kremlin. Both are important questions. It’s too bad our mainstream media gatekeepers are only interested in one of them.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.